The Stages of a Cold (Exciting New 2020 Data)

The common cold and flu have a cycle of four distinct stages or phases. Each of the stages of a cold can vary in its severity and duration. Different natural treatments are more appropriate at certain phases.

Your immune system, nutrition, and an inappropriate or incorrect treatment can all influence the severity and duration of each phase.

By understanding the life cycle of common colds and flu, you will be able to treat them more effectively and reduce the likelihood of secondary infections such as bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, etc.

Let’s learn more about the different stages of a cold and find out how to defend yourself in surprising new ways!

Stages of a cold infographic
This infographic shows the four stages of a cold or flu including symptoms and treatment options.

Stages of a Common Cold: In-Depth

Stage 1: Inflamation

The first stage of a cold or flu is all about inflammation. Everything is hot and dry. Inflammation occurs as your immune system mounts an attack against the invading virus.

Fever occurs as your immune system elevates your body’s temperature to make it more uncomfortable for the virus (it also makes it more uncomfortable for you as well).

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Viruses prefer your normal body temperature, and fever makes it more difficult for the virus to reproduce.

On the other hand, the elevated temperature speeds up reactions in your body, including the function of your immune system and immune cells.

Interferon, a potent antiviral substance produced by your immune system, is produced in larger amounts in response to fever.

This first stage of a cold is the most infectious stage.

You also tend to feel pretty lousy as well, and the single most effective treatment here is rest.

Taking medications to suppress symptoms at this stage will only end in disaster. By opposing what your immune system is trying to do you’ll find that stage 2 and 3 will be much more severe and you’ll be at a greater risk of developing sinus or chest infections.

Stage 1 Symptoms

  1. The Stages of a Cold - CoughChills
  2. Headache
  3. Muscle aches and pains
  4. Fatigue
  5. Dry, sore throat
  6. Dry, irritated cough
  7. Dry and swollen nasal passages
  8. Decreased appetite
  9. Increased thirst
  10. Sore, swollen glands
  11. Children and infants often become more grumpy, irritable or clingy. Stage 1 is often missed with children, many parents think their child is just being naughty and then they wake the next day with a runny nose or cough. Once you learn to recognize Stage 1 symptoms in your child you can start treatment much sooner.

Stage 1 Treatment

  • The Stages of a Cold - RestingRest is the most important and effective treatment. Small, frequent sips of warm filtered water with a tiny pinch of sea salt or chicken soup can be given. Don’t worry too much about food at this stage if you or your child don’t feel hungry. Chicken soup will provide all the nourishment your body needs.
  • Warm herbal teas can help you feel more comfortable and assist your immune system. The combination of Yarrow, Elderflower and Peppermint can be used with children and adults. Peppermint tea on its own can also be helpful. Sweeten with a little raw honey if desired.
  • Avoid sugar, fruit juice, soft drinks, cordial (including diet cordials) and sports drinks. Sugar will suppress your immune system. White flour products such as bread, pasta, cakes, and biscuits are not much more than sugar in disguise
  • Avoid exercise, your body needs rest.
  • The Stages of a Cold - Homeopathic dropsThe tissue salt Ferrum Phos can be used in place of paracetamol for children and adults. You can also use Ferrum Phos homeopathic in a 6C, 12C or 30C potency. Both can be given every 2 hours as required. Dissolve the tissue salt in warm water or use homeopathic drops for infants and children.
  • Alternating the tissue salts Ferrum Phos and Kali Mur (potassium chloride) every 2 hours during phase 1 can shorten the duration of phase 2 and 3.
  • A combination of the immune tonic herbs Echinacea and Andrographis taken every 2 hours can shorten the entire duration of a cold and flu. Stage 1 is the most effective time to begin herbal immune support treatment.
  • Gargling liquid zinc and water can take the pain out of sore throats (I find it’s as effective as paracetamol or aspirin), other sore throat soothers include lemon juice, raw honey, ginger and liquorice root (use the dried root or a herbal extract added to your tea).
  • For dry coughs that are interfering with sleep, use a combination of the herbs Wild Cherry Bark and Marshmallow root. Also see: How to get rid of a dry cough

Stage 2: Mucous

At this stage of a cold, you are always left wondering how such a small body part can produce so much mucus. The mucus at this stage is clear and runny, and there is usually lots of it.

This is the stage where it’s tempting to take a decongestant to dry everything up.


The Stages of a Cold - DecongestantTaking a decongestant now will only prolong this stage and increase the likelihood of a more severe and longer-lasting cold.

Stage 2 should only last a few days, if it’s lasting longer than 3 days in yourself, your child or another family member you need to look at building up their immune system.

A runny nose usually starts when a cold is starting to get better. When the cold virus first infects the nose and sinuses, the nose starts making lots of clear mucus.

This mucus helps wash the virus out of the nose and sinuses. After two or three days, as the body fights back, the mucus changes as you enter stage 3.

Stage 2 Symptoms

  1. The Stages of a Cold - Mucus in respiratory systemLots of clear, runny mucus.
  2. Mucus may be thicker and take on a white colour after sleep.
  3. Children often have a very ‘wet’ sounding cough after sleep despite their chest being clear when someone listens to it. This cough is caused by a runny nose dripping backward.
  4. Children can also vomit up excess mucus that they swallow, or you might notice mucus in their nappies. This is nothing to be concerned about, their stomach acid will take care of any virus lurking in the mucus.
  5. Sneezing
  6. Conjunctivitis

Stage 2 Treatment

  • The Stages of a Cold - EchinaceaContinue with your immune tonic herbs such as Echinacea and Andrographis. A combination of Echinacea and Ribwort is best for children.
  • If you’re prone to sinus infections, start the herbs Golden Seal and Ground Ivy along with immune tonic herbs. A herbalist can make you up a formula containing all of these herbs.
  • If you or your child are prone to bronchitis, you need to add Thyme to your herbal formula. Garlic tea for adults and garlic socks for small children can also help.
  • The herb Eyebright is effective for conjunctivitis when used internally and externally as an eyebath or wash.
  • Keep up with plenty of warm fluids like herbal teas.
  • Keep your child out of day-care and if you’ve returned to work, ensure that you’re in bed between 9.30-10pm. Your body heals during deep sleep that occurs between 11pm and 2am.
  • Homeopathic Medicines for Stage 2 include:
    • Nat Mur 6x, 6c or 12c every 2 hours: lots of sneezing with profuse clear mucus and dry, cracked lips. Works well if you’re prone to cold sores.
    • Kali Mur 6x, 6c or 12c: mucus tends to white colour and tongue is coated white.
    • Allium Cepa 6c or 12c every 2-4 hours: Clear, profuse discharge from the nose corrodes and irritates the nose and upper lip.
    • Euphrasia 6c or 12c every 2-4 hours: Tears and watery eyes which burn and irritate. Conjunctivitis.

Stage 3: Congestion

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If you’ve rested and treated stages 1 and 2 effectively, stage 3 may be so mild that you seem to bypass it altogether. On the other hand, if you’ve taken lots of medications including decongestants, this is the stage where sinus, ear or other infections will develop.

If you’re prone to sinus infections, start treatment in phase 1 or 2 to prevent them occurring.

During Stage 3, mucus becomes thick and changes colour from clear to the white of stage 2 to yellow or green. As the bacteria that usually live in the nose grow back, they change the mucus to a greenish colour.

This is normal. It doesn’t mean you or your child has an infection that needs to be treated with medicines like antibiotics.

Stage 3 Symptoms

  1. The Stages of a Cold - Sinus painThick yellowish colored mucus that may change to green, especially in the morning or after a sleep.
  2. Sinus pain and headache.
  3. Postnasal drip (thick mucus dripping down the back of your throat).
  4. A wet sounding cough from mucus dripping down the back of your throat. Also see: How to get rid of a wet cough.
  5. The throat may be sore when you wake in the morning, as the thick mucus congestion forces you to breathe through your mouth.
  6. Constant nose blowing can irritate the membranes in your nose and mucus may be tinged with blood.

Stage 3 Treatment

  • Continue immune tonic herbs and other herbs as appropriate (golden seal and ground ivy for sinus or ear infections, thyme and garlic for bronchitis).
  • Garlic helps to break mucus down, making it easier to cough up or blow out. Raw garlic is best but garlic tablets and capsules can also be effective.
  • Homeopathic medicines for Stage 3 include:
    • The Stages of a Cold - PulsatillaPulsatilla 6c or 12c every 2-4 hours: Ideal remedy for babies and children. Mucus continually changing colour from white to clear to green and back again. The nose is blocked and congested at night and indoors, becoming runny when outside in open air. Often little or no thirst.
    • Mercurious 6c or 12c every 2-4 hours: Lots of saliva with a bad taste in the mouth. Thin discharge from nose, sneezing and watering eyes. Sore throat which stings and pricks, worse at night and on waking in the morning. Often with night sweats.
    • Kali Sulph 6c or 12c every 2-4 hours: Yellow discharge and desire for fresh air.
    • Calc Sulph 6c or 12c every 2-4 hours: Yellow discharge changing to a yellow-green, can be tinged with blood. Mucus is slimy.
    • Kali Bich 6c or 12c every 2-4 hours: Thick yellow or yellow-green mucus which is stringy, rope, tough and jelly-like forming crusts in the nose.
    • Hepar Sulph 6c or 12c every 2-4 hours: Takes cold on the slightest exposure to cold air. The nose becomes blocked up when outside in fresh air. Often has a sore throat like a sensation of a splinter stuck in the throat. Loose, barking cough usually worse at night time.

Stage 4: Convalescence and Recovery

Convalescence and recovery, while not a true stage of colds and flu, is a valuable art that we have lost as a society.

Your body literally fights a war each time you have a cold, and allowing some time at the end of the infection for your body to clean up the mess and repair the damage can mean the difference between another cold next month or next year.

Convalescence is very simple, all it involves is a few extra days of ‘quiet time’ (don’t schedule in any extracurricular activities), early nights and nutritious foods.

You may resume exercise but don’t overdo it, intense exercise has a temporary suppressant effect on your immune system. A long walk is far better at this stage than an intense exercise session at the gym or a run.

The Stages of a Cold - Healthy happy childAlthough children appear to bounce back quickly from colds, having an extra day or two once they’re well with limited activities, early nights and extra nutritious food will ensure their immune system is fully recovered.

Many people find that it can take a few weeks after all the stages of a cold before their energy and sense of well-being returns to normal. A few days following a convalescent program will ensure that you make a 100% recovery ASAP.

After doing a lot of research, I only take Elderberry from Lost Empire Herbs. Click on the image or here to find out why their sourcing and extraction processes are second-to-none! This Is The Only Full-Spectrum Elderberry (Sambucus) Extract in the  World! No One Else Offers this Level of Quality!


  • Drink lots of warm fluids including herbal teas
  • Make sure you’re in bed between 9.30 and 10pm
  • Have a nap during the day if you need to
  • Keep yourself warm – wear a singlet or vest and a scarf if going outside
  • Eat lots of warm slow-cooked foods; soups, stews, and casseroles are ideal
  • Eat lots of nutrition-dense foods such as egg yolks, liver, and chicken soup
  • Take a probiotic supplement (acidophilus and bifidus) or use homemade yoghurt or Kefir to replenish good bacteria in your digestive tract (remember over 60% of your immune cells are located in your digestive tract).
  • Top up your vitamin A stores with cod liver oil
  • Take a liquid zinc supplement for a few weeks
  • Engage in gentle exercise such as yoga and walking


  • Drink cold water
  • Consume sugar, fruit juice, cordial, soft drinks or sports drinks
  • Drink high caffeine-containing drinks such as tea and coffee
  • Engage in high impact or intense sports or exercise including running, cycling, boxing, Bikram and Ashtanga yoga
  • Skip meals
  • Eat processed breakfast cereals (pretty much all the breakfast cereals in the supermarket, including so-called “health food” cereals)
  • Eat excessive raw foods including fruit or salad

This is a fun and humorous look at the stages of a cold and phases of the flu that we thought you might find interesting in your research. When you’re done watching, please do us a quick favor!

Will you please leave a comment below and let us know any questions you might have, as well as tips for what has worked or not worked for you as an effective treatment in the past?

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8 thoughts on “The Stages of a Cold (Exciting New 2020 Data)”

  1. I recently followed your advice regarding hyssop, but it did practically nothing for my throat tickle. Thyme also does very little for me. Does ground ivy do anything in this regard (Glechoma hederacea)? I use ground ivy, and it seems to have some small benefit. Ground ivy dried herb is available in bulk from Blessed Herbs, they don’t pay me for saying this, I’m just a customer. I remember somebody (Linda Shipley?) was looking for ground ivy bulk herb.

    My greater problem is that the throat tickle spawns chest tightness, and I have difficulty eating adequately, especially starchy foods, and I get hungry again within five hours or less, even at night. Then when my stomach approaches empty, my throat and respiratory chest muscles act up, a vicious cycle.

  2. I’ve had a cold now for 6 days, have heavily medicated from day 1, and even though I feel good in the morning, by noon I’m back to coughing, blowing my nose, taken a giant step back…..I will print and pay attention to the info above!

  3. This plant (Cistus incanus ssp. tauricus ROCKROSE) intrigued me in the latest Richter’s catalogue and I’m happy to see that my seeds have germinated. Hopefully I can keep this eastern Mediterranean plant happy and growing in California.

    Does anyone have any experience using this plant – even for just common winter viruses and colds? It has been used in Lyme disease as well which is very impressive to me! Just drink the tea or make a tincture? What about dosage?

  4. Folks,
    I’m away from home–no books and few of my herbal resources, and have come down with mastoiditis (angry, itching swelling behind one ear) and some mild ear ache. The internet isn’t what it used to be for herbal resources, alas, and I don’t know how to search the Herb Archives for our list. Can anyone either point to a thread where this has been discussed on the list or suggest their favorite topical treatments, both for drops in the ear and topical behind the ear on the inflamed mastoid bone? I know about herbal oils for otitis media, but want to explore the use of tinctures either as drops in the ear or topical behind the ear. I will also take various anti-microbials orally (tinctures, vitamins), but with the ear I think topicals are the key.
    Thanks for any pointers.

    • For ear inflammation and aches, I always like herbs that have pulling action, and that aid not only the respiratory tract, but also the lymphatic system.
      An infused oil with plantago major just settled down my mastoid bone upset, and swiftly.
      Mullein is of course the beloved favorite, and it does nicely, also oil infused. Solidago spp, I find, also really aids many upper respiratory situations, but depending on your constitution, yarrow might be more effective.
      Infused oils, or poultice, for topical, but tinctures of the same are also very useful.


  5. Craig,
    Try applying fresh mashed plantain leaf and/or mullein leaf poultice
    topically. Internally, tea or tinctures of mullein leaf, violet leaf &
    cleavers, all of which you might find growing as wayside weeds.

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