One day you feel good and the next your nose is leaking, you are sneezing and you feel your throat as if you were swallowed broken glass.
Welcome to the cold season. Most of us get between one and three colds every year, usually in autumn and winter, and most are caused by one of the more than 200 viruses of different colds that exist. And worst of all, there is little you can do about it.
What we do know for sure is that the first 24 hours are crucial. This is just at this time when the infection takes hold and begins to multiply and you begin to feel the first symptoms.
With the help of three leading experts: Professor John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary University in London, Professor Ron Eccles, from Cardiff University and Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, we will discover what happens during the first 24 hours of the cold and what can you do to reduce the severity.
The first minutes
Getting a cold is a combination of factors that come together: you don't just need to get in touch with the virus, for example by a sneeze, the virus must also outperform your defenses.
A single sneeze contains hundreds of millions of virus particles known as virions, each of which can cause a cold.
Depending on how far you are from the sneeze, you can breathe some 10,000 virus particles, but only a few hundred will land on the exposed epithelial cells of the nose, throat and upper respiratory tract. "These viral cells have evolved to invade epithelial cells," explains Professor Oxford.
The first obstacle of invading virus is cross the tiny hair-shaped cells that we have in our nasal cavity and move to sweep the viruses that try to harm us.
As much of the virus particles get trapped in the saliva and swallow them.
Even those viruses that reach the upper respiratory tract face another almost insurmountable obstacle, the white blood cells that when noticing strange agents in the system join to destroy viruses.
However, when we are too tired, stressed or our immune system is weaker than normal, cold viruses find the perfect scenario to attack us.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Wash your hands with soap and water regularly. Avoid rubbing your eyes with your hands, as this can transmit an infection.
1 to 2 hours
At this time the first symptoms are: dryness and nasal irritation.
The place where they are installed depends on the type of virus that has infected it. Some virus they prefer the warmer environment of the lungs, while others focus on the nose and throat. That's why some colds tend to cause more nasal symptoms.
WHAT CAN YOU DO: Some over-the-counter remedies can help your body stop the cold at this early stage. Vicks first defense He says he reduces the chance of a cold by up to 50 percent if taken at the first sign of symptoms, and can reduce the severity of those symptoms by 40%.
This viscous gel works by trapping the virus and helping the body eliminate it. Professor Eccles says: ‘The concept is interesting and worth a try. The evidence of its effectiveness is not in black and white, but it's supportive. "
2 to 9 hours
The viruses that have managed to overcome natural defenses of the body will begin to infiltrate the epithelial cells and replicate. "The speed of replication is amazing," says Professor Oxford. "An infected cell becomes a virus factory and can produce millions of viruses in 10 hours." You may also feel tired as your body prepares to fight infections, so resting is a good idea.
It is from this moment that the virus infects more and more cells and the symptoms begin to appear seriously. As the virus invades the nasal cells, they respond by producing chemicals that include histamine and leukotrienes, part of the body's natural immune response. Within hours, these irritating chemicals inflame the lining of the nose causing sneezing. This is an attempt to dislodge the virus from your body.
The rest of the immune system also intensifies its defenses; the white blood cells begin to arrive from the whole body, and the underarm lymph nodes and the neck increase the production of white blood cells.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Applying a warm compress may provide relief. You can also take a pain reliever such as ibuprofen.
Cold viruses are now established at the deepest levels of epithelial cells and are moving through the bloodstream beginning to interfere with the way cells function and creating symptoms such as muscle pain. Here they begin to release mucus so nasal and sinus congestion occurs.
WHAT CAN YOU DO: Do not blow your nose too hard, as you can cause an infection in the canal that connects the upper part of the throat, the nasal cavity and the ears.
Cough occurs when small cells lodge in the lining of the respiratory tract. These receptors that irritate the lungs are sensitized by excess mucus. These send messages through the vagus nerve to the brain, which in turn orders the diaphragm and intercostal muscles to contract violently, causing an explosive cough. "The cough actually has an important purpose," says Professor Eccles. "It's the way your body prevents unwanted things from entering your lungs."
WHAT CAN YOU DO: "A hot drink like honey and lemon will provide immediate relief from sore throat and cough," says Professor Oxford. Gargling with salt water can help relieve sore throat symptoms by reducing inflammation.
More mucus builds up, more coughing occurs and sneezing intensifies.
WHAT CAN YOU DO: Take cough remedies containing expectorants to break up excess mucus.
The dehydration caused by mucus production and a higher body temperature. An accumulation of chemicals produced to help the body fight infections can also cause headaches.
WHAT CAN YOU DO: Chicken soup, acclaimed for hundreds of years as a cold remedy, could help. A study of the USA UU prepared in 2000 discovered that chicken soup decreases the movement of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, which suggests that it could be anti-inflammatory.
24 hours more
Congestion and accumulation of mucus in the sinuses and eustachian tubes can cause a bacterial infection of the middle ear or sinusitis.
For most, however, cold symptoms peak at three days. ‘After that, most immune systems can begin to change the course of the virus and eliminate it, but not without the virus eliminating millions of white blood cells in the process. This is possibly the reason why the mucus tends to thicken and acquires a greenish tinge, "says Professor Openshaw.