What Are The 4 Stages Of A Cold?

Colds may seem relatively simple but, as Mindbodygreen (MBG) explains, there are 4 stages of a common cold and understanding each one can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The first stage is when you're initially exposed to and infected by the virus. Dr. Terrell Smith tells MBG that you will not have any symptoms just yet. The second stage, incubation, lasts between one and three days. This is the time between getting infected and starting to experience symptoms.

In the third stage, symptoms develop. This stage generally lasts for up to 10 days. In the early part of this stage, emergency room physician Darria Long Gillespie tells MBG that you may not quite know if you're sick or if you just have allergies. After that, symptoms peak and you realize you have a full-blown cold. You may experience congestion, body aches, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, or cough for a few days. This is when you're the most contagious. 

The final stage, recovery, typically starts a week after you develop symptoms, although it may take up to a month for some people. Even though you don't feel 100% better, you start to realize symptoms are simmering down.

How to treat the common cold

Regardless of which stage the cold is in, MBG says treatment options are pretty much the same. According to Dr. Terrell Smith, getting lots of rest and staying hydrated throughout every stage is key. Over-the-counter medications can help, but they won't cure a cold. You can also try natural home remedies like honey and tea. Dr. Darria Long Gillespie recommends keeping a first-aid kit with a thermometer, nasal saline rinses, anti-inflammatory medicine, and humidifier nearby to ensure you're comfortable during stage three.

At the end of the day, MBG says preventative measures are always the best. Your diet, exercise, sleep habits, and other lifestyle behaviors all have an impact on your immune system. Gillespie says that people who even take small measures like going for a walk every day are less likely to catch a cold or get bitten by the flu bug. Smith adds that once you're sick, however, it's all about getting plenty of rest.