A Patient Asks: “How Long Do Viral Respiratory Infections Last?”

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Every year beginning around September or October, the incidence of viral respiratory infections skyrockets. Symptoms typically begin with a stuffy or runny nose, congested sinuses, and/or a sore throat. Fevers are typically low-grade and last no more than a few days. The nasal symptoms and sore throat can last anywhere from a few days to a week. Then often as those symptoms are starting to get better, the patient starts to cough. The cough can last on average 18 days. Thus, the average total duration of a viral respiratory tract infection can be as long as three weeks.

It’s best for this reason to measure improvement not in terms of days but weeks. That is, don’t ask yourself if you’re better today than you were yesterday. Ask yourself if you’re better today than you were a week ago.

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