Health Conditions A-Z Infectious Diseases Common Cold What Is a Head Cold? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments By Maggie O'Neill Maggie O'Neill Maggie O'Neill's Twitter Maggie O’Neill is a health writer and reporter based in New York who specializes in covering medical research and emerging wellness trends, with a focus on cancer and addiction. Prior to her time at Health, her work appeared in the Observer, Good Housekeeping, CNN, and Vice. She was a fellow of the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2020 class on Women’s Health Journalism and 2021 class on Cancer Reporting. In her spare time, she likes meditating, watching TikToks, and playing fetch with her dog, Finnegan. health's editorial guidelines Updated on January 4, 2023 Medically reviewed by Dale Garber, MD Medically reviewed by Dale Garber, MD Dale Garber, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician. She has a passion for promoting health and preventative care for children. learn more Share this page on Facebook Share this page on Twitter Share this page on Pinterest Email this page A head cold, sometimes called the common cold, can be rough. You may have a runny nose, congestion, sneezing, and a sore throat. Head colds are also—as their alternative name suggests—incredibly common. In the United States, there are about one billion colds each year. There's no cure for a head cold. But you can take specific actions that will make you feel better while you wait for it to take its course. Health spoke to family medicine experts to find out everything you need to know about head colds, including what causes them, how they're treated, and whether you can prevent them. Getty Images Head Cold Causes Head colds are illnesses caused by several different viruses, Sterling Ransone, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told Health. Some of the most common types of viruses that cause head colds are adenoviruses, rhinoviruses, respiratory syncytial viruses (RSV), and coronaviruses. That said, COVID-19 is not one of the coronaviruses that causes the common cold, said Dr. Ransone. You can get a head cold if you spread germs to your face, like if you touch your nose or mouth after touching a surface with germs on it. Additionally, you can get a cold by ingesting or inhaling germs. So, it's essential to wash your hands regularly, keep them away from your face, and keep your distance from people who are sick. Symptoms Here's where the name "head cold" really comes into play. The symptoms primarily affect how your head and neck feel. The symptoms of a head cold usually show up two to three days after infection and include the following: SneezingCongestionRunny noseSore throatCoughHeadache or facial pain Also, some head colds might even cause a headache or ear-popping, Amy Zack, MD, a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, told Health. Treatment Options Unfortunately, there's no overnight treatment for a head cold. "The only true treatment for a head cold is time," said Dr. Zack. "The virus will run its course and typically resolve in five to 10 days." But according to Dr. Zack, certain behaviors can help your body fight off the virus, including: Resting Drinking plenty of fluids Using a humidifier Breathing in the steam from hot water One thing to add to your grocery list when you're sick is chicken noodle soup, said Dr. Ransone, who explained that it isn't just a myth. Chicken noodle soup can help you feel better when you have a cold. Why? Three qualities make it worthwhile: Fluid, lean protein, and carbohydrates. In addition to lifestyle behaviors, certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications might help you recover from a head cold, like: DecongestantsNasal saline sprayThroat spray and throat lozengesPain medication—though, you should read the label to make sure it's safe to use, as children shouldn't take aspirin. If you are taking certain medications or have any chronic health conditions, consult a healthcare provider about the best way to treat your head cold. "It is very important if you have other medical problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, etcetera—or take other chronic medications—to talk with your [healthcare provider] about the safety of OTCmedications for you," noted Dr. Zack. Prevention of Head Colds While there's no one sure way to prevent catching a head cold, you can reduce your risk of getting one by staying away from people whom you know are sick. You can also help reduce your risk of getting a cold by washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with sick people, and not touching your face with unwashed hands. A Quick Review Also known as the common cold, head colds bring unwanted symptoms like a stuffy nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. Head colds are prevalent and are spread by infected people. You can steer clear of head colds by washing your hands, avoiding close contact with infected people, and not touching your face. 8 Signs It's More Serious Than the Common Cold Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit 4 Sources Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. National Library of Medicine. Common cold. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common cold. Meyers RS, Thackray J, Matson KL, et al. Key Potentially Inappropriate Drugs in Pediatrics: The KIDs List. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2020;25(3):175-191. doi:10.5863/1551-6776-25.3.175 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: Protect yourself and others.