In today’s fast-paced world, it’s hard to slow down for a mere case of the sniffles. Sure, you can try to work through it and hope you’ll feel better quickly. And sometimes that happens. But more often, those pesky symptoms stick around and leave you feeling sneezy and sniffly.
Colds usually last 3 to 7 days, but sometimes they hang on as long as 2 weeks. If you’re under the weather for longer than that, one of these things could be to blame.
1. You Aren’t Getting Enough Rest
Sleep helps keep your immune system working like it should. Once you have a cold, you need to catch enough Zzz's to help your body fight off the virus. Take it extra easy during the first 3 days.
Too little shut-eye can also make you more likely to get a cold. One study found that people who got less than 7 hours of sleep a night were nearly three times more likely to get sick than people who slept for 8 hours or more.
2. You’re Low on Fluids
When you’re sick, it’s easy to get dehydrated. A sore throat can make it less than fun to swallow.
A fever draws moisture out of your body. Plus, you lose fluid as your body makes mucus and it drains away. And that over-the-counter cold medicine you’re taking to dry up your head? It can dry the rest of you out, too.
So drink plenty of water, juice, or soup. A side benefit: All that liquid helps loosen up the mucus in your nose and head. Stay away from booze, coffee, and caffeine when you’re looking for things to sip though. They pull out more liquid than they leave behind.
3. You’re Stressed
When you’re freaked out about life, work, or whatever, it takes a toll on your immune system. You can’t fight off viruses as well as you should. That makes you more likely to get a cold, and once that happens, your symptoms are going to be worse.
Ongoing stress makes your body less able to respond to cortisol, a hormone that controls your body’s response to threats like the virus that causes the common cold.
4. You’re Treating the Wrong Illness
It's easy to confuse a cold with other ailments. You might treat a supposed cold for a few weeks, only to realize that the reason you aren’t getting better is because you’re under the weather with something else, like allergies.
Here’s how to tell them apart:
Cold symptoms usually take a few days to fully show up. Allergies can come on quickly, and they last for as long as you come in contact with the allergen. Both cause a cough, runny nose, and sneezing, but a cold is more likely to give you aches and pains or a fever.
Or you could have a sinus infection. Both that and a cold cause pain around your eyes and nose, as well as icky, yellowish mucus. The difference: These symptoms usually happen within the first few days of a cold. But a sinus infection typically shows up after the normal time it takes for a cold to run its course.
5. You’re Taking the Wrong Things for It
We’ve all heard about some of the more popular herbal remedies: Drink this and you’ll never get sick again. Take that and your cold symptoms will be shortened by 3 days. Many of these claims don’t hold water, and it’s important to remember that just because the bottle says "herbal" doesn’t mean it can’t harm you.
Echinacea is one of the first natural treatments people suggest when you have a cold, but most studies show it just doesn’t work.
Many people down vitamin C like candy thinking it’ll speed up the cold process. But there’s little evidence that it helps shorten a cold once you have it. And the only folks it really seems to work for are extreme athletes who take it to prevent getting a cold.
Zinc also gets called out for helping end your cold, but again the evidence is weak. And some people who used a nasal spray with zinc lost their sense of smell. So your best bet is to leave it on the shelf.
It isn’t just natural treatments that don’t work for colds. Antibiotics won’t help either, because a virus causes these illnesses. The best way to treat your cold is to manage the symptoms. Save the antibiotics for strep throat or a sinus infection.
6. You Can’t Quit Your Workout
It’s OK to be active if your cold symptoms are all above your neck, like a runny nose, stuffy head, sneezing or sore throat. Consider ramping down from a run to a walk, though.
But if you have symptoms below the neck, like chest congestion, a hacking cough, an upset tummy, fever, muscle aches or fatigue, give yourself permission to sit it out. Rest is what gives your immune system time to recharge.