The cold is a very common health problem that affects both adults and children. It’s estimated that adults catch an average of four colds every year while children get at least twice as many more infections. Although there’s still no cure for colds despite the advancement in science, symptoms usually pass within a few days or a week.
Generally, there are two main types of colds. The first one is the common cold, which refers to a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory system. A similar disease is the head cold, which is essentially the common cold with symptoms mostly occurring in the facial region and head.
Common Cold and Head Cold Symptoms
Depending on the type of cold you have, symptoms will vary. After exposure to a virus-causing disease, it can take about 1 to 3 days before signs of a common cold start to show. Once the infection takes root, you can expect to experience symptoms such as:
- A runny or stuffy nose
- Soreness or itchiness in the throat
- Watery eyes
- Slight fatigue, fever and body aches
For head colds, symptoms mostly focus on the nose (sinuses) and head. Head cold infections cause symptoms such as:
- Nasal Congestion
A blocked nose is the most prominent symptom of head colds. Congestion is usually caused by swelling in the nasal passage.
Headaches are a common part of head colds because of the release of molecules called cytokines. These molecules help the body to fight off viruses but they’re also known to cause headaches. In addition, thick secretions and swelling in the facial sinuses (cavities in the face and skull) may lead to headaches and sinus pain.
- Sore Throat
A head cold can cause soreness at the back of your throat
This is not a common symptom of head colds but it happens when pressure builds up in the middle ear, which is connected to the back of your throat.
It’s common for nasal discharge to turn greenish or yellow as a cold runs its course. However, don’t mistake a cold for the flu. While cold symptoms are quite similar to the flu, these infections are not the same. The flu causes high fever along with pronounced chest discomfort when coughing whereas these symptoms will be very mild when you have a cold.
Best Home Remedies to Get Rid of a Cold Fast (Head Colds Also)
There are more than 200 viruses that cause colds. This makes it difficult to prevent colds through a vaccine. Since there’s no immunization or cure, what can you do if you come down with a cold? Well, all you can do is let the cold run its course. Most colds go away in about two weeks or less.
And fortunately, there are many home remedies to get rid of a cold fast while you wait it out. The following are the most effective ways to cure both the common and head cold at home.
- Stay Hydrated with Warm Drinks
When you get a cold, make sure to drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated will help soothe cold symptoms like headaches and sore throats.
Not all drinks are created equal. Alcohol should be avoided when you have a cold since it will dehydrate you and worsen cold inflammation. Instead, opt for hot drinks, which are a great way to reduce sinus congestion as well as inflammation in your nose and throat. Some of the best hot beverages to soothe a cold include:
- Chicken Soup
Chicken soup is one of the best remedies for colds. Scientific research shows that grandma’s favorite recipe for colds actually slows down the movement and accumulation of certain white blood cells (neutrophils). This in turn reduces swelling in the sinus cavity and secretion of mucus in large amounts, which are two of the main causes for headaches during a cold infection.
Hot soup also thins mucus to ease nasal congestion. To give your immune system a boost, add a bit of garlic to chicken soup. Some red pepper would also be therapeutic since this ingredient will act as a nasal decongestant.
- Lemon Tea with Honey
This remedy is quite simple to make yet effective at treating colds. Honey will soothe your sore throat while lemon clears up blocked nasal passages and provides vitamin C to boost your body’s defenses.
- Hot, non-caffeinated Tea
Hot tea is a great beverage to soothe colds. Peppermint is also a fantastic herbal extract you can add to tea. It contains menthol, which thins mucus and breaks up phlegm to ease nasal congestion. Japanese green tea (Benifuuki tea) has great decongestant power as well.
- Take Steamy Baths and Showers and Stay Warm
Warm baths and showers can be quite effective at reducing flu-like symptoms. The steam from hot water clears up your nasal passage to help you breathe easy.
It’s also important to stay warm when treating a cold. While staying warm doesn’t necessarily end infection, it will make you more comfortable when feeling under the weather. Therefore, remember to wear warm clothing and cover up with extra blankets when sleeping to recover from a cold.
- Gargle with Salt Water
Infections of the lower respiratory system (common cold) tend to cause sore throats. Salt acts as a natural antiseptic and so it will help alleviate soreness in your throat. Simply dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a glass of water and gargle it in the mouth. Just make sure not to overdo it since too much salty water can dry your throat and aggravate symptoms.
Four gargles per day should be enough. If you find the taste too strong, add a little baking soda to reduce the salty taste.
- Go Herbal
If you don’t want to try over-the-counter cold medications for fear of side effects, there are many other natural remedies for colds. Here is a list of some of the most common herbal remedies often recommended for both head and common colds:
Echinacea is a native North American plant that has been used for more than 400 years. Recent scientific studies show that the plant speeds up recovery from colds because its active ingredients comprise of flavonoids and other therapeutic chemicals that boost immune function and reduce inflammation.
Try drinking Echinacea root tea three times a day or swallowing two capsules that contain the herb during the early stages of a cold.
- European Elderberry
This extract is yet another natural immune booster. It possesses anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties that help treat colds, and you can find the extract in herbal health stores as a syrup, tablet supplement or lozenge. Make sure to follow the dosage instructions that come with the particular elderberry extract that you choose to buy.
- Raw, Organic Honey
Raw honey acts as both a natural antiviral herb and immune booster. It can also be quite soothing when suffering from a sore throat. This can be attributed to the cough suppressing properties of honey. You can take one tablespoon of honey to soothe an irritated throat or add it to lemon tea.
The active ingredient in peppermint is menthol, which is a compound that thins mucus and decongests nasal airways. You can find peppermint in many products such as tea, lozenges, and natural supplements. It’s also sold as a dried herb or peppermint oil for aromatherapy. Bear in mind that peppermint is not good for children under the age of two.
Eucalyptus contains an active ingredient called cineole, which works as a natural expectorant to alleviate coughs and fight off infection.
You can use fresh or dried eucalyptus leaves in tea or warm water. If you find this remedy to be ideal, drink at least 3 cups of eucalyptus-flavored tea daily.
Gargling water boiled with eucalyptus extract can also help to soothe a sore throat and reduce bad breath after meals. The smell of eucalyptus oil helps to soothe a stuffy nose and loosen phlegm. Therefore, ointments that contain this herb can be applied to the chest and nose.
Ginger has been used for centuries for its curative properties. Its bitter taste can soothe coughs and sore throats. Simply add ginger root to boiling water or tea and drink it 2 to 3 times a day.
Garlic is another natural immune booster that helps to enhance recovery from both common and head colds. It contains a compound known as allicin, which inhibits enzyme action that permits the development of various bacterial and viral infections. If you can’t stomach the taste of raw garlic, take a supplement instead. Alternatively, add a few cloves to your hot chicken soup recipe.
- Boost Your Immune System
The best way to cure a cold and prevent it from returning is by boosting your immune system. Some of the herbal extracts mentioned above can be used to enhance your body’s defenses. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids as well as vitamin C and zinc tablets are also great choices to fortify your immune system.
- Sleep it Off
Getting enough sleep can speed up recovery from a cold. So, if you can, call in sick and take a few days off from work. Given the contagious nature of a cold, you also don’t want to pass it on to co-workers at the workplace.
Pushing yourself too hard when your upper respiratory system is infected will only weaken the immune system. By staying rested, your body gets a chance to focus on getting well. If nasal congestion is a problem when sleeping, keep your head elevated with a pillow to ease breathing.
- Increase Humidity in Living Quarters
Dry air can irritate the throat and aggravate nasal congestion. It’s therefore a good idea to keep the air moist in your entire home or at least the resting room. While this will not reduce the duration of your cold, it can help you feel more comfortable during recovery.
A humidifier or vaporizer can help you keep the air moist when treating a cold. Keep in mind, though, that humidifiers create the right breeding conditions for other pathogens, thus increasing the spread of molds and toxins. To stay safe, only use them when necessary.
- Blow Your Nose the Right Way
Blowing the nose is a natural instinct when suffering from a cold. This helps you decongest nasal airways and it’s more recommended than snuffling. Sniffing only draws back mucus into the head where sinuses are already overwhelmed.
While blowing your nose may be helpful when suffering from nasal congestion, don’t overdo it. Scientific research suggest that forceful nose blowing builds pressure in the sinus cavities, which can lead to reduced hearing as well as trapped mucus that intensifies headaches or causes earaches. So, instead of trying to blow your nose off, try to clear a congested nasal passage gently. This will prevent worsening headaches when suffering from a head cold.
- Apply a Nasal Decongestant
If you have a runny nose or find it difficult to breathe, consider using a nasal decongestant. This will provide quick relief by slowing down mucus production and reducing inflammation in upper air passages.
There are many nasal decongestants, and one of the most well-known one is perhaps Vicks Vapor Rub. Just apply a dab of this ointment below the nose before sleeping. Most nasal decongestants are sold as OTC (over-the-counter) drugs. They’re also available in spray form or tablets. Some oral decongestants, also known as lozenges, help to soothe a sore throat as well.
- Take an Expectorant
Expectorants are medications used to promote secretion of sputum. Such drugs come in liquid, powder, or capsule forms. If you experience coughing during a cold, expectorants can help to thin phlegm and free up your airways. Despite the fact that these medications allow you to breathe more easily, they also cause mild side effects like dizziness, nausea, and vomiting in some people.
- Consider Sinus Flushing/Irrigation
Nasal flushing is a modern remedy for colds that has become quite popular in recent years. It involves the use of a device called Neti Pot, which delivers a saline solution in one nostril and uses the other to carry out mucus.
The saline solution is able to flush out the nasal passage since it thins out mucus. Once your use up the saline solution, you can refill your Neti Pot. The saline solution is available at pharmacies or you can make it on your own with a few simple ingredients like baking soda, kosher salt, and warm water.
Sinus flushing is quite easy. Here are the steps to take when using a Neti Pot:
- Add about 4oz of saline solution to the Neti Pot fluid chamber
- Choose a suitable spot to flush your nasal airways. You can prevent making a mess by standing over a sink or working in a bathtub.
- Position your head at a 45-degree angle then place the spout of the Neti Pot in one nostril. Tap the pot gently with your index finger to pour the saline solution in one nostril and let it flow out the other. Once done, flush the other nostril as well.
- Oil Pulling
Just as the name implies, this Ayurvedic remedy uses oil to pull out germs and bacteria that cause colds. All you have to do is take a tablespoon of coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil by mouth.
The basic premise of this remedy is that the disease causing microorganisms will stick to lipids in fat and oil. This allows you to spit them out with the oil. Therefore, remember not to swallow the oil when using this remedy. Just swirl it around your mouth for about 60 seconds then spit it out.
Over the Counter Drugs/Medicated Options
It’s important to point out that over-the-counter medications don’t exactly cure colds. Instead, they work by alleviating symptoms as the viral infection runs its course. Although quite effective, many cold medications do cause some mild side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, stomach upset, and nausea. Before using a particular drug, make sure that you are aware of contraindications and the risks involved.
Here is a list of the different types of commonly used cold medications. Choosing which drug to use will depend on the specific symptoms you have.
- Analgesics (Pain Relievers)
If you’re suffering from a head cold accompanied by sinus pain, ear aches, or headaches, analgesic medications can provided some relief. These drugs are also effective if you happen to experience fever and muscle aches. Some of the commonly prescribed drugs for pain associated with colds include aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen.
- Antitussives (Cough Suppressants)
Antitussives suppress the body’s coughing reflexes. They’re usually prescribed if you have a dry cough.
Some allergens cause colds to manifest as an allergic reaction. In such cases, your pharmacist will most likely recommend Antihistamines, which also help to control watery eyes and a runny nose.
As mentioned earlier, expectorants thin mucus so that you can cough it out.
If you have a stuffy nose, decongestants offer the best relief. These drugs constrict blood vessels in the nasal passage to help you breathe more easily. Some of them also induce drowsiness, which will help you sleep better when recovering.
When to See a Doctor
Common colds and head colds are not life threatening and often clear up within 10 days. However, the symptoms can last longer if there is a more serious underlying illness. If symptoms don’t improve with treatment after a week or two, then seek medical help.
For severe symptoms, don’t wait for the cold to run its course. Instead, see your doctor immediately since this might be a sign of something more serious. The following is a list of adverse cold symptoms that call for immediate medical attention.
If you’re an adult, seek medical assistance if you develop a cold with:
- Severe sinus pain
- Fever that increases temperature to 103 F (39.4 C) or higher
- Increased sweating, chills, or coughs accompanied with colored phlegm
- Swollen glands that enlarge more than usual
Serious cold symptoms differ slightly in children. If your child develops the following symptoms, make sure to visit the hospital.
- High fever that reaches or goes beyond 100.4 degrees F (38 C) in newborns or 104 degrees F (40C) in older children
- Stiff neck
- Ear pain
- Persistent coughing
- Severe headache
- Unusual insomnia
- Abdominal pain or vomiting
- Dehydration (the typical signs are urinating less often and not being able to drink enough liquids)