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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.