The common cold disease includes runny noses, sneezing, coughing, maybe even chills, or a monster of a headache. It does not include a fever. Generally, if there’s a fever, we call it the flu. And there are a lot of different viruses that can cause cold symptoms, but about half the time, the cold is caused by a class of viruses called a rhinovirus.
The virus generally moves from someone else’s hands to hands through touching a doorknob, putting hands into the nose or eyes. The immune system opens up blood vessels inside the nose through inflammation, increasing mucus in the cold. The irritation caused by the virus and all the fluid causes sneezing. As the immune system gears up over several days, fights the virus back, this mucus thickens, it gets grosser. This mucus thickens, and it changes color with dead cells, a form of puss. But eventually, the immune system eliminates the virus.
How does cold medicine work?
Studies look at different parts of the plant. They use different methods for each of the studies. In 16 studies of the herb or medicine did no better than placebo for preventing or treating colds. In the best studies with randomized controlled trials, most studies still found no benefit for medicine in preventing colds. Studies done since then aren’t any more convincing.
In 2007 a group of researchers claimed that the evidence. Fourteen studies suggested that medicine did shorten cold symptoms by a day or so. There are syrups, pills, and vaporizers to treat about every symptom your cold can bring. And they all involve some cool chemistry. It might help to know that not every cold medicine is as effective.
Colds are some of the most common infectious diseases. Since more than 200 different viruses cause them, it’s been impossible for us to create a vaccine against them. So the best way is to fight the symptoms. Most cold symptoms are probably caused by the body’s efforts to fight off the virus, not the virus itself. When you catch cold, inflammatory proteins like cytokines get released and tell immune cells to get to work fixing the problem. Mainly, they do this by dilating blood vessels so that infection-fighting white blood cells can move around more easily.
Unfortunately, in your nose, those dilated blood vessels also lead to tissue swelling and congestion. Cytokines also interact with pain receptors in your esophagus, which can cause a sore throat. And in the nervous system can stimulate various nerves to trigger a runny nose, sneezing, and coughing. None of those things are especially fun. They kind of stink.
When your nose is stuffed up, you’ll probably reach for a decongestant to clear up your sinuses. Pseudoephedrine is a popular one, found in medications like Sudafed Decongestant and Aleve D. It’s a carbon ring attached to a complex chain of other atoms, including nitrogen and oxygen. It reduces congestion by binding to receptors in the nose. It makes the muscles around blood vessels tense up and reduces the extra blood flow caused by cytokines.
Unfortunately, since pseudoephedrine is a stimulant, it can also cause insomnia, nervousness, dizziness, and even affect heart rate. Phenylephrine is a similar medicine found in brands like Sudafed PE. But since it can’t be used to make meth, it’s easier to buy. Unfortunately, several studies have also found that it is no more effective than a placebo. It means it probably doesn’t do much.
- Excess mucus production causes the symptoms of a blocked nose, sneezing, and coughing.
Some colds can also cause chest congestion and coughing. Many medications contain an expectorant to clear out some of that mucus, which helps you spit up those lovely green gobs of phlegm. The most common one is guaifenesin, a carbon ring attached to oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon atoms. It’s found in medicines like Mucinex.
- Scientists think it suppresses the production of mucins, one of the main proteins in the mucus lining lungs. That makes it easier for specialized cells to move mucus up.
Still, that’s just based on research done in a lab. In patients, scientists have found that guaifenesin does seem to help thin mucus. But it might not be that effective at clearing it from the lungs. Some studies haven’t found much of an improvement over a placebo in people with respiratory infections. But at least we know it helps somehow.
Now, maybe the most irritating symptom of a cold is a lasting cough. To help calm it, many medications, including Robitussin, contain a cough suppressant, like dextromethorphan. Dextromethorphan and molecules like it are made up of four carbon rings and some oxygen and nitrogen atoms. They include morphine, a highly addictive painkiller. But at the doses used in cold medicines, they don’t have the same potential for abuse. They probably work on the brain instead of the respiratory system.
When you take dextromethorphan, it crosses the blood-brain barrier. The tightly woven net of cells in your brain’s blood vessels protects it from bacteria and infection. And once it’s there, it affects a bunch of different receptors. Researchers think it helps reduce coughing by binding to receptors for neurotransmitters called NMDA, sigma-1, and serotonin. Since other drugs that bind to them also seem to suppress coughing.
Some recent studies have also found that dextromethorphan may not be that effective, at least in kids. However, many studies don’t seem to be that reliable. Outside of cold medicine, though, it does have some uses. Because of its effects on the nervous system, it’s also being investigated for use in many different conditions, like treating anxiety and agitation in Alzheimer’s disease, which is cool.
Coughing is a natural reflex that clears your airways of anything that’s not supposed to be in there. When some irritant floats into your nose or mouth, receptors in the airways send signals to your brain, sounding the alarm. Then another message is sent back to the diaphragm, and you cough at speeds of up to 50 mph.
Fortunately, today’s cold medicines contain many more reasonable active ingredients. One or more of these are probably in cough medicine. Antitussives like dextromethorphan or DXM are meant to block the cough reflex. They can also make drowsy.
- Expectorants like guaifenesin are designed to loosen and thin the mucus in the lungs, making it easier to cough out the gunk in the airways.
- Antihistamines like loratadine reduce swelling of the nose and throat and decrease the amount of gooey mucus that your lungs secrete when you have allergies.
Still, effective or not, all of these medications only treat the symptoms of the cold. None of them do anything to help kill the virus or boost the immune system except maybe by helping you sleep better. Ultimately, the only thing that can cure a cold is time! But these medicines will hopefully make things easier while you wait it out.
Frequently asked questions
Is syrup prevents cough?
There is very little evidence that cough syrup is effective at treating coughs. And carefully performed clinical trials show that these medications are generally no better than a placebo effect. In one review, of the 19 studies analyzed, 15 either showed no benefit or conflicting results. Other reviews had similar findings. They said that there is “no good evidence for or against the effectiveness of over-the-counter medicines in acute cough.”
So there is no guarantee that cough syrup will do anything for your cough. However, it could help you get a better night’s sleep. Large doses of DXM can cause dizziness, uncontrollable eye movement, convulsions, and even death. It’s especially dangerous for young children. Thousands of kids under 12 are sent to the emergency room every year. It is because of accidental overdoses on cough medicine.
How to prevent cold diseases?
Drink plenty of fluid. That should help to thin out any extra mucus and reduce your cough reflex. A humidifier or a steamy shower also helps reduce congestion. Cough drops get the saliva flowing, which can soothe your irritated throat.
What about honey and lemon? Though there’s not much research on its effectiveness in coughs, a small number of studies suggest some potential benefits over not doing anything. And it has been reported to help relieve cough in kids by soothing the back of the throat. The good news is that most coughs will go away after a week or two without any treatment. But if that cough lasts more than a few weeks, see your doctor.
How does overdose medicine harm you?
When you feel ill, it could be easy to lose track of time you took some medicine. This can be dangerous as taking another dose too soon could lead to an overdose. Overdosing on common drugs like paracetamol can cause liver damage or, in severe circumstances, could be fatal. Many cold and flu remedies contain a painkiller in combination with other medicines such as decongestants.
Check the packaging and ingredients carefully before taking any other medicine. The easiest way to accidentally overdose is by taking different remedies like tablets, hot drinks, and nasal sprays simultaneously. With no cure for cold and flu viruses, many people turn to alternative medicines in the hope of speeding their recovery.
The results of research into alternative medicines on viruses like colds and flu a mixed. But vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea may have a minimal effect in helping your body fight the virus so you can recover quicker. These products did not affect cold and flu prevention. Be sure to read all medicine labels carefully. As some alternative treatments can change the way, your body reacts to other medications.
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