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What happens when you catch a cold
Someone spits directly on you, or on a surface that you touch and one of a host of different respiratory tract viruses ends up in your respiratory tract.
From left to right : Influenza, coronavirus, adenovirus, rhinovirus
If conditions are just right, the virus will be able to “hook” onto one of the cells lining your respiratory tract and attach on to it. The official word for this is the virus has adsorbed (it isn’t a typo – it adsorbs not absorbs).
Once the virus “adsorbed” to the cell, it begins the process of getting inside. Each virus has its own particular style, but at the end of the day, it manages to stick its genes inside of your cell. Your cell gets a little confused, so instead of ignoring extra bits of DNA, your cell treats the bits as normal DNA.
It starts to make copies of the DNA and to translate the DNA into proteins, as if the DNA was you. So in a very short space of time, your cell has accidently made new virus (lots of it).
The virus is still trapped inside the cell, so at this point it makes a plan to get out. Again each virus has its own way of doing it. Viruses leave in their wake damaged / destroyed cells.
The counter attack
As soon as the virus arrives, your body begins to try and get the problem sorted out. Many chemicals are released – it is these chemicals that cause you to run a fever, feel tired and miserable and start to sniff and snot.
It takes a few days for your immune system to get on top of things.
Antibodies are among the most important substances that the immune system produces to destroy the virus.
Speed is of the essence
If you have had a vaccination the body is able to produce antibodies much quicker, so the virus doesn’t have time to cause a lot of damage.
Unfortunately, until the antibodies get there in large numbers, the virus is able to keep multiplying. Each new virus finds a new cell to invade, uses the cells equipment to make lots of new viruses, which then pop out and find new cells to invade.
In a short space of time, the cells lining your respiratory tract are decimated.
Antibiotics don’t kill viruses.
As long as the problem is viral – there is no point in taking an antibiotic.
NOTE : It takes 7 days to get over a cold if you take an antibiotic. It takes 7 days to get over a cold if you don’t.
If you don’t get over it in a few days, you might need an antibiotic to kill the bacteria who acted like a thug by looting the place.
The broken escalator
The damage to the cells lining the respiratory tract causes the fancy escalator system, of tiny little hairs and sticky mucous, that normally ensures any bacteria and other junk don’t move down and get stuck in your lungs, to cease working optimally.
Any “bad” bacteria moving down, is no longer marched out immediately.
It gets an opportunity to hang around a little.
This is fabulous for the bacteria, it finds itself in a nice warm wet environment, with plenty of food and so does what bacteria do – starts to multiply. Bacteria can multiply very quickly – 1 bacteria can become 2 in 20 minutes, so it doesn’t take too long for there to be lots and lots of bacteria.
You now have a secondary infection which usually means TROUBLE.
PS. Bacteria don’t always manage to set up a secondary infection – both genes and environment, determine if the bacteria manages to get going.
The second invasion is ugly
You will probably be able to figure out when you have a secondary infection because your symptoms will extend beyond mild sniffing and snotting.
- often develop a cough that sounds a bit like a dog barking and the noise will be coming from deep within your chest.
- your chest will feel really sore.
- the colour of what you are coughing / sneezing / snotting out is no longer clear but yellow or worse still, a greeny colour.
- as the situation worsens, you will find it difficult to breath.
You immune system will do its best to get on top of things once more, but it is easy for the bacteria to win at this stage because your immune system is a little worn out (been working really hard to try to get the virus under control).
Now you need an antibiotic
Upper respiratory tract infections can quickly become pneumonia. Pneumonia is a potentially life threatening ailment, so if your immune system is not winning, get some help.
Get a prescription for an antibiotic.
The antibiotic is designed to kill the bacteria and get you back to normal – make sure you finish the course, you need to wipe out the bad bacteria completely. Not finishing the course could result in your invading thug turning into a semi-permanent squatter.
The biggest risk factor for going down with a cold, is not stress or weak lungs, but spending time with young children is what pushes you over the edge.
A visit to the doctor is potentially a health hazard, what starts as a well child visit in week one, often morphs to a visit for flu-like symptoms 2 weeks later
Showing up, when you have a cold, requires dosing up with a fever lowering medication. It’s harmless – think again, you’re giving those germs an advantage.
Interested in learning more about the chemistry behind common health problems ?
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