Are you experiencing a scratchy throat, sinus pressure, sneezing and stuffy nose? If you are nodding, then yes, the curse of the common cold is upon you! Statistics suggest that adults in the United States alone suffer 2-3 bouts of common colds annually. When you have a cold, you tend to have headaches, feel feverish or just feel run-down in general. This will cause you to be distracted, irritable, and make you need to miss out on your everyday activities.
But what exactly causes common colds?
According to research, there are about a couple of hundred different viruses that can cause the common cold. Amongst these, the Rhinovirus and the Coronavirus are the likely culprits. The Rhinovirus accounts for about half of the common colds annually while the Coronavirus accounts for about one third of it. These viruses often attach themselves to the body secretions, such as mucus, of an infected person. Droplets can transfer directly to a person through talking or sneezing, or indirectly through transfer of droplets. For example, a person sneezes on his hands and pushes an elevator button. You touch the same button and rub your eyes. Congratulations, the virus has entered your body.
On the plus side, people with colds are usually contagious only for the first three days of their illness, although colds commonly last for about a week or two.
There’s a common misconception that exposure to bad weather can lead to contracting common colds. Research shows that this is nothing but an old wives’ tale. So why is there an increase in number of people getting common colds during winter or the rainy season? There are two main explanations:
The first one is that when the weather is bad outside, people tend to stay indoors together. This leads to increased interaction with each other and therefore increases chances of communicability from one person to another. There will be more one-on-one talks as well as more chances of touching the same objects that a person who has common cold touches. In the medical community, it was previously thought that the virus living in the droplet of mucus can live up to three hours outside of the body. However, more recent studies show that the Rhinovirus can actually live on surfaces for a day or even longer than that.
The other reason is that when it’s winter time or rainy season, the general temperature of the environment drops. In theory, cooler temperature activates the body’s immune system. However, the longer you stay out in the cold, the lower your body temperature gets. The lower your body temperature gets, the more stressed it becomes as it tries to get your core body temperature back to equilibrium. The more stress it undergoes, the less strength your immune system has to fight off illnesses. In addition, when we are exposed to low temperatures, the blood vessels close to our body’s surface automatically constrict. This reflex dries the lining of your nose and thus makes it more susceptible to viral infiltration as viruses thrive in low humidity.
All these factors only strengthens the advocacy for individuals to regularly disinfect in order to prevent themselves from getting sick with colds and a stuffy nose.