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Health & Wellness

What is a Head Cold? Everything You Need to Know

With the variety of respiratory illnesses going around, it can be hard to determine exactly what you are suffering from. Is it a head cold, a chest cold, or a sinus infection?

Knowing how to cure your symptoms starts with understanding the particular illness you have. Symptoms of a head cold can closely resemble that of a chest cold or sinus infection and treatment varies depending on whether your illness is viral or bacterial.

Head Cold What Is a Head Cold?

A head cold is more commonly known as the common cold, and adults contract two to three colds a year on average. On the other hand, children can get up to eight or more colds a year.

Head colds are caused by a viral infection, most commonly a strain of rhinovirus. There are over 100 known types of rhinoviruses, and that number is constantly growing. They are referred to as "head colds" due to the location of the symptoms. Head colds are often marked by a stuffy or a runny nose, a general feeling of malaise, sneezing, congestion, body aches, and a headache. 1

Chest colds, more commonly known as bronchitis, are marked by chest congestion and a persistent, wet cough, while bronchitis often occurs when a cold or flu virus moves down into the lungs. Because of this, you may experience symptoms of a head cold before symptoms of a chest cold appear.

A sinus infection occurs when your nasal passages become infected. While viruses, bacteria, and allergies can all lead to sinus infections, bacteria is the most common cause. While colds don’t usually cause sinus infections, frequently touching your nose (such as when blowing it) can introduce bacteria into the sinuses.

Symptoms of a sinus infection include a runny or stuffy nose, pressure behind the eyes, headache, fever, cough, fatigue, decreased sense of smell, and postnasal drip. If a head cold lasts for longer than 10 days, you may have a sinus infection.

When Should You See a Doctor? Head Cold

The common cold is usually a mild illness and not a cause for alarm. For those with weakened immune systems, however, the common cold can easily turn into bronchitis, pneumonia, or a sinus infection.

Elderly people, young children, and people suffering from autoimmune diseases should contact their doctor immediately if they begin to show symptoms that are not common to a head cold. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical help:

    • Difficulty breathing

    • Wheezing

    • A persistent cough that lasts longer than a week

    • Fever higher than 102°F

    • Rash

    • Extreme fatigue

What Causes a Head Cold?

Head colds are caused by viruses, most commonly a strain of rhinovirus. Because they are not bacterial infections, they cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Cold viruses enter the body through mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, and mouth. You can catch a cold when someone who is infected with the virus sneezes, coughs, or even talks, spraying droplets containing the virus into the air.

You can also get sick by touching surfaces that have the virus on them, such as keyboards of public computers, doorknobs, and light switches. Rhinoviruses can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours. 3 Because of this, it’s important to stay clear of people who are exhibiting symptoms of a cold and remember to disinfect surfaces and wash your hands frequently.

Head Cold Head Cold Remedies

There is no cure for the common cold, but there are a variety of over-the-counter medications and natural remedies that can help alleviate the symptoms. Instead of attempting to treat a cold as one single entity, it’s important to choose remedies that will target specific symptoms you may be experiencing.


Congestion can be alleviated by decongestants found at any pharmacy, but there are also a variety of natural remedies to alleviate your discomfort.

A 2008 study found that drinking hot drinks can provide relief from symptoms of a runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chills, and fatigue. 4

When the hot drink is an herbal tea made from herbs specifically chosen to target symptoms, the results are even more profound. Try a hot herbal tea with mullein, thyme, eucalyptus, peppermint, sage, ginger, or chamomile.

Simply inhaling eucalyptus essential oil can also ease congestion and help you breathe easier almost instantly. You can also add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a homemade vapor rub, or add a few drops into a bowl of warm water and breathe in the steam. Peppermint essential oil is also effective at reducing congestion and can be used in the same way as eucalyptus essential oil.

A headache

Instead of reaching for an over-the-counter pain reliever, gently massage your temples with an essential oil or reach for some ginger instead.

Peppermint essential oil has pain-relieving properties that can help ease the pain of headaches. You can either diffuse this oil throughout your home or mix with a carrier oil and gently massage onto your temples.

On the other hand, Lavender essential oil can help reduce stress levels, which often exacerbate headache pain. Try adding a few drops of lavender oil to a massage oil or a warm bath.

A 2014 study tested the efficacy of ginger against migraines. The study tested both ginger powder and sumatriptan (a common migraine and cluster headache drug). The results showed that two hours after patients were given the ginger powder, the severity of their headache decreased significantly.

The efficacy of ginger powder was similar to that of the migraine drug yet had fewer side effects. 5 To alleviate headache pain, try drinking a warm mug of ginger tea or crush up some fresh ginger in a spoonful of honey.

Aching Muscles

Getting the proper amount of magnesium can help ease aches and pains that come with the common cold. Some foods high in magnesium are nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, bananas, and leafy greens.

Roman chamomile essential oil can help ease stress and anxiety, promote a proper night of sleep, and ease the pain of aching muscles. Mix a few drops of Roman chamomile essential oil with a carrier oil and gently massage onto sore areas. You can also add a few drops to a warm bath to help ease your discomfort.

Peppermint and r osemary essential oils are also effective against body aches.


Head colds can leave you feeling drowsy and unmotivated. To give yourself a natural boost of energy, diffuse an uplifting essential oil throughout the home, such as sweet orange, grapefruit, or tangerine.

Aside from simply boosting energy, all of these essential oils can help ease feelings of stress and anxiety without sedative effects.

Ginseng is also widely known as a natural remedy for fatigue and is available in a variety of different forms. You can drink it in a tea, grind the root into honey, or take it in the form of an herbal supplement. Be sure to consult with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements, as they may interfere with medications or worsen chronic conditions.

Staying Healthy

Although colds are common during the winter months, you don’t have to suffer. By practicing good hygiene and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you can ward off any viruses that come your way. If you do happen to come down with a cold, a combination of herbal remedies and essential oils can help alleviate symptoms and get you back on your feet in no time.

Photo Credits: YAKOBCHUKVIACHESLAV/, aslysunn/, Chinnapong/, Karepastock/

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