The cold symptoms that cause a stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, and sometimes coughing are familiar to most people and are also known as the common cold. Usually resolved within 10 days, it is undeniable that the disease can seriously affect daily life.
Head colds are the most common viral infection — on average, adults get two to three colds a year, and children may get more colds. They are usually not dangerous, and complications are rare. Symptom management and home remedies can address most conditions.
This article provides a brief overview of this viral infection, discussing its symptoms, causes, potential complications, treatments, and what you can do at home to control it.
What is a cold head?
Colds are airborne viral infections of the upper respiratory tract that affect the sinuses, ears, and throat. They are highly contagious, are caused by more than 200 different types of viral infections, and are the most common cause of doctor visits in the U.S. People of all ages are prone to colds, although children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are more likely to experience the flu they.
cold and flu
Although the two are often confused, a cold is not the same as the flu or the flu (another viral infection). Influenza develops quickly. Also, while it can cause a cough (like a cold), it is also associated with fever, body aches, and fatigue.
Since colds affect the respiratory system, symptoms are mostly felt there. You may be familiar, the most common of which are:
- sore throat
- runny nose
- sinus pressure
Altogether, these symptoms last 7 to 10 days. However, those with lung disease, asthma or weakened immune systems may develop complications and require more severe treatment.
Head Cold vs COVID-19 Omicron Variants
COVID-19 omicron variants are known to cause cold-like symptoms, including runny nose, sore throat, sneezing and coughing. However, omicron can also cause loss of taste or smell, fever, and severe headaches.
Learn more: Do Omicron COVID variants cause different symptoms?
Causes of colds
More than 200 viruses can cause colds; however, rhinovirus infections account for about 10% to 40% of cases. Other more common viruses that cause symptoms are certain coronaviruses (a family of viruses that includes COVID-19) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Colds occur when these viruses enter the body through the mucous membranes, the soft lining of the nostrils, the eyes or the mouth. This happens by inhaling droplets that are emitted when an infected person coughs or exhales. Alternatively, the virus on the surface or on the skin of another person can be spread from the hands to the mouth or eyes on the skin.
While most colds go away on their own (usually within 2 to 10 days), some colds can have complications. When your body fights off the virus, your immune system can take a hit, paving the way for a bacterial infection. This can lead to:
- Sinus infection (often accompanied by a prolonged cough)
- ear infection
- acute bronchitis
These complications are more likely to occur in several different groups of people:
- Seniors over 65
- People with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or other respiratory conditions
Treating a cold in the head
While there is no complete cure for a cold, treatments focus on managing symptoms as your body’s natural immunity fights the infection. Many medications for this condition, available over the counter and prescribed, help reduce the burden of this condition:
- Painkillers: Two classes of drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (including ibuprofen, etc.) and Tylenol (acetaminophen). These can be purchased over the counter or in prescribed strengths.
- Nasal decongestants: A range of medications help relieve sinus pressure and congestion, including Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and Sudafed PE (phenylephrine).
- Cough suppressants: Robitussin (dextromethorphan) and codeine are effective in relieving cough attacks caused by colds.
- Antihistamines: Also used to treat allergies, antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine) can also relieve symptoms.
- Expectorants: These drugs, such as Mucinex (guaifenesin), loosen mucus in the lungs and help relieve symptoms.
While these medications can relieve symptoms, it’s important to note that they don’t make the cold go away faster.
Since colds are caused by viruses and not bacteria, antibiotics (z-pack, tetracycline, etc.) do not work against them. Antibiotics are only used for bacterial infections, so they can be used to treat complications such as ear infections and bronchitis.
Why you may not need antibiotics for a cold or flu
In addition to medication, many home remedies and methods can help further manage symptoms. Doctors recommend preventing colds by:
- get plenty of rest
- Stay home from get off work or school/ensure your child does this
- drink plenty of fluids, especially hot ones
- Quitting or not smoking when sick
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
While some supplements, such as vitamin C and herbal echinacea may be used to prevent colds, there isn’t much evidence to support this use. However, researchers have found that zinc supplements may help reduce the duration of colds.
Of course, the most effective way to avoid cold symptoms is to make sure you don’t get the disease in the first place. Not only that, but by avoiding infection, you will reduce your chances of spreading the virus to those around you. The following precautions are often recommended:
- Washing your hands: Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, especially if you suspect contact with an infected person. Using hand sanitizer can also help.
- Avoid close contact: Do not hug, touch, or come into close contact with someone with a cold, especially if they have recently developed symptoms.
- Don’t touch your face: Avoid touching your face because cold viruses enter the body through the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, and mouth.
- Keep surfaces clean: Because viruses can live on surfaces, clean frequently touched surfaces, such as table tops, counters, and doorknobs, with disinfecting soap.
- Lifestyle changes: Healthy habits can keep your immune system strong. Exercise regularly, eat well, and make sure you get enough sleep.
- Stay at home: If you do get sick, don’t go to work or school to prevent spreading the cold to others.
When to see a healthcare provider
While most colds resolve on their own with rest and symptom management, sometimes medical help is required. Call your doctor if you or your child:
- high fever
- chest pain
- ear or ear pain
- asthma attack
- Symptoms persist for more than 10 days
The life cycle of the common cold: how long does it last?
In addition, parents of sick children or infants should seek medical help in the following situations:
- loss of appetite
- cry more than usual
- ear or stomach pain
- increased fatigue
The head cold, also known as the common cold, is the most common viral infection. The disease causes sore throats, sinus congestion, sneezing, coughing and headaches, which usually resolve within 10 days.
Treatment focuses on symptom management, with pain relievers, nasal decongestants, cough suppressants, and expectorants among prescribed medications. Getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids, along with other lifestyle measures, can improve cold management.
Preventing the disease includes avoiding contact with infected people, washing and disinfecting hands, keeping surfaces clean, and boosting immunity.
Just because colds are common, doesn’t mean they’re not debilitating. The keys to managing the disease are doing what you can to reduce symptoms, get plenty of rest and fluids, and develop habits that prevent its spread. Also, paying attention to how the virus that causes the cold is spread — through the air and the surfaces you touch — will further keep you out of the situation. The more you know about the situation and what you can do about it, the better off your situation will be.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get rid of a cold in the head?
Treatment of a cold often involves symptom management, and there is no cure for it. In most cases, the body’s natural immunity will resolve the problem within 10 days. The keys to recovery include getting enough rest, staying home from get off work or school, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and smoking.
What medicine do you take for a cold?
While medicines don’t cure colds, they can help manage symptoms and reduce their burden. Commonly used drugs include:
- Pain relievers (Motrin, Advil, ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc.)
- Nasal decongestants (Sudafed, Sudafed PE)
- Cough suppressants (Robitussin, codeine)
- Antihistamines (benadryl, Zyrtec)
- Expectorants (Mucinex, Robitussin for chest tightness)
How long does it take for a cold to be contagious?
Colds are contagious one to two days before symptoms appear. Although it can vary, they usually remain the same throughout the course of the disease. Because people can become carriers without knowing it, the virus spreads easily.