A head cold, also known as the common cold or head congestion, is a viral nose and throat infection. It’s often a mild sickness that can be treated at home.
Adults get two or three casesTrusted Source of the head cold each year. Kids can catch eight or more of these illnesses annually. Colds are the main reason why kids stay home from school and adults miss work.
You can catch a cold after coming into contact with someone or something infected with the virus, and being exposed to air-borne cough or sneeze droplets that contains the virus. Most head colds are mild and can last for up to a week. But for some people, especially those who have weak immune systems can develop more serious health complication such as a sinus infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
Most colds are mild and last about a week. But some people, especially those with a weakened immune system, can develop more serious illnesses as a complication of a head cold, such as bronchitis, a sinus infection, or pneumonia.
The key to getting rid of a head cold is to reduce sinus swelling and help mucus drain from your sinuses. Although it might seem counterintuitive, keeping your nasal passages moist is the best way to clear out congestion—dry sinuses will only result in further irritation.
Understanding how head colds spread and knowing the symptoms of a head cold will help you find the best treatment for your symptoms if you catch one.
Learn how to spot the symptoms of a head cold and find out how to treat your symptoms if you do come down with a cold.
What Is A Head Cold?
A head cold is essentially a common cold, however its symptoms are felt mostly around the head and in the sinuses. Tell-tale symptoms may include nasal congestion (often referred to as a blocked nose), pressure in the sinuses and a headache. You may also have a high temperature, ear ache, muscle pain and loss of taste and smell. The symptoms are usually at their worst during the first two to three days, before they gradually start to improve. In adults and older children, they usually last about 7 to 10 days, but can last longer. A cough in particular can last for two or three weeks.
How are Head Colds Spread?
Head colds are caused by a virus entering the body, which can happen either through the air or through direct contact with the virus – so unfortunately, it’s quite easy for them to spread.iii
Viruses can be transmitted via water droplets in the air from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, which are then inhaled by you. You can also come into contact with the virus by touching an infected surface (such as doorknobs, rails or other objects), or by close direct contact with someone who has the virus (shaking hands, hugging or kissing). If you picked up a virus from an infected surface or person, then touch your mouth, eyes or nose, you may become infected too.i, iii
You’re more likely to come down with the symptoms of a head cold in the winter or fall, but you can get them at any time.i
The most common symptoms of a head cold include:
●A fever of 100 degrees F or higher
●Chills (feeling cold without a cause)
●Stuffiness (swollen tissue in the lining of your nose)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that adults will get the common cold two to three times per year, while children may have colds more than six times a year.
Several types of viruses can cause a head cold, including:
- human metapneumovirus (HMPV)
- human parainfluenza virus (HPIV)
- respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
Head colds are transmitted when an infected person sneezes or coughs, projecting droplets infected with the virus into the air or onto people around them.
It is possible to catch a head cold by coming into contact with surfaces or things that someone with the virus previously touched. The virus can enter the body through a person’s eyes, mouth, or nose.
Remedies and Treatments for a Head Cold
As a head cold is caused by a viral infection, antibiotics are not an effective treatment. Instead, treatment aims to manage the symptoms and reduce discomfort.
Some common home remedies for a head cold include:
- Rest: Resting helps the body heal. Staying home from work or school also reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
- Hydration: Staying hydrated helps loosen congestion in the nose and sinuses while soothing the throat. Water and diluted juice are good options to stay hydrated. Warm liquids, such as teas, broths, and soups, may be especially beneficial. A person should avoid caffeine and alcohol until fully recovered.
- Saltwater gargle: To soothe a sore throat, a person can mix a 1/2 teaspoon of salt with 8 ounces of warm water and use as a gargle.
- Pain relievers: A headache, sore throat, and fever may be relieved with over-the-counter medications. Some of these are also available for purchase online, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Always follow the instructions on the packet, especially if giving medications to children.
- Vaporizers or humidifiers: These devices help add moisture to the air, which may ease coughing and congestion. Using a vaporizer or humidifier at night might encourage a good night’s sleep. Vaporizers and humidifiers should be cleaned daily to discourage the growth of microbes and mold. A range of humidifiers available for purchase online.
- Nasal sprays: Saline nasal sprays can loosen mucus in the nose and are suitable for use by both children and adults. Adults may use decongestant nasal sprays for 3 to 5 days. However, people should avoid prolonged use of decongestant sprays. A range of nasal sprays are available for purchase online.
- Supplements: Many people take supplements to prevent or treat a head cold. The most popular supplements used include vitamin C, Echinacea, and zinc. However, there is limited evidence on whether taking supplements reduces symptoms.
You can’t cure a cold. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not the viruses that cause colds.
Your symptoms should improve within a few days. Until then, here are a few things you can do to make yourself more comfortable:
- Take it easy. Rest as much as you can to give your body time to recover.
- Drink lots of fluids, preferably water and fruit juices. Stay away from caffeinated drinks like soda and coffee. They’ll dehydrate you even more. Also avoid alcohol until you feel better.
- Soothe your sore throat. Gargle with a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon salt and 8 ounces of water a few times a day. Suck on a lozenge. Drink hot tea or soup broth. Or use a sore throat spray.
- Open up clogged nasal passages. A saline spray can help loosen up mucus in your nose. You can also try a decongestant spray, but stop using it after three days. Using decongestant sprays for longer than three days can lead to rebound stuffiness.
- Use a vaporizer or humidifier in your room while you sleep to ease congestion.
- Take a pain reliever. For mild aches, you can try an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Aspirin (Bufferin, Bayer Aspirin) is fine for adults, but avoid its use in children and teens. It can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome.
- If you use an OTC cold remedy, check the box. Make sure you only take medicine that treats the symptoms you have. Don’t give cold medicines to children under age 6.
It is not possible to vaccinate against a head cold, but the following steps may help reduce the risk of getting a cold virus:
- Avoid contact with infected people. Maintain a distance with anyone who has a head cold to reduce the risk of catching the virus.
- Wash hands regularly. Thoroughly cleaning the hands with soap and hot water reduces transmission of the virus. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also effective.
- Avoid sharing items. To prevent exposure to cold germs, try not to share cups or utensils with others.
- Use disinfectant when family members are sick. Kitchen countertops and bathroom fittings should be cleaned with disinfectant when a family member is sick. Also, it is important to clean children’s toys regularly.
- Sneeze or cough into tissues. Using tissues prevents germs spreading through the air. Throw away used tissues immediately and always wash hands after sneezing and coughing.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, reducing stress, and getting an adequate amount of sleep can help the immune system fight off an illness.
- Teach children good hygiene practices. Ask children to sneeze or cough into a tissue, or the bend of their elbow, so they cover their mouths without using their hands. Encourage children to wash their hands thoroughly on a regular basis.