The Common Cold Body Reaction

If you’re like most people, you suffer through the common cold and endure its symptoms at least once every year. Unfortunately, however, scientists and researchers still have not found a cure for the cold virus. Understanding how the body reacts to the cold won’t relieve your cold symptoms, but at least the knowledge can help you understand how your immune system fights back.

Symptoms of the Common Cold

You’re probably very familiar with the symptoms of the common cold. Cold symptoms can include:

  • congestion
  • coughing
  • feeling tired
  • itchy or sore throat
  • lack of appetite
  • runny nose
  • sneezing.

Sometimes, cold symptoms can include a fever of up to 102F.

Interestingly, about 25 percent of people who get colds may not exhibit any symptoms, or are asymptomatic.

Common Cold Causes

Rhinoviruses are a common type of cold virus, although more than 200 viruses can cause the common cold. Generally speaking, a cold virus enters your body through your nose, your mouth or your eyes. While cold viruses can be transmitted through the air, they can also be transmitted by contact, such as when an infected person sneezes into his hand and then touches another person. This is one of the reasons that experts suggest that you wash your hands frequently during the cold season.

Cold viruses attack the cells that line your respiratory system, injecting their DNA into the cells and creating new virus particles that ultimately kill the host cells. As more viral particles spread, the more havoc they wreak in your head and chest.

The Body’s Response to Viruses

Your body’s immune system is set up to help you fight off diseases and infections. When a virus enters your body, the virus is analyzed by cells called macrophages, which are a type of white blood cell. Macrophages, which originate in bone marrow, circulate in your bloodstream looking for foreign objects. When the microphages recognize the virus, a biochemical reaction starts, beginning with the arrival of the lymphocytes, another class of white blood cells.

The first lymphocyte on the scene would be T-cells. These cells originate in the thymus. If the T-cells determine that the virus is in fact detrimental to the body, some T-cells will attach and kill the viruses. Other types of T-cells call in the B-cells, which will make antibodies to assist in the fight. Other types of T- and B-cells memorize the virus so that the body can act more quickly the next time the virus tries to invade the body.

This is a much simplified explanation of a very complex and intricate interaction of different parts of the immune system that come into play when you are invaded with a cold virus.

Vaccines for the Common Cold

In some cases, you can be given immunity to certain viral infections, such as polio, through vaccinations. Unfortunately, however, no vaccines exist for the common cold.

Common Cold and Immune System Myths

Many think that only people with weakened immune systems can get the common cold. This simply isn’t the case. In a study where healthy people allowed a cold virus to be dropped into their noses, about 95 percent of them caught colds. Another myth is that antibiotics can be used to treat the cold. Antibiotics do not treat viruses. They can, however, fight off bacterial infections. Consult your physician if your cold lingers for more than 10 days without improvement.


The Common Cold Inc. (n.d.) Myths of the Common Cold. Retrieved November 4, 2007, from the Website:

The Mayo Clinic. (n.d.) Common Cold Causes. Retrieved November 4, 2007, from the Website:

The Mayo Clinic (n.d.) Common Cold Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved November 4, 2007, form the Website:

The Province of Manitoba. (n.d.). What is the Immune System? Retrieved November 4, 2007, from the Province of Manitoba Website:

The United States Department of Health