Experiencing a Headache and Congestion? It Might be a Head Cold
A head cold, commonly referred to as the common cold, is a viral illness that affects the nose and throat. Although it is typically a mild infection, its symptoms can be quite disruptive to daily life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average adult catches a cold two to three times per year, with children experiencing even more. In this article, we’ll discuss the causes and symptoms of a head cold, and outline some effective remedies for symptom relief.
What Is a Head Cold?
Head colds can look similar to other conditions, such as sinus infections and chest colds, but there are some major differences. For instance, a head cold happens when a viral illness triggers symptoms mainly in the head, including a headache and nasal congestion.
While the signs and symptoms of a chest cold typically include a cough and chest congestion. Although sinus infections have similar symptoms to head colds, they are usually caused by bacterial infections as opposed to viral infections.
What Are the Common Triggers of a Head Cold?
While many kinds of viruses are responsible for causing a head cold, rhinoviruses account for most cases of head colds. This virus gets into the body through the nose, eyes, or mouth. It can circulate through droplets suspended in the air when an infected person talks, sneezes, or coughs.
Other ways through which head colds spread include hand-to-hand contact with a person with a head cold, or through sharing contaminated items such as telephones, utensils, toys, or towels, etc. If after such contact or exposure you touch your mouth, eyes, or nose, you have a high likelihood of catching one.
What Risk Factors Increase Your Likelihood of Catching a Head Cold?
- Age: Babies below six months of age are at higher risk of colds, particularly if they spend most of their time in child-care environments.
- Season: Both kids and adults are more predisposed to this cold during the fall and winter months.
- Compromised immune system: If you have a chronic illness or a suppressed immune system, your risk of getting a cold is heightened.
- Exposure: If you are frequently in public places such as schools, movie theaters, or on an airplane, your risk of catching a head cold is increased.
- Smoking: Smokers tend to have a higher risk of colds that quickly become severe compared to non-smokers.
What Are Some of the Complications Associated with Head Colds?
- Acute ear infection: This head cold-related complication is also called otitis media. It arises when bacteria or viruses penetrate the space at the back of the eardrum. Common symptoms include earaches, and in some instances, the nose discharges a green or yellow fluid. The recurrence of a fever after a head cold attack is another symptom of otitis media.
- Acute sinusitis: When this type of cold becomes stubborn and fails to respond to therapies, it can result in sinus inflammation and infection.
- Asthma: A severe head cold can exacerbate asthma.
- Infections: Head colds can trigger other secondary infections, including pneumonia, strep throat, and bronchiolitis in kids.
Those with pulmonary problems may experience lung infections caused by nontuberculous mycobacteria, an organism that is present in soil and water.
Symptoms of a Head Cold
Symptoms of a head cold usually begin within one to three days of becoming infected with the virus and can persist for up to ten days. During the first three days of infection, you’re highly infectious, although you have the ability to transmit the infection any time during the first week of symptoms.
This type of cold usually starts with a sore throat and within a short period of time, additional symptoms often present, including:
- A runny nose
- A cough
- A headache
- Nasal and/or sinus congestion
Fever isn’t typically a symptom of this cold; it is more indicative of the flu or a bacterial infection.
After the first couple of days of head cold symptoms, the discharge from your runny nose will change from a watery discharge to more of a dense and dark consistency. You may also experience a mild cough, which may persist for two weeks.
A head cold has the potential to prompt an asthma attack, if you have asthma, talk to your medical professional to find out if it is necessary to change your regular treatment regimen.
What Are the Best Treatments for a Head Cold?
Just like most colds, a head cold doesn’t have a cure; it’s a self-limiting illness. That being said, the goal of medications and natural remedies is to alleviate the symptoms of a head cold, not to cure the viral infection.
Since a head cold attacks the head and sinuses more frequently compared to an average cold, treatments such as nasal sprays to deal with a stuffy nose, and painkillers to alleviate headaches, come in handy. Below are some of the remedies that can help relieve the symptoms:
- Echinacea extract: This remedy concentrates on eliminating the underlying viral infection triggering your cold. It serves as an immune system booster, and also carries anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.
- Menthol-based nasal sprays: Head colds result in a stuffy or blocked nose. A menthol-based nasal spray can help treat nasal congestion.
- Painkillers: Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are effective as far as treatment of a head cold is involved.
How Long Does a Head Cold Last?
Head colds usually go away after seven to ten days. In rare cases, a cold can progress into a more severe illness such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
If you experience cold symptoms for more than ten days, or they progressively worsen, you should speak to your physician to ensure that there isn’t an underlying bacterial infection that needs to be treated.