By Bunmi Sofola
THE rainy season is fast upon us. A few of us might skip through the season; but most of us will succumb, enduring between two and five bouts of sniffing and sneezing each year—each lasting an average of nine days. Experts believe we spend around five years of our lives sneezing, coughing and feeling generally rather under the weather. According to reports from experts on colds and nasal allergies, there are tips to prevent the viruses and how to minimise the symptoms with the latest treatments available to help you get back to normal life as fast as possible.
A good strong sneeze can send 100,000 virus—containing droplets around 3.5 metres into the air, and just one of those droplets can survive for up to 48 hours on a doorknob, TV remote control or a handrail, to be picked up when you touch it. If you put your hands close to your nose, eyes or mouth, the virus can swiftly enter your body, using your cells as hosts to make thousands of copies of itself. This rapid replication—or more specifically our body’s reaction to it—is what triggers classic cold symptoms.
“During the first few days of a cold, you are very unlikely to know you’ve been infected,” says Professor Wendy Barclays, a virologist—although this is the time that you are most infectious. As the virus replicates, it will gradually damage the naturally protective mucus sheet inside the nose. This allows access for irritants which make you start sneezing.
Next, dead cells (killed by the cold virus) start to collect in the nose and lungs, becoming trapped by mucus, making it thicker, darker and more likely to clog the lungs, which makes it harder for you to breath. This triggers your immune system to leap into action. “Your body is compelled to try to limit the rate at which the virus replicates and so releases immune cells and chemicals to do this,” explains Professor
Barclay. It’s these chemicals, produced by your own body, that cause many of the worst cold symptoms. They raise your temperature, in a bid to kill the virus (which prefers cold environments), and they also dilate the blood vessels to allow immune cells to travel swiftly to the affected areas—this causes swelling which blocks your nose and congests your lungs. They also trigger intensified sneezing in a bid to clear the virus out of your system.
The intensity of the body’s virus attacking mechanism varies from one person to the next, so no one will react to the same cold virus in the same way. Genetic factors also play a part—you might have an inherited gene which triggers high temperatures or intense sneezing, for instance. Experts believe the people who claim to never get colds are probably lucky in that they do not get infected, but their body mounts a less noticeable reaction to the virus.
And gender does play a part. Research has found that men tend to react more strongly to the same virus than women.