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What is a Head Cold?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A head cold is a viral infection which settles in the mucus membranes of the nose. It is sometimes referred to as a “common cold,” and it is a very frequent sight in the winter months in many regions of the world. This infection is usually harmless, although it can create several days of discomfort for the sufferer, and it resolves on its own after around 10 days.

Someone with a head cold usually experiences a runny nose, paired with congestion, sneezing, and a headache. Some people experience a mild fever and watery eyes, and people may complain of feeling fluey or generally unwell. The mucus which drains from the nose is typically clear in color. Some people with a head cold find that they cough and have hoarse voices because of mucus dripping down their throats.

Eventually, the body will overwhelm the virus responsible for the infection, mucus production will decline, and the patient will return to normal. Drinking lots of fluids, especially warm fluids, can help with a head cold, as can staying in a warm and slightly humid environment. Avoiding dairy is advised, as this can increase mucus production, and patients may find that rest helps the cold resolve more quickly.

If a head cold is persistent, a doctor can prescribe decongestants and pain management medications. Saline rinses or sprays in the nose can also help to flush out the mucus and increase comfort. Patients should be aware that prolonged use of decongestant sprays can lead to an inflammation of the mucus membranes in the nose.

There are situations in which a head cold can become more serious. In some patients, the cold worsens into a full-blown sinus infection, in which the sinus cavities of the face become infected. A head cold can also lead to an ear infection. While ear and sinus infections can sometimes resolve on their own, medical treatment may be necessary, especially if the condition becomes especially painful for the patient. Immunocompromised patients are also at risk of dangerous complications from a head cold.

People can reduce their chances of developing a head cold by making sure that their hands are washed regularly, and avoiding contact between the hands and the face. This will also cut down on the spread of other infections. Someone with an active head cold may also want to be careful about contact with other people, to avoid spreading the infection.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon963108 — On Jul 27, 2014

I am now in the seventh day of a severe head cold (sore throat, weird voice, cough, thick mucus and shortness of breath). As I have a shadow on my lungs from previous bouts of pneumonia, the doctor prescribed antibiotics as he said I now have a chest infection. I must get rid of it soon since I fly to the USA in nine days' time. Any advice?

By anon944139 — On Apr 06, 2014

My 13 year old daughter probably has a head col. We had to cancel scheduled things for this week, even school. She's been in bed most of the time.

I checked her nose, and it is clogged with clear mucus, where it actually overflows her nose with mucus when she lies down with her head back.

She says she's been having headaches where a tight band feels like it's wrapped around her head. I took her temperature, and the fever kept coming and going.

She says every time she drinks something it feels weird, and every position she's in during sleep time is uncomfortable, and she has been staying up all night these days. I've been giving her comfort and warm beverages but it's not working. She sneezes occasionally, too.

I took her to the hospital, the children's hospital, believe it or not, and the doctor didn't even know what it was.

She still has it today, and her nose gets clogged for the whole day, and she says there is pressure in her head, and pain pills/Tylenol/teas won't work. I guess we'll let it pass naturally.

By anon341602 — On Jul 13, 2013

I'm experiencing painful ears when I blow, sneeze and cough. I have light fevers as well. Could you recommend any medication or treatment or everyday home routines? This illness is too annoying.

By anon337058 — On Jun 02, 2013

Warm teas, Tylenol, Ibuprofen and a lot of patience. That is the only way to deal with this head cold.

By anon333950 — On May 08, 2013

I agree with all of you because this is my second week with the head cold and I have to blow my nose every five minutes or so. I also have a big headache where my eyes hurt. I can't wait until this leaves me.

By anon332664 — On Apr 30, 2013

My nose is clogged, but only on one side. I have a headache stemming from between my eyes, like where my nose meets my forehead. I don't really have a cough and I haven't really been sneezing all that much. But my throat does get sore sometimes especially when I wake up and my voice sounds different. My right gland is also swollen, but the left side is fine.

I've been sleeping on my left side to see if that made a difference, but it still hasn't helped. It is finals week in college and I have tried literally everything and I'm not getting better. It's been a week. Someone please give me advice.

By anon327150 — On Mar 26, 2013

I have had these symptoms for four or five days now. Sore throat, congested in the face and nose, ear ache on both sides. I can't sleep with all of this. I don't have any medicine I can take; it doesn't help. And this cough hurts and green mucus comes out. It better not stay any longer.

By anon316787 — On Jan 30, 2013

All you need is: flu capsules; good, strong curry; beer (just the one tho - takes the edge off and don't want to OD); good television; early night.

You'll be right as rain in the morning. If not, then brave it out and repeat the following night.

By anon284007 — On Aug 07, 2012

I feel pressure around my ear (on both sides) and in the back of my head, especially when I'm in air conditioning. I have a slight nose blockage. After I spend some time in an air-conditioned room, I get a bad headache. I have been taking medicines for the last eight months. I don't know what is going on with me. Even my doctors will not diagnose me. Please tell me, is it sinus?

By anon281477 — On Jul 24, 2012

I have had a bad cold/virus for five days now. I started off feeling a little achy then developed a very severe cough. I then got very congested with clear mucus at first. I have not been able to sleep because I am constantly coughing. I have tried all the over the counter stuff, but none of it works. Any suggestions before I die?

By anon262864 — On Apr 21, 2012

I am pretty sure you have sinuses all the time. What you likely have is sinusitus, or clogged sinuses. Anyway, that stinks. Having a cold stinks. But, it will clear up.

By anon260471 — On Apr 11, 2012

I have had this cold for four days now. The day before I caught it, my throat hurt, along with my head. I came home from work thinking one of my students (art teacher) had gave me strep because it was going around the second grade. So I went to bed still feeling crummy so I took a few motrin to calm my headache.

I woke up in the middle of the night clogged up, so I thought I just was getting sinuses. (I get them when it gets hot out and it was a few days till our spring break.) I went to sleep again to wake up in the morning with a constant nose drip, sore throat, clogged nose, headache, slight chills and a slight fever. I was so tired I couldn't get out of bed so my husband had to call in sick for me.

For the first two days my husband would baby me. (Bring me tea, buy tissues on the way home from work, etc.) But on the third day he got sick himself and now I'm stuck in bed with a man who has "The Man Cold" so I'm the one who has to get up for everything and to go to the pharmacy in the middle of the night to buy tissues and cough medicine. Not fun.

I have been able to blow a bunch of mucus out of my nose but it keeps on coming. My nose is raw from the consistent nose drip. I was getting so tired of wiping my nose I just let it run. Who do I have to be presentable to anyway? My husband is doing the same thing! So for the past few days I have been bedridden and so has my husband. I heard this can last up to ten days. Hope I'll make it.

By anon252590 — On Mar 06, 2012

I've been bad now for 10 days, coughing up green mucus, nose stuffed, and when I blow it's thick and clear then sometimes thick yellow stuff appears. Both of my ears are blocked.

I feel totally rough, weak and off balance. The doctor said it was a virus, but I just want it to leave, whatever it is. I can't take Sudafed as it gives me heart palps.

I will go to the doctor again in a few days because I now have random stabbing pains in the rib area from coughing and am getting headaches. The snot keeps coming. I look white also, which is not a good look unless it's Halloween.

By anon250977 — On Feb 28, 2012

@post 27: You probably have/had bronchitis. Go to your nearest gp.

By anon250951 — On Feb 27, 2012

My first head cold/sinus/whatever. My voice, heck, sounds the same as it did nearly thirty years ago. So, it's hard to tell on that (born mute), and yeah, but my nose is stuff up miserably. And I have headaches (which I never get), and face hurt so bad several days ago. I'm going into my third week with this thing, nothing but misery. Just pitiful.

By anon250005 — On Feb 24, 2012

I want to know if this is a head cold or something else:

I'm coughing constantly, and the more I do it the more it hurts. I'm sneezing periodically. During the night, I'm forced to breathe through my mouth. Sometimes I cough up clear mucus.

My voice sounds (and feels) a little hoarse. I'm not experiencing any symptoms I haven't listed here, so right now I'm sort of doubting it, but I still want to know what I have.

By anon231704 — On Nov 26, 2011

I have all of the classic symptoms: headaches, sneezy, throat feels as if someone rubbed it with sandpaper, feeling tired and unwell.

By anon198408 — On Jul 19, 2011

I have had a head cold now for two weeks with pale yellow mucus at first, but it is turning now to green. I cannot shake it off. Is this a normal cold?

By anon191412 — On Jun 28, 2011

I've had this for three weeks now. I have pain around my eye, and headaches. I lost my voice at one point and I've had a sore throat.

By anon177719 — On May 19, 2011

I woke up this morning feeling dreadful, my head is absolutely pumping and co-codamol didn't get rid of it. my nose is constantly running and my throat feels itchy! Hope it doesn't last too long. i need to go to work tomorrow!

By anon154077 — On Feb 19, 2011

Yep, I have the stuffy nose, the thick, pea green mucous that loosens now and then, the throbbing headache, the tingling sinuses and watery eyes, and that classical hoarse "nasal" voice. This cold seems limited to my head, as I don't even have a sore throat. I'm definitely thirsty the whole time, and my appetite has diminished a fair bit - I can hardly taste anything anyway.

But the shivering, the chills, the super hot skin at night, the sweating, and the constant fatigue and dizziness is what drives me crazy. To top is all off, I now have ear infection - in both ears. I've been like this for about seven days already. Tech! I hope it clears soon! By the way, I find that two drops of diluted oil of oregano under the tongue each day seems to help fight this virus, and essential oil of lavender, frankincense and lemon in a diffuser seems to clear up the clogged sinuses when I breathe it in. It smells good, and helps clear the air of any airborne bugs too.

By anon149584 — On Feb 04, 2011

i had this sinus head cold for eight weeks, plus I still get headaches now and had a belly bug at the same time. I couldn't eat for six weeks. really bad stuff. i had a cough as well. I was weak, tired, dizzy, and had chills and a neck ache. still getting better now.

By anon147867 — On Jan 30, 2011

My head has felt heavy, my throat irritated, my face feels clogged, and I feel weak. I can eat and drink but I feel like crap. Any suggestions? I don't want to miss school tomorrow cause i have an important class to attend.

By anon147840 — On Jan 30, 2011

I have been feeling like you all too. my nose is clogged up and i feel so weak and my head feels like its going to pop off too. i'm so tired. i just can't sleep. I cough all the time. i have been feeling like this for three days now, oh yeah, and my b-day is coming in two more days and here i am sick.

By anon146797 — On Jan 27, 2011

I've been out of school for four days now. I started with coughing and then my head started to hurt. The first day I was out I realized that four other people at my school were out to with the same symptoms I had.

I've been coughing, sneezing, extremely weak, I can't eat, my throat hurts a lot, and i have mucus running down the back of my throat. I have a headache and nausea. It's driving me crazy!

By anon143491 — On Jan 16, 2011

I have a head cold and have for about eight days now. I did unfortunately get an ear infection. Although it is going away now. Is it possible that it is the reason my eye hurts and turned red? It's either pink eye or busted veins in my eye from all the pressure.

By anon139294 — On Jan 04, 2011

I have had this cold for two weeks. My sinuses are just starting to release and my nose today for the first time isn't stuffy.

By anon130700 — On Nov 29, 2010

i feel like I'm dying slowly, especially when i smoke my cigarettes. i have all the symptoms they mentioned and I've been taking medication but i can't seem to feel better.

By anon128959 — On Nov 21, 2010

I have felt like dung the last two days, with stuffy head, pounding head ache, can't sleep worth a damn. Throat hurts and i am so dizzy i feel like i am on a merry-go-round gone out of control. I want this cold gone now.

By anon110470 — On Sep 12, 2010

A couple of days in, maybe three or four -- could be even five. I was feeling a wee bit unwell until last night could not go to sleep woke up four times. I just feel terrible to the extreme runny nose and feel tired got virtually no sleep last night or night before.

By anon107879 — On Aug 31, 2010

I just came down with a really bad head cold (headache, clogged nose, runny nose, and post-nasal drip), while in the process of getting over strep throat and an ear infection! This is plain miserable.

By anon104844 — On Aug 18, 2010

I have a had a stuffed nose and it will just randomly start running and my head feels like a bobble head. Is this a head cold??

By anon98413 — On Jul 23, 2010

It's been a week and I have a headache, feel very dizzy and now and then feel cold. I also feel very tired and weak. I'm sure i have a head cold rather than a sinus infection.

By anon89913 — On Jun 13, 2010

I'm on day two of a nasty head cold. I haven't had one in years as I'm very wary of washing my hands before eating. A lot of people have sneezed in the same room as me last week, then two days later, I had a sore throat, and then yesterday afternoon I started feeling really unwell, with a congested head and sneezing, cough, headache and feeling really drained and weak. Not nice.

I'm taking Beechams and paracetamol (being careful not to take too many) and sleeping as much as possible. It really helps, as does olbas oil for the congestion.

By anon87142 — On May 28, 2010

I think i have a head cold, too. I've been stuffed up for five days now, and every time our air conditioning kicked in my nose gets blocked too.

I took some sudafed and the side effects kept me awake for the whole time for four days. I tried benadryl which helps me to fall asleep, but makes my mouth so dry I wake up and find myself panicky and nervous.

I went back to sleep with my mouth open because my nose gets plugged up. I swear not to take these otc meds again.

By anon73118 — On Mar 25, 2010

i think I'm suffering from a head cold and it's not very nice. Third day now.

I'm normally quite healthy but this is the second time I've been ill since december, when i think i suffered from laryngitis. at the moment I'm just suffering from a burning sensation in my nostrils, a very fuzzy head and earache and sneezing a lot.

I'm treating myself at home with just paracetamol and ibuprofen and it seems to be helping. I'm just feeling very drained at night time, when my body's tiring. Hopefully tomorrow i will feel better.

By anon68989 — On Mar 05, 2010

i'm not sure if i have a head cold or not! i just know that it's like i can hear myself sound differently when i talk and it feels as if my ears are clogged up also.

By anon59267 — On Jan 07, 2010

Just to clarify: body temperature remains constant regardless of the season and the common cold isn't caused by being cold. It's more common in winter because people huddle indoors and so have a greater chance of being in contact with some one who has a virus and so catching it yourself.

Wash your hands and stay away from coughing people and people with colds.

By anon58196 — On Dec 30, 2009

I have a stuffy face and nose clogged. Had a bad head ache stemming from my eyes to the back of my head. when I blew my nose mucus also came to my eyes. i even started to experience a bit of shortness of breath which worried me.

I felt panicky worrying about that feeling which was scary. i took advil sinus, perhaps too much, and when that didn't work i tool tylenol sinus and cold and then that didn't work it OK regular advil.

well that all resulted in one morning I woke up feeling really nervous and panicky. so be careful with those over the counters. I read the box after the fact and the nervous symptoms and panicky feelings were mentioned as a side effect along with seizures and heart attacks etc., so i decided that wasn't worth it and went natural with oranges and vitamins and lots of warm liquids. along with rest.

this all came about from being in the cold without a hat or scarf and then i started getting the symptoms.

By anon57370 — On Dec 22, 2009

I believe that we carry the cold virus with us most of the time but because our body fights it off we don't even notice we have it. But when our body temp. drops the virus takes over.

Our body finds it more difficult to fight it off when cold and the virus thrives on a lower body temp. So keep warm and make sure you don't go hungry.

By anon55361 — On Dec 07, 2009

I have this too. Definitely a head cold. I've had it a week though. Hopefully I won't get ear ache, too. :(

By anon51429 — On Nov 05, 2009

i would like to know if this is a head cold. I am feeling a pain in my right side head. sometimes when the place is cold at night, my nose gets blocked.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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