Sneezing? Stuffed Nose? What is the Common Cold?


What is a cold?

A cold, or a “common cold” as doctors and nurses call it, is an illness caused by a virus infection, often of the nose, nasal passages and throat, which together are known as the upper respiratory tract. The most frequent symptoms are nasal congestion, runny nose (mucus drainage), sneezing and an itchy throat. Depending on the infection and severity, these symptoms may occur individually or together. Sometimes a person with a cold may also get fever, chills, head and body aches. There are over 200 viruses which can cause the cold, which is why getting a cold once doesn’t provide immunity against a different strain of virus in the future.

The science of completely understanding when and how a person catches a cold is incomplete and the large number of viruses also makes it difficult to state with certainty which symptoms indicate a cold or some other infection.

How does the body react to a cold?

When a cold virus infects the nose or throat, the body’s immune system sends white blood cells to the area to counter the virus. If the virus is new to the system, it will not be prepared to fight the virus and will need to send more white blood cells. Meanwhile the nose and throat get irritated and produce mucus in large quantities to get rid of the source of inflammation. This depletes the body of water and all the extra activity leads to tiredness.

How is a cold different from the flu?

Colds and flus (short for influenza) are similar in some ways. Both of these illnesses are caused by viruses, they infect the nose and throat areas and some of the symptoms are the same. However, the flu viruses are very different and can infect the lungs as well as nose and throat. The symptoms of a flu infection often develop much faster and also include fever, chills and body weakness, in addition to such cold-like symptoms as blocked and/or runny nose and cough. A person ill with the flu will feel tired, weak and not want to get out of bed.

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