Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

6 Reasons Why Your Cold Lingers

Why Your Cold Won't Go Away, and What to Do About it

3. Taking Too Much Drying Medicine

Anyone who has tried to sleep with a completely stuffed nose understands the appeal of medications that dry everything up. A little drying action is OK, Rogg says, but too much can actually make things worse and prolong your cold symptoms.

"One thing we see ... is that people take all these drying compounds, which really suck the water out of the mucus and it makes you breathe better, but the mucus sticks in the sinuses more," Rogg says.

By overdoing it with drying medications like decongestants, you remove the moisture from your system, which in turn, makes it more difficult for the body to drain what’s there. Not only that, you may also be creating a host of other symptoms you didn’t have in the first place. Using a decongestant nasal spray for more than three or four days, for example, can cause a medication tolerance to build up.  And, taking too much of an oral decongestant can cause tremors, elevated blood pressure, and constipation.

"I have people coming in who have been taking Sudafed around the clock for 10 days and they are hypertensive, their heart rate is 120, and they have tremors. And then they are convinced they are developing something worse because they aren’t getting better and now they have all these other things [going on]," Rogg says.

4. Treating the Wrong Illness

The common cold can easily lead to and be confused with other ailments, such as sinus infections or allergies. Often, people convinced they’ve been suffering with a cold for a few weeks may not realize that they aren’t getting better because they’ve been treating the wrong illness.

It's quite common to confuse allergies with a cold, says Katona, because allergies typically have symptoms that are the same as or at least very similar to a cold. There are a few ways to tell the difference between the two, however.

Cold symptoms typically manifest from the neck up, and they usually peak after a few days. Allergies, on the other hand, can present as a low-grade, persistent set of symptoms. Although allergies and colds can both cause a cough, runny nose and sneezing, they part ways at muscle aches, fatigue, and decreased appetite, which would all be more symptomatic of a cold than allergies.

One good way to distinguish between a cold and allergies, Rogg says, is to take an antihistamine. "If you take a Claritin and suddenly feel a world better, then it’s probably an allergy."

Another concern, Rogg says, is that a cold disrupts the normal protective barrier of the body, making you more susceptible to secondary infections. "You hear very often that a person got a cold, started to feel better and then got worse," he says. "That’s usually a sign that they’re super-infected with some other organism; typically bacteria."

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
blowing nose
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Health Check
Boy holding ear
woman receiving vaccine shot
Bacterial or Viral Infection
How To Calm Your Cough
Sore Throat

WebMD Special Sections