Every time you get a cold, notice how it usually starts in the throat with a tickle, a scratch, or a slight cough. It then progresses into chest congestion or travels up into the ears and the sinuses. You’ll have a low grade fever, mild chills, and a runny nose. Even if you start out with a runny nose, eventually, you’ll have throat symptoms later on. Sounds like a classic cold, right? When you see your doctor, throat redness and irritation and swollen glands are noted, confirming even further that you’re in the middle of a standard upper respiratory infection, or the common cold. Typically, it’ll last anywhere from 3-5 days. A small minority will progress into one of the classic complications of a common cold, such as a bronchitis or sinusitis.
Any time I see patients in the office that come in with any of these classic symptoms or one of the more severe complications such as sinusitis, I always ask about the few days or weeks prior to the onset of the throat symptoms. With few exceptions, most of you will have either increased stress (out of the ordinary), a history of eating later than normal, or drinking alcohol later in the evening. Sudden weather fluctuations such as pressure or humidity changes is another common trigger.
If you’re susceptible to sleep-breathing problems at all (most modern humans are to some degree), any degree of inflammation in the throat will cause further swelling, starting up a vicious cycle that brings up more stomach juices into the throat, which causes more obstructed breathing and stomach juice reflux. It’s important to realize that whatever comes up from your stomach includes not only acid, but also bile, digestive enzymes, and bacteria. Even microscopic amounts will cause irritation to your delicate voice box, giving you a scratchy throat, cough or hoarseness. This is why these symptoms are most obvious when you first wake up in the morning.
It’s also been shown that these same stomach juices can then travel down into the lungs or up into the ears of the sinuses. Pepsin, a digestive enzyme, and H. pylori, a common stomach bacteria, have been found in lung and sinus washings. This is also why the ears are usually affected before the sinuses—it’s a direct line from your throat to the eustachian tubes, whereas you have to take right angled turn to reach the sinus passageways in the nose.
You may now be asking, "but what about the fever and the chills?" Any sudden, or abrupt change in your sleep-breathing status can cause an autonomic nervous system imbalance that can bring about these same fevers, hot flashes, chills and sweating.
How does your typical cold start? Please enter your experiences below in the comments box.
I had troubles with my ears as a child; the doctors wanted to insert tubes, but a last minute opinion proved otherwise. I'm 26 now and have had good experiences since then, slight some mild tinnitus. Anyways...I started to have to have an ear ache two Sundays ago. It came out of the blue and was accompanied by minor throat irritation on the same side as the ear that was bothering me. It lasted for a couple days and went away. My ear was sore to the touch. I assumed it was my wisdom tooth which needs to be pulled. Then that Friday (this past Friday) I started to feel congested in my chest. By nightfall I was coughing and my nose was stuffed. Saturday and Sunday were dreadful; I was coughing, sneezing, and just plain miserable. But I was taking an expectorant so the cough was "productive" (although I need to learn to cough the mucous up and not swallow it). I am feeling much better after using a Vicks Vaporizer and keeping with my OTC cough meds. However, I can't shake this cough. I am coughing productively but it's the sudden and random tickle that irks me, especially when I am trying to have a verbal conversation and am interrupted by this cough. What is scausing the tickle? I know that cold's can take a week or so to fully go away, but I wilsh I knew how to soothe my scratchy throat. Thanks, Doc!