The common cold is a viral infection that affects your upper respiratory tract.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colds are one of the main reasons people miss school or work. Adults have an average of two to three colds per year, while children have even more.

Incubation period refers to the time between exposure to a bacteria or virus and the development of symptoms. The incubation period of a cold is typically between one and three days.

There are several factors that can affect the length of the incubation period, including:

  • the amount of virus you were exposed to, called the infectious dose
  • the strength of your immune system
  • the route through which the virus entered your body

The common cold is a contagious disease, meaning that it can be spread from person to person. You can spread a cold to others a few days before your symptoms start. That means you can possibly spread it to other people without even knowing.

You continue to be contagious as long as you have symptoms. Recovery from a cold usually takes 7 to 10 days. Since you’re contagious from before your symptoms start until they improve, you can potentially spread the virus to others for up to two weeks.

The virus responsible for the common cold can enter your body through your nose, mouth, or eyes. You might get it through direct contact.

For example, someone with a cold may have the virus on their hands. If you were to shake hands with them and then touch your face, nose, or mouth afterward, you may develop a cold.

You can also get a cold from inhaling particles when a person with a cold sneezes or coughs near you.

Contaminated objects and surfaces can also transmit the virus. Commonly contaminated objects include door handles, eating utensils, and shared toys.

Colds tend to come on gradually. You may begin to notice the early symptoms between one to three days after exposure to the virus.

Some early cold symptoms include:

  • tickle or scratchiness in the back of your throat
  • sneezing
  • fatigue

There’s no cure for the common cold. Instead, treatment revolves around relieving your symptoms.

Some remedies promise to shorten the duration of a cold when taken as soon as you start noticing symptoms.

Here’s a look at some of the most popular ones.

Oral zinc

Some studies suggest that taking zinc by mouth may reduce the length of a cold when taken within 24 hours after you notice symptoms.

Since taking oral zinc can have side effects, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider before using it as a treatment option.

Avoid intranasal zinc that you put up your nose. It’s been linked with irreversible loss of the sense of smell.

Vitamin C

A 2013 review of clinical trials found that regular vitamin C supplementation doesn’t decrease your likelihood of getting a cold. It can sometimes reduce the duration or severity of your cold.

However, it should be noted that, in these trials, vitamin C didn’t have much of an effect when taken after the onset of symptoms.

Echinacea

There’s mixed evidence regarding the effectiveness of echinacea for treating colds. A 2014 review of clinical trials found that echinacea had only affected the duration of a cold in two out of six trials that were reviewed.

As the illness progresses, you may experience additional symptoms, such as:

  • runny or stuffy nose
  • cough
  • headache
  • mild body aches and pains
  • low-grade fever

It can take anywhere from 7 to 10 days to fully recover from a cold. You’ll likely start to notice some improvement after about three to five days.

The common cold is a contagious viral infection with an incubation period of one to three days. This means it could take up to three days for you to notice symptoms after being exposed to the virus.

There’s no cure for a cold, but taking oral zinc at the first sign of a cold or regularly taking a vitamin C supplement may help to shorten the duration of a cold.

In most cases, you’ll simply need to let your body rest as it fights the infection and begin the recovery process.