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
When Gina Gallo, a school librarian in Lacombe, La., gets sick, she can take
care of herself. She gets her own medicine, makes her own food, and "deals with
it," as she puts it. But when her fiancé gets a cold, she says he has "a
complete system breakdown."
"The world stops and the whining is incessant," she says. "I am expected to
bring him food, take care of him, and generally treat him like the baby that he
Gallo's fiancé declined to talk with WebMD for this story. Their Mars-Venus
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
"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."