Cold Viruses and Immunity Form a Battlefield in the Nose
To cure your cold fast, you need to know how to fight against your enemy. You probably already have a general idea about what happens on a battlefield. In a battlefield, one of the commonly used approaches to win is to increase the number of fighters.
Overgrowth of Cold Viruses
When the cold viruses invade your nasal cavity, your immune system starts to defend your body. In this unique battlefield, the virus tries to supply as many fighters as possible by growing more and more viruses in the epithelial cells of your nasal cavity. After the new generation of cold viruses is produced, they are released by breaking out of their womb—your epithelial cells! Then, these new viruses invade the nearby epithelial cells in your nasal cavity. This cycle happens again and again.
Since it is clear that the result of cold virus growth is the destruction of the epithelial cells in your nasal cavity, let’s look at what is happening on the other side of the battlefield—your body’s immune system. The body’s immune response is comprised of many fighters, like white blood cells. When the battlefield is formed in your nose, your body can supply unlimited fighters – white blood cells.
Depending on your age, health conditions, nutritional status, and other factors, the strength of your immune response may be relatively different from others’. However, you don’t need to worry about how strong your immune system is, since virtually everyone catches a cold once in any given year. Rather, it is necessary to see how your immune system fights against cold viruses.
Everyone has two types of immunity: the specific immunity and the nonspecific immunity.
Let’s review specific immunity first. It comes mainly from antibodies and lymph cells (lymphocytes) specifically target against the cold virus. These antibodies and lymphocytes only attack the cold viruses that have previously infected you. They do not have any memory of the other types of cold viruses since they have not previously infected you. In helping you to win the battle against the current cold viruses, the specific immunity is generally very weakly, if at all, effective during the early phase of the fighting. Why? Basically, not many of these specific antibodies and lymphocytes are there when your body is invaded by the cold viruses. The specific immunity has about two years of memory for a specific virus—one of the two hundred viruses. After two years, the memory for that specific virus is gone. The functional-specific antibodies and lymphocytes are reproduced for about two weeks after you contract the current infection. By that time, your cold symptoms generally disappear if you are not further infected by bacteria. Therefore, you cannot count on your specific immunity to help you fight against current cold viruses. The good thing is that the newly-gained specific immunity helps you to prevent the same cold virus from invading your body again in the next two years. Your specific immunity does not cause you any harm during the two weeks of cold, as it is not a noticeable player on the battlefield. Because of their number, they basically don’t participate in the inflammation reactions for the first two weeks.
It may be beneficial to briefly share the process of antibody production in our body. When particles of a cold virus enter our nose and are identified by the immune system as foreign “invaders”, our bodies use the invaders, which are also called antigens, as a template to create a genetically matching antibodies. Antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins, are like a lock and key system with the specific virus. When matched perfectly with the cold virus antigens, they “lock” or bind the antigens, neutralizing them so they can no longer enter or damage our epithelial cells in nasal cavities. To bind each different strain of cold viruses, the antibodies must have the right pattern to match the characteristics of each antigen. A match will allow the antibodies and immune response to make a “lock” to fit those viruses. Our body remembers each new virus pattern that has caused an immune response in the past, so that it can make those matching cells to protect us from that same specific cold/flu strain in case it ever enters the body again in the future.
Our body has the ability to determine when a cold or flu virus has invaded and, if it has a match to that strain of virus stored from a prior invasion, the immune response is generated and the immune system (white blood cells) quickly produce a lot of those antibodies, that the body made and that worked in the past to destroy/bind the invading virus particles. If it is a new invading virus, usually our body can make cells that can match just right in a week to ten days. However, if the new invading virus is a new one, our body cannot make any antibodies to against it.
The other type of immunity is called nonspecific immunity. Nonspecific immunity has many powerful fighters to help you win the battle against cold viruses.
The frontline fighters of nonspecific immunity are the big white blood cells called macrophages. They are near the epithelial cells that have been infected by cold viruses. A macrophage is a specific type of white blood cell that ingests (takes in) foreign material. Macrophages are key players in the immune response to foreign invaders like cold viruses. The macrophage has its own supplier in the blood monocytes, a particular type of white blood cells. Monocytes migrate into the virus-invaded epithelium in the nasal cavity, and there they differentiate (evolve) into macrophages. Macrophages help destroy viruses, bacteria, and protozoa when a complicated infection occurs. Macrophages serve as scavengers that rid the body of worn-out cells and other debris. Their other, more important role is to release biological signals to initiate the inflammation reaction.
If you have ever burned or cut yourself, you might have observed inflammation in the damaged tissue. You saw swelling and redness and felt heat and pain. Swelling is caused by the creation of gaps between the capillary cells, allowing the movement of fluid and immune cells to the damaged area. An increase in blood flow to the area causes the characteristic redness. Heat is caused by the accumulation of blood and the release of fever-inducing molecules called pyrogens. Pain is felt in response to tissue damage and the irritation of sensory nerves in the affected area. This series of events is collectively called “inflammation.” That is happening in your nasal cavity when you have a common cold. When you open your mouth to say “Ahh” in front of a mirror, you can see the redness of your throat. When the swelling occurs in your internal nasal cavity, you can feel the nasal congestion.
The English word inflammation comes from the Latin inflammare, which means “to set on fire.” Inflammation is a biological fire in the human body. It is part of the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as viruses and damaged cells at the cold-virus infected site. Inflammation occurs to remove the injurious stimuli and to initiate the healing process. However, progressive destruction caused by inflammation of the tissue is part of the virus-triggered nasal lining damage. In addition, unwanted inflammation can also be a major destructive force, as seen in many autoimmune diseases. It is for that reason that inflammation is normally closely regulated by the body.
There are significant side effects from inflammation, but your body needs it to fight against cold viruses. Inflammation is like a toxic but essential drug: Although the drug causes significant side effects, you will take it if you need the drug to save your life. This is more or less like what happens on a battlefield: no matter which side fires the bullets or drops the bombs, the surrounding area gets damaged. Many powerful and destructive inflammatory mediators are released by your immune system. They attack viruses and damage your own cells.
To fight against common cold viruses, so far modern medicine’s approach is still similar to what was done in the pre-penicillin age against bacterial infections. Unless and until an antiviral drug is available, you must suffer the inflammation to save your life. However, in a later chapter, you will learn about a new method to fight against cold virus infections, which will make you less dependent on inflammation to cure colds.
Your goal is to stop the activities on the battlefield of your nasal cavities from ever occurring. These damaging attacks and counterattacks are happening in your nasal cavity and cause you to suffer greatly.
Coughing and Sneezing the Cold Virus Out
Coughing and sneezing are the body’s way of removing viruses or mucus from the nasal cavity and lungs. A cough is only a symptom, not a disease. A productive cough produces mucus and generally it should not be suppressed. It clears virus-laden mucus from the nasal cavity and lungs. On the negative side, coughing and sneezing are a major way of spreading viruses around.
A nonproductive cough is dry and does not produce sputum. A dry, hacking cough may develop toward the end of a cold. A chronic dry cough may be a sign of mild asthma, since many times, an asthma attack follows an infection by cold viruses. Nonproductive coughing does not help to get rid of viruses.
Coughing can only play a very limited role in removing cold viruses. Therefore, no matter how productive it is, you must use a more effective method to get rid of the cold viruses in your body.