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Wait, Is It Normal to Get a Cold Every Month?

Woman experiencing a monthly cold

Getting sick is never fun and if you routinely feel under the weather, it can feel like you just can’t catch a break. The common cold is an illness affecting the nose and throat. While its impacts on health are typically minimal, it can be annoying to deal with consistently. After all, no one likes feeling run-down.

Just how often is it considered normal to catch a cold? Here, doctors break it down, share what do do when you get sick and when it’s important to seek medical care.

Related: Stuffed Up With a Sore Throat? You Probably Have a Cold—Here's Everything You Need to Know About It

How Often Is It Normal to Get a Cold?

Dr. Stephanie Agyemang, MD, a primary care provider located in Jacksonville, Florida, and the founder of Fresh Start Primary Care, says that it’s considered normal for adults to get a cold two to three times a year, on average.

However, she explains there are a few factors that can cause some people to get a cold more or less often: “Your overall health could increase or decrease this average. People that are immunocompromised, like uncontrolled diabetics, pregnant patients and cancer patients, have a harder time fighting off cold-causing agents."

Dr. Laura Purdy, MD, MBA, a board-certified family medicine physician and the medical director and co-founder of SWELL Medical, agrees, saying that the average adult can expect to get a cold between one and three times a year.

That being said, both Dr. Purdy and Dr. Agyemang explain that the level of exposure plays a role in how often someone gets a cold. “This is going to be impacted by lifestyle choices such as how often you are around others in your job or social life. It can also be how often you find yourself in crowds or touching the same surfaces as those who are infected, such as restaurants and public transportation, for example,” Dr. Purdy says.

“If you are a daycare worker, use frequent airplane travel or live in a college dorm, you may be exposed to more cold-causing agents than usual. If you work from home, you may have less exposure,” Dr. Agyemang adds.

Related: Wondering How Long That Annoying Cold Will Have You Parked In Front of the TV With a Box of Tissues? We Have Your Answer

If you find yourself constantly battling a cold, there may be an underlying reason. Board-certified family physician Dr. Amber Robins, MD, MBA, says that if someone has cold-like symptoms for much of the year or for several months, it could be due to an underlying medical condition that is predisposing them to be sick. “Those who have a runny nose may have these symptoms from allergies. Some who have a chronic cough may have a chronic lung disease like COPD,” she explains.

When to See a Doctor Versus When to Treat Your Cold at Home

Coming down with a cold is annoying, sure, but is it actually something worth seeing a doctor about? All three doctors say that there are absolutely times when it’s a good idea to see a healthcare provider when you have a cold.

If you are taking any prescription medications, Dr. Robins says it can be a good idea to ask your doctor what over-the-counter cold medications are safe to take. That way, you avoid any potentially dangerous drug interactions. “It is always OK to [see your] doctor for advice on the management because the cold and sinus aisle can be overwhelming,” Dr. Agyemang explains. In other words, never feel bad about seeing your doctor about a cold.

If your symptoms have lasted 10 days or longer, that’s another time when Dr. Robins says to see your doctor because your cold may actually be a bacterial sinus infection. “If you find yourself always getting sick and feel like you are sick more often than your friends and family it's worth it to have a conversation with your doctor about your concerns and make sure there is nothing else underlying going on,” Dr. Purdy explains, sharing another time it’s worth it to see a doctor.

Related: So You Feel a Cold Coming On—Here's Everything You Can Do To Stop It In Its Tracks 

If you have lung disease, this is another instance where Dr. Robins says it’s important to see your doctor when you get a cold because treatment may involve giving steroids or antibiotics, or could require hospitalization.

Outside of these instances, the doctors all say that a cold can be treated at home. Dr. Agyemang recommends taking a COVID test. If it comes back positive, it’s important to self-isolate to protect others from catching it.

“Most colds last from seven to 10 days and will resolve on their own but it's normal to feel terrible with a cold. The mainstay of cold treatment is to manage the symptoms,” Dr. Agyemang says. She recommends cough suppressants and decongestants to help with coughing and a stuffy nose, common cold symptoms. All three doctors share that rest and hydration are key for recovering from a cold.

As the doctors explained, the vast majority of people are not going to get a cold more than a few times a year. If you find yourself coming down with one every month, it’s worth it to see your doctor about it. That way, they can help you figure out how to stay healthy and feel your best, if not every day, then at least most of the time.

Next up, here's how to figure out if you have a cold or COVID.

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