Saturday, July 21, 2012

Profile of a Cold

One type of virus that your body knows intimately is the one that causes upper respiratory tract infections, which are otherwise known as the common cold. Colds appear to expose a chink in the defenses of your immune system. After all, the average person suffers three or four colds a year, and no matter how many you endure, you’re never rewarded with lasting immunity. The reason for this endless suffering is variety. Scientists recognize more than 200 viruses that cause colds, and it’s likely that there are many more on the loose, unknown and uncataloged.

This diversity raises an obvious question: How can so many different viruses cause essentially the same symptoms when they infect you? The answer is that the symptoms of a cold aren’t caused by the virus itself, but by the inflammatory response that your body greets it with. This often starts with pain and swelling in the throat, followed by a runny nose as your body attempts to wash out virus particles. If the inflammation makes its way deeper into your throat, the next inflammatory symptom is coughing.

The odds are that you’ll spend some time this year battling at least one cold. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

• Colds aren’t an indication of poor health. We all know someone who makes it through the year without the faintest sniffle—and someone else who spends an entire month bleary-eyed and runny-nosed. The odd truth is that both people may be catching the same cold viruses, but simply experiencing them differently. Before you envy the person who slips by with nary a symptom, remember that a laid-back immune response can allow a cold virus to spread farther and even cause damage before it’s destroyed.

• Vitamin C doesn’t help. It’s an enduring myth, but countless studies show that there’s basically no benefit to the citrus vitamin. The exception is marathon runners and people who perform strenuous exercise in the cold, where vitamin C appears to reduce the risk of catching the cold virus (but still does nothing to cure an existing cold).

• Blowing your nose can be risky. Most scientists agree that blowing your nose doesn’t provide any benefit for your body (other than comfort). However, there’s a darker side to nose blowing. As you learned when you explored nasal mucus, overly vigorous nose
blowing can drive viruses and inflammatory substances into your sinuses, possibly causing additional pain or infection.

• Colds travel through snot. You most commonly pick up the cold virus through airborne droplets of mucus (generated by someone else’s sneeze), or by touching a contaminated surface. Kids are prime transmitters, but even adults are adept at transmitting nearly invisible traces of mucus from their noses to their hands and then to everything else in the surrounding environment. However, the cold virus still needs to jump through a weak point in your body armor, such as your eyes, nose, or mouth. So after you touch any of these vulnerable places, make sure you wash your hands.

• Colds might prime your immune system. There’s no cure for the common cold on the horizon. Even if there were, you might not want to take it. Some researchers believe that a cold-free life might leave people at increased risk for allergies and asthma.

Source of Information : Oreilly - Your Body Missing Manual

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