The phrase "Common Cold" is a bit of a misnomer, as there are over 100 different cold viruses that cause the symptoms associated with the "Common Cold". Rhinoviruses are the most common, causing up to one-half of colds. The common cold is the description of an illness caused by a virus infection located in the nose, while also invading the ears, sinuses, and bronchial tubes.

Colds usually last for an average of one week, with mild cases lasting between 2 and 3 days, and severe cases lasting upwards of about 2 weeks.

Symptoms include:

General symptoms like headache, feverishness, and chilliness are also common, as well as a general unwell feeling.

Cold viruses can multiply only when inside living cells. While cold viruses cannot multiply on an environmental surface, they are still infectious if they are transported into the nose. These viruses live only in the noses of humans and not in animals, with the exception of higher primates such as the chimpanzee.

A cold virus is transmitted by depositing itself into the front of the nasal passages by contaminated fingers, or by droplets from coughs and sneezes present in the air. Small doses of the virus (between 1 and 30 particles) are sufficient to produce infection. The virus is then carried to the back of the nose and deposits itself on the adenoid area simply by breathing. From the time a cold virus enters the nose, it takes approximately 8-12 hours for the viral reproductive cycle to complete, and produce a new cold virus.

Many symptoms of the common cold are actually triggers from the body's immune and nervous systems. The body's immune system contains a variety of natural substances called "inflammatory mediators", which help protect the body from infection. When activated by a cold virus infection, inflammatory mediators cause dilation and leakage of blood vessels (causing redness and inflammation), as well as mucus gland secretion (that annoying runny nose.) They also activate sneeze and cough reflexes, as well as stimulating pain nerves.

You may be asking "If it's supposed to help get rid of the cold, why does it make me feel miserable?" Good question, and I wish I had an answer. Unfortunately, activity from the inflammatory mediators is NOT necessary for recovery from cold virus infection. They're just side effects. 25% of people who acquire a cold virus infection do not develop symptoms, and they recover from the infection just as well as those who have the symptoms. I envy those 25%, because I'm sitting here writing this node with a sore throat, an annoying cough, and a runny nose.

Common cold treatments include:

  • Antihistamines - Used to block Histamines, which cause the majority of common cold symptoms.
  • Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs - Examples include ibuprofen and naproxen. Used to treat inflammation, pain, and fever. Also used to block the production of the "prostaglandin" brand of inflammatory mediators.
  • Decongestants - Used to open the nasal passages by shrinking blood vessels in the mucous membrane of the nose - the primary cause of nasal congestion associated with colds.
  • Anticholinergics - Used to block the action of the parasympathetic nervous system on mucus gland secretion, reducing nasal discharge. Not used to treat sneezing, because it has no effect on histamines.
  • Cough Suppressants - Cool Stuff! They're actually natural narcotics that force the brain to chill on the cough reflexes.

The common cold usually has three stages:

1. The "Oh No" Stage. Categorized by a slightly ill feeling, scratchy throat, mild cough, or other very minor and isolated symptoms. So named because the future patient realizes, "Oh No, I Think I'm Getting A Cold!"

2. The "Whiny" Stage. Categorized by lots of fully blown symptoms, including but not limited to mild fever, cough, sneezing and sniffling, sore throat, tiredness, and general ill feeling. Patient will invariably be whiny during this stage, even if only internally (using the "inner voice"). DO NOT GO TO WORK DURING THIS STAGE. Stay home. You think you're being stoic, but you're really just annoying your cow-orkers.

3. The "Liquid" Stage. Patient is feeling better in general but various forums of mucous are now being expelled from various orifices. Nose is incredibly runny, cough is productive, etc. Also known as the "Annoying" stage because the patient really wants to be better, but is forced to carry a box of Kleenex around and sound miserable for another three days.

I wonder why most of these so-called remedies for a common cold just help suppressing the symptoms. To cure out a cold, it can be helpful to do so, but the best things you can do to ensure a cold will last as short as possible is:

  • Keep yourself warm (up to 40°C)
  • Drink more than you do normally (up to 6l a day)
  • Don't try to stop your nose from running, rather have it cleared as fast as possible

The extra liquids and warmth will help your body to sweat out and eliminate the cold faster. Whatever comes out of your runny nose - your body doesn't want it, so let it come out.

Get well soon!

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