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6 Reasons Why Your Cold Lingers

Why Your Cold Won't Go Away, and What to Do About it
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

It’s almost an annual rite of passage: Winter comes and despite your best efforts, you catch a cold. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s hard to slow down for a mere case of the sniffles. Many of us try to work straight through our colds and hope that, with minimal effort, the symptoms will get better quickly. Although that may sometimes be the case, it can also happen that pesky cold symptoms leave us feeling drained for what seems like an eternity.

Cold symptoms can vanish in as little as two days. Seventy percent of people who catch a cold feel better within a week, says Gary Rogg, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. But it is not unusual to suffer from symptoms of the common cold for as long as two weeks.

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Sometimes, it’s the things we do - or don’t do - that leave us feeling ill for longer than we expect. Why does your cold seem to be hanging on for longer than it should? Here are six possible reasons.

1. Lack of Rest

Sleep plays an important role in our immune system. In fact, a study published earlier this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine demonstrated that people who got less than seven hours of sleep per night were nearly three times more likely to catch a cold than were people who slept for eight hours or more.

Once you do have a cold, it will also take longer for it to clear up if you don’t get adequate rest.

"Most of society in general doesn’t want you calling in sick; they look down on you if you use your sick days," Rogg says. "But when you're sick, the ideal thing is to stay home and stay away from people and rest it out."

2. Low on Fluids

Fluids play an important part in your healing process as well. If your cold won’t go away, consider drinking more water, Gatorade, or juice.

A lack of fluids can cause discomfort and dehydration, particularly because your water demands increase when you’re sick, given the loss of fluids from drainage. In some circumstances, a lack of fluids in your system might contribute to prolonging your symptoms.

By drinking extra water when you’re sick, you’ll help to flush congestion out of your system, says Peter Katona, MD, associate clinical professor of infectious diseases at the University of California Los Angeles Health System.

"Increasing the amount of fluid in your system actually allows the mucus trapped in your nose and chest to flow better," Katona says.

But be warned, Rogg says. Drinking a lot of water, or taking an over-the-counter medicine such as Mucinex, which helps to loosen and thin the mucus that causes congestion rather than drying it out, may cause you to feel worse initially because the mucus is increasing in volume. Although this often creates more pressure, ultimately the mucus causing your discomfort will drain better than if you keep taking medications that dry you out.

"It’s like honey on the table you don’t clean up right away," Rogg says. "You squeeze water on it first. Then it comes off easier."

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