How Long Is a Cold Contagious? Here’s What You Need to Know

A sick woman sits on her sofa wrapped in a blanket, holding a coffee cup in one hand and a tissue to her nose in the other.

It’s that time of year again: cold and flu season. While most people experience colds during the fall and winter seasons, they can occur at any time of the year. 

In fact, on average, adults experience two to three colds per year, with children experiencing even more.

With the common cold living up to its name as one of the most common upper respiratory illnesses, it infects millions each year due to its contagious nature. 

Typically mild to moderate in intensity, colds are not something to worry too much about.

If you’re experiencing sniffling, sneezing, or other respiratory issues, you may have the common cold, which can be effectively treated with rest, hydration, and time. But if your symptoms are severe, you should seek urgent care or emergency treatment immediately.

Let’s discuss the common cold in more detail, including common symptoms, treatment options, and how long it is considered contagious. 

What Is the Common Cold?

The common cold is a contagious viral infection that affects your upper respiratory tract, specifically your nose and throat. 

About 200 different types of viruses can cause it, but rhinoviruses are the most common cause. 

Risk factors for cold contraction include

  • Direct or close contact with someone who has a cold
  • Time of year (most prevalent in the fall and winter months)
  • Age (most common in children and the elderly)


While symptom severity and type are different for everyone with cold, common symptoms include

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing

In rare cases, people may experience a low to mid-grade fever. 

Cold symptoms typically appear 2 to 3 days after exposure and last about 7 to 10 days in total. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

A cold is usually diagnosed by the signs and symptoms present. 

Most people with a cold recover on their own at home, but there are various ways to help lessen symptom severity and type, including

  • Proper hydration with clear liquids like water, juice, or soup broth
  • Adequate rest
  • OTC anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, and decongestants
  • Throat lozenges or a saltwater gargle to relieve a sore throat
  • OTC saline nasal drops or spray
  • A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier

How Long Is a Cold Contagious?

A cold is contagious from the moment you contract the virus until your symptoms disappear entirely. This means that you can spread the cold before your initial symptoms begin. 

Viruses that cause the common cold can spread from infected people to others through the air and close personal contact. 

In rarer instances, you can become infected or spread the cold through contact with stool or respiratory secretions from an infected person.

For most, a cold is contagious for about 2 weeks in total.

Cold Care and Treatment in Oxford

At Oxford Urgent Care, we understand the importance of feeling like yourself again sooner, especially during cold and flu season. 

Since a cold is contagious, rapid diagnosis and treatment are essential in slowing or stopping the spread to others at home or the office. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a cold, especially ones that seem to linger or become severe, we are here to help. 

You should visit Oxford Urgent Care for a cold if you experience

  • Trouble breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Fever that lasts more than 4 days
  • Symptoms that last more than 10 days without improvement
  • Symptoms that improve but then return or worsen, such as a fever
  • An increase in symptoms or severity of chronic medical conditions

Our urgent care facility is open seven days a week with no appointments necessary. Simply walk in today to get the cold treatment you need now to start feeling better today.