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Why Can’t We Defeat The Common Cold?

Winter has been here for a while. There was a cold front blowing through the state for a week just some time ago. With it came sniffles, runny noses, sore throats and fever. These are the symptoms of the common cold. It comes like clockwork, every year during the winter season. But why is it that we can’t resist it?

Background

The common cold is a viral infection. There are no less than 200 different virus strains that can be the cause of the disease. It is actually one of the most infectious diseases in the world. This is because the human body’s immune system is very specific in its response to viral agents. Each virus must be responded to separately in order to fight off the infection.

Coronavirus
Coronavirus (Wikimedia)

Everytime the body gets immunity from one virus, there are many other virii it is still not inoculated to. Therefore, the large number of virii responsible for similar symptoms makes it difficult for the body’s immune system to prevent the symptoms from appearing again. The virii also mutate overtime, making immunity to a previous infection useless.

Symptoms

The common cold has a long list of symptoms. They are mostly due to the body’s immune response to the infection and not the virus themselves.

  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Fever

Influenza also has similar symptoms to the common cold, but they are more severe. Therefore, it is always better to get a doctor’s opinion when you catch the cold as the flu can be fatal if not treated.

Complications

The common cold by itself is a mild infection lasting only 3 to 7 days but underlying medical conditions can result in a number of complications. Those with weakened immune system are at a risk of developing pneumonia during a cold spell. That means your lungs may be filled with fluid, making it difficult to breath. There are also chances of secondary infections in the ear, nose and throat due to swelling of the mucosal membranes.

Woman sneezing
Wikimedia

Ear infections can result in fluids running from the ears, dizziness and difficulty in maintaining balance. Throat and nasal infections can make difficult for you to breath and irritate your eyes due to swelling of your tear ducts.

Fortunately, these cases are rare and only affect those with compromised immune systems like the elderly, small children or those suffering from AIDS.

How Does It Spread?

The virus can remain alive airborne for some time. The cold virus also spreads indirectly through infected surfaces which are commonly handled like door handles, taps etc. This is why people are told to cover their nose and mouth when sneezing. The virus then enters your body through the nose and mouth and infection can begin.

To prevent infections the simplest idea is to avoid close contacts with people who already have the cold. It is also a good idea to wash your hands with disinfectant soap and not touch the eyes, nose or mouth with unclean hands. Face masks may also help.

Treatment

There is no treatment for the common cold. Antibiotics have no effect on the infection and antivirals have little effect themselves. The best idea is to let the cold pass. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like ibuprofen may help against the pain but do nothing to other symptoms. Sadly, cough medicines are of limited effect.

In case of alternative medicine, there is little evidence to the efficacy of various home remedies. In other word, they are not bad for you, but there is very little evidence that it does you any good. The only treatment I would recommend is steam inhalation to soothe the nasal cavity and throat.

Conclusion

We have come a long way from the times when we thought diseases were curses put on us by gods and evil spirits. we have eradicated many diseases from the world. However, the common cold stands as a testament that nature is still untamed and we still have a long road to go. There has been some news on a vaccine for the common cold, but it is still being worked. We will see what the future brings.

Edit: Originally I was going to write a different post on a different topic but the cold got to me so I wrote this instead of that. The next post will be on the original topic I was going for.

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