Commentary: Why has my cold dragged on so long? Could it be something more serious?

BRISBANE: Common colds are caused by viruses. There are no effective cures, and antibiotics do not work on viruses, so treatment is targeted at managing the symptoms until your immune system has cleared the cold.

So why might someone go to a doctor at all for a cold?

Well, occasionally a cold might turn into something more serious requiring assessment and specific treatment, and a general practitioner (GP) visit could be warranted. Or you may just want reassurance and advice.


Problems arise when there are too many unwarranted visits to GPs for cold symptoms.

Studies have shown antibiotics are still prescribed widely for viral colds, even though they don’t help, and this contributes to antibiotic resistance. It hastens the arrival of an era when many antibiotics simply don’t work at all.

On average, children have four to six colds per year, while in adults the average is two to three. Some people are more prone to colds, but we don’t know exactly why.

The usual cold persists about one week, although 25 per cent last two weeks. In one study with 346 adults, the infection lasted 9.5 to 11 days.

Cold symptoms may last longer in younger children. One study showed an average duration of colds ranged from 6.6 to 9 days. But symptoms lasted more than 15 days in 6.5 per cent of 1 to 3 year old children in home care, and 13.1 per cent of 2 to 3 year old children in day care.

A cough tends to last longer than other symptoms, and often beyond the actual viral infection. The average duration of a cough is about 17.8 days.

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