The Complete Guide To The Common Cold

The Complete Guide To The Common Cold

This is Rusty.

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Rusty has a cold.

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More specifically, Rusty has contracted rhinovirus, the virus responsible for over half of common colds.

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In Rusty’s world, today is Wednesday. On average, it takes 46 hours between when the virus enters the body and when symptoms begin. This means Rusty contracted the virus on Monday. Let’s review 3 scenarios where it could have happened.

How To Catch A Cold

1. Direct Contact With An Infected Person

This is Rusty’s coworker Donny.

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Donny has a cold.

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Donny also has poor hygiene.

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Rhinovirus loves mucus. That’s where it hangs out and that’s how it spreads, most commonly through direct contact with an infected person. In the example above, Donny passed the virus to Rusty through a 3 step process.

  1. Donny contaminated his own hands with infected mucus.
  2. Donny transferred the virus to Rusty via hand to hand contact.
  3. Rusty introduced the virus into his upper respiratory tract by touching his nose, eyes, or mouth with contaminated fingers.

In fact, Donny’s mucus is so heavily concentrated with rhinovirus that once he sneezes, the virus will remain on his hand and infectious for over an hour, even if he wipes the physical snot on a tissue.

2. Contact With A Contaminated Object

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A sick person with mucus on his hands can contaminate surfaces and objects. These items can remain infectious for up to 24 hours.

3. Inhalation Of Airborne Particles

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Lord save us all, rhinovirus is airborne. When Donny sneezed, he launched thousands of virus-laced droplets into the air. These droplets travel at speeds up to 100 mph, as far as 26 feet, and can even remain suspended for over 10 minutes.

There is a ton of conflicting research on this topic, but it’s worth noting that coughing likely does not contribute significantly to the spread of colds. This is because when you cough, most of what’s expelled is saliva, and saliva doesn’t contain enough of the virus to be overly contagious. In fact, one study says you can even make out with a cold sufferer and not have to worry about becoming infected.

Okay, so we know rhinovirus spreads through mucus and lurks on hands, objects and surfaces, and in the air. Now, let’s talk about the filthy little creatures most likely to give you the virus…


Kids are the primary culprits of spreading colds. If you’ve ever seen a sick, snotty, booger-wiping toddler, this will not surprise you.

But why are kids such a problem?

Poor hygiene. This…is pretty obvious: kids are monsters. They touch everything. They touch each other. They put things in their mouths. When a kid has a runny nose, snot is gonna be everywhere. That is science and that is fact.

Densely populated in classrooms and daycare centers, making it easy for viruses to spread from Jackson to Aiden and from Olivia to Sophia.

They live in our homes. Then they bring their germs directly into your home: eating where you eat, touching what you touch, and DAMMIT MILA STOP WIPING BOOGERS ON THE COUCH.

Inexperienced immune systems. As adults, you and I have what’s known as acquired immunity. Inside our bodies are specialized white blood cells. Each time we’re infected with a virus, these cells retain a memory of it. Then, if we encounter the same strain of virus in the future, our bodies use this memory to better fight off infection and prevent symptoms.

In fact, our acquired immunity is so effective it can eradicate a virus before you experience any symptoms at all, which means you can have rhinovirus and not even know it. This happens more than you think, especially if you’re a parent.

According to one study, if your kid has a cold virus, there is a 50% chance you have it too. But because of acquired immunity, there’s only a 29% chance you’ll have symptoms.

Since there are over 200 strains of cold causing viruses, we never become fully immune to colds. But each time we get sick, we acquire additional immunity. Now, since this happens only through experience, kids are being exposed to all viruses for the first time. This makes for a lot of snotty toddlers.

Cold Symptoms: What Is Happening To Me?

Timeline Common Cold

There is a point during every cold when I wonder, What in the hell is happening to me? I’m manufacturing snot faster than I can blow it out my nose. I can’t close my mouth in fear I’ll suffocate. I kinda want to die, and seriously what is going on up there? If you’ve wondered the same, this section is for you.

Colds vary in severity. But both rhinovirus’ path to infection and our immune response are pretty consistent, which means the average cold follows a standard timeline. Now, let’s check back in with our boy Rusty and see what this poor, poor man is in for.

Common Cold Day 0

The rhinovirus enters your upper respiratory tract through the nose, eyes or mouth either by touching these areas with contaminated fingers or by airborne particles. Once inside, the virus attaches to the back of the throat and infects the surrounding cells.

Common Cold Day 1

It takes roughly 24 hours for the body to detect the virus. Once it does, it triggers the immune system and begins to fight back. Cold symptoms are the result of the immune response.

The body sends white blood cells and fluids to the infection site, and the throat becomes inflamed and swells. This swelling results in a sore throat — the classic early symptom of a cold.

Common Cold Day 2

Swelling increases, and membranes in the nose secrete mucus in an attempt to clear the virus. Mucus build up leads to a stuffy/runny nose.

Common Cold Day 3

The virus spreads by infecting neighboring cells and by day 3 reaches its largest population in the body. As a result, the next 24 hours are the worst for symptoms. Mucus buildup irritates the nose and throat. Sneezing is the body’s attempt to remove the irritant.

This is also when you’re most contagious. Since rhinovirus spreads through mucus, the more mucus you produce, the more contagious you are.

Common Cold Day 4

The body works overtime to fight the virus, leading to fatigue. Mucus piles up and causes sinus pressure, the inability to breathe through the nose, and a resentment for life in general.

Common Cold Day 5

Things aren’t worse, and maybe they’re even a little better today. But still mucus has piled up further down the throat. Much like a sneeze, coughing is the body’s attempt at removing irritants from the throat.

Common Cold Day 6

The cold begins to dry up, literally, as snot turns to boogers. Breathing is easier and sinus pressure subsides.

Common Cold Day 7

On average, symptoms last 7-10 days. However, a cough can linger for another week or two.

Preventing Colds

The common cold has no cure. With over 200 different strains of cold causing viruses, we have yet to develop a vaccine. You can take over-the-counter medicine to relieve symptoms, and some research suggests vitamin C and zinc help curb symptom duration. But for now, the only way to avoid getting sick is prevention. Here are the 3 best ways to do that.

Don’t Touch Your Face

Don't touch your face

As discussed earlier, the rhinovirus spreads primarily through contact with a sick person or contaminated surface. In both cases, the only way you get infected is if you transmit the virus into your upper respiratory tract by touching your nose, eyes, or mouth with contaminated fingers.

Disinfect Your Hands

Disinfect Your Hands

Okay, so you want to touch your face. Fine. You’re not alone. Rubbing the eyes and picking the nose are normal parts of human behavior and said to occur once every 3 hours (which honestly seems understated).

Anyway, if you’re gonna pick your nose, do so with clean fingers. Also, make sure to wash your hands before eating and immediately after handling your kid’s snot and/or boogers. Frequent hand cleansing when you’re sick also prevents spreading the virus to others. Here are two ways to disinfect hands.

Hand Sanitizer

Quick and easy, look for a product that’s at least 60% alcohol.

Soap And Water

Tried and true, regular soap or anti-bacterial, either will do. What’s important is that you:

  • Use hot water
  • Scrub hard for 20 seconds
  • Don’t touch anything in the bathroom on the way out

Disinfect Your Stuff With Lysol

Disinfect Your Stuff

Lysol disinfectant spray (see on Amazon) reduces rhinovirus infectivity by 99.99%, which is more effective than domestic bleach.

Start with high-touch areas: light switches, remotes, door knobs, phones, counter tops, etc. Then gather all your kid’s crap and spray it to oblivion.

Go And Be Healthy

Now, go, dear reader. Go and be healthy. Wash your hands. Be responsible with your mucus. Disinfect your crap, and your kids. Use this newfound knowledge for the good of the people, and together let’s rid the world of pesky rhinovirus.


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