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Everyone knows (and passionately hates) the runny nose, coughing, sneezing, aching/sore joints, and the drowsiness associated with the cold. But these symptoms are just the body trying to get rid of the rhinovirus. What does the cold actually do to you, and what would happen if the body did not fight it? Would you just die?

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Common cold is one of the labels used to describe non specific infection of the upper respiratory tract. Other labels include acute rhinitis, acute rhinopharyngitis or acute coryza.

Upper respiratory tract infections (URI) can be caused by multiple virus families such as the rhinovirus (the most common cause of URI), the influenza virus, the coronavirus and the adenovirus.

While most of the URI share similar manifestations like rhinorrhea, nasal congestion, cough and sore throat, some symptoms may be much likely associated with a specific type of virus: myalgia and fatigue are commonly seen in influenza and parainfluenza infections, while conjunctivitis are often linked to adenovirus infection.

In general cases, URI are self limited diseases. However, some patients (children aged less than 1 year and adults aged more than 65 years, pregnant woman, and people of any age with comorbid illnesses) are at risk of developing complications. Pulmonary complications are the most frequent complications of influenza infection and are often associated with secondary bacterial infection that can lead to acute lung injury. The latter is associated with high mortality rate. Neuromuscular and cardiovascular complications are less common.

Sources:

  • Kasper, Dennis L, and Tinsley R. Harrison. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill, Medical Pub. Division,
  • Rothberg MB1, Haessler SD. Complications of seasonal and pandemic influenza.Crit Care Med. 2010 Apr;38(4 Suppl):e91-7

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