It spreads like wildfire. First, it’s the harmless echo of a cough from the left corner of lecture. Next, it’s a barrage of nose-blowing from all corners of the room. Finally, the entire class is hacking so hard that they’ve got everyone convinced that having two lungs makes one expendable. Winter Quarter: ‘Tis the season for the sickly.
“I usually get sick around this time,” Communication junior Rie Ma said. “I think it’s because your body isn’t as strong since it exerts so much more energy trying to keep you warm.”
Especially for people who live on campus, germs can spread quickly between residents.
“I am actually kind of sick now,” Communication sophomore Tom Koerner said. “I got it from my roommate.”
When the symptoms are just scratchy throats and stuffy noses, there is a tendency to let one’s body take care of the pathogens. Health.com lists cold-fighting foods such as yogurt, chicken noodle soup, ginger tea or salad with bitter greens — though others choose less organic remedies.
“I have been taking some Tylenol Cold,” Koerner said. “And sinus meds and also Airborne. I also keep my room well-ventilated. I really recommend that, especially if your roommate is sick. Keep Purell on hand at all times.”
But when do symptoms go from manageable to worthy of a hospital visit? For hypochondriacs there may be no distinguishing point (if every ailment suggests a trip to the ER, it might be time to get off WebMD), but for the less wary, here are some key indications:
Your symptoms: Persistent cold, general unsexiness
What it means: According to Medscape, the common cold is associated with the rhinovirus. The rhinovirus causes several upper respiratory infections (URI), which can result in sore throats, nasal secretions and congestions, restlessness and irritability. Symptoms in adults usually resolve after a week, so persistent problems may need medical attention.
Your symptoms: Long-lasting fever, coughing up blood
What it means: Get yourself to Searle if you have “an unremitting fever that lasts longer than five days,” Feinberg medical student David Xu said. “Also, if there is the presence of blood during cough.” That cold may be something more.
Your symptoms: Swollen neck, discolored tonsils
What it means: If an upper respiratory infection continues, a more serious illness could be lurking, such as strep throat. According to eMedicine, symptoms include sore throat, fever, chills, malaise and headache — easily mistaken for a harmless cold. But if you have enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and your tonsils display grayish-white patches, it might be strep, which needs to be diagnosed by a doctor so it can be treated with antibiotics.
Your symptoms: Chest-rattling cough that doesn’t go away
What it means: It could be bronchitis, another possible consequence of a persistent URI. Acute bronchitis can begin with signs of coryza, otherwise known as common-head-cold symptoms: back and muscle pain, and colored nasal discharge. But bronchitis results from a reaction to the inflamed mucous membranes inside the lungs, and is marked by a cough that rattles in the chest and lasts much longer than the common cold.
Swimming through mounds of snow to get to morning classes is taxing enough as it is, and nursing an illness during these dire times is downright exhausting. Just like your mom always told you, prevention is the best defense. So take the advice you’ve heard since you were a kid: Eat fruits with Vitamin C to build up your immune system, and wash your hands regularly.
“There is no scientific treatment to cure the common cold,” Xu said. “It is a hodgepodge mixture of hundreds of different viruses. So, the best idea to alleviating symptoms is to drink lots of fluid and get plenty of rest.”