THE TERM ‘COMMON COLD’ IS A BIT OF A MISNOMER
Common implies that there’s a single ordinary pathogen to blame for your runny nose, coughing, and mild fatigue. Actually, there’s a huge array of viruses—more than 200 of them—that induce colds, each with its own means of evading your body’s defenses. For this reason alone, it’s unlikely that a catchall ‘cure for the common cold’ will ever be found.
THE CHILLY PART IS COMPLICATED
As for the ‘cold’ part, well, it’s complicated. Scientists don’t know for sure whether low temperatures affect a virus’s pathogenicity, but they do believe that colds are more prevalent in winter in part because we tend to spend more time indoors, in close quarters with infected people and surfaces.
IT DRIES OUT PROTECTIVE BARRIERS
On top of this, sucking up dry winter air dries out the protective mucus that lines your nasal cavities. When that happens, your body can’t do its job of catching potentially dangerous microbes before they reach your respiratory system. ‘The body fights back by secreting more mucus to mechanically flush out the virus,’ says Evangeline Lausier, MD, an adjunct assistant professor at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. So don’t blame your runny nose on the cold: That’s your own body telling you it’s fighting back! (You can help your mucus win this fight by drinking lots of fluids.)