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Cold vs. Allergy: How Long Have Symptoms Lasted?

Colds generally linger for three days to about a week, but symptoms can persist up to two weeks in some people. Starting to feel better after a couple of days is a sign you're probably on the mend from a cold. If you're getting worse, your cold may have evolved into a bacterial infection. If symptoms last more than one to two weeks or get worse after about 5 days, you should see a doctor.

Allergy symptoms will last for as long as you're exposed to the offending substance. So if you're allergic to cat dander, once you leave your grandmother's apartment and with it her prized Persian cat, your sniffles should subside. If your trigger is pollen and you spend most of the spring months outdoors, you could be fighting symptoms for the whole season.

How to Treat Symptoms of a Cold

Viruses, not bacteria, cause colds. So antibiotics, which kill bacteria, won't help. The best advice for a cold is to get plenty of rest and stay home so you don't pass your germs to anyone else. While you're resting, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. To avoid spreading germs, wash your hands often and disinfect surfaces.

You can help relieve some symptoms with over-the-counter medicines. Decongestants can help unclog a stuffy nose and reduce sinus pressure. They are available as pills, liquids, and nasal sprays.

Be careful not to use decongestant nasal sprays for more than three consecutive days, because they can lead to rebound congestion. You should ask your doctor before taking either oral or nasal spray decongestants if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, or difficulty urinating because of an enlarged prostate.

Side effects of oral decongestants may include nervousness or sleeplessness. Side effects of nasal spray decongestants may include: burning or stinging in the nose, sneezing, or an increase in nasal discharge. Be sure to read and follow the instructions on the label.

For aches, pains, and fever, over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen (Panadol, Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, Nuprin), and naproxen sodium (Aleve), may help. Be sure to follow the directions on the label and don’t take more than the recommended dose. Also be aware that many multi-symptom cold medicines contain pain relievers. Not reading the label and inadvertently taking a pain reliever with a multi-symptom cold medicine that contains the same pain reliever ingredient could raise your risk for accidental overdose.

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