Why isn’t there a cure for the common cold yet?

The common cold

The common cold, we all know the feeling. Runny nose, drained expression and a general feeling that only grandma’s chicken soup can relieve. It’s an inconvenience that all of us can do without, especially during busy periods of work or school. It’s thought that most adults get between two and four colds every year, while children go one step further, picking up a whopping five to ten snotty nosed episodes by the time the clock strikes for New Year. This begs the question though, why isn’t there a pill we can pop, or a bottle that puts the pep back in our step? Why on earth are we still weighed down by the common cold? Surely we’ve moved past the soup?


Understanding the cold


“To conquer your enemy you must first understand them as if they were yourself” – Anon


As far as diseases go the cold is a pretty simple one. In most cases it’s caused by a tiny virus called a Rhinovirus; these are essentially tiny balls of hate, hundreds of times smaller than the cells in your nose. In much the same way that pirates in films use grappling hooks to board and loot bigger boats, viruses use things known as antigens to latch onto then invade normal peaceful cells.

Once latched on, it releases its own motley crew, only instead of actual pirates it’s something called RNA – a substance that sneakily instructs the cell to stop its daily activities and make even more viruses. It’s basically a full-blown hijacking, and once the virus is done, it leaves the cell to sink to the bottom of the mucus-y sea.

Clearly this isn’t a great situation for the body to find itself in, so it fights back via its own immune system. To allow reinforcements to arrive the sinuses open up, resulting in the classic runny nose symptoms you get, meanwhile extra fluid causes the sneezing also associated with the cold. If the virus gets into the lungs, the same thing happens, with extra mucus in the lungs causing the classic coughing symptoms.

Within a few days the immune system will hopefully have a handle on things, waving goodbye to the infection. To get rid of dead cells and viruses, the body sets them away on a lazy river of mucus where it’s either coughed up or sent to meet its fate in the stomach. This is why mucus gets thicker and noses become stuffy towards the end of a cold. All in all, the whole process takes between seven and ten days in a healthy adult.


Simple virus, complex cure

Contrary to popular belief, the common cold isn’t an illness, it’s actually the name given to the collection of symptoms you get. This is because over a hundred different kinds of virus can cause it, making it exceptionally hard to identify which one is the offending culprit. It’s kind of like having a police lineup made up of exclusively of identical siblings, except they’re invisible. And all facing backwards.

Normally you can fight a virus by targeting its antigens, using its own grappling hooks as a way of hanging onto them or tying them together. However, every year new types appear – making existing medicines ineffective. Considering the worst that happens is a few days in bed, scientists have pretty much collectively decided that their time would be better spent frying much bigger fish. Admittedly, this comes as little comfort when halfway through a multipack of kleenex.


So is there anything I can do?

The best thing you can do is help your body help itself, taking things easy for a few days, dressing up warm and, yes, diving into grandma’s soup (not literally). All of this gives your immune system the perfect conditions to devise its own gameplan. It’s a sad reality but there are no potions or pills that will significantly speed things up. That said, there are plenty of over the counter medications designed to relieve symptoms – these include:


Acetaminophen – To reduce pain

Antihistamines – To reduce inflammation

Decongestants – For overcoming that blocked nose

NSAIDsA group of medications including ibuprofen and aspirin. These reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.

As an additional note, you should always stay hydrated, a vital piece to fighting off any infection.  


Spotting unusual signs

Most of the time cold symptoms resolve themselves and no medical attention is needed; however, if you notice a fever you should see your Doctor within 48 hours. Fever is often a sign of influenza (or flu to most people), a similar kind of virus to the cold but with many more potentially severe consequences. If in doubt, your doctor will perform a rapid-flu test to find out, a quick and painless swab of the back of the throat. Left untreated complications can sometimes develop, especially in the elderly. Fortunately seasonal flu vaccinations are readily available, particularly recommended if you are over 65, pregnant or suffering from select medical conditions.

Of course, seeing a doctor is easier said than done, especially when you have to leave your comfy bed, wade through a sea of tissues and wait in a room full of other coughing people. That’s why we invented the Qured app, a simple way of getting a doctor to your door in under two hours. We can’t promise they’ll bring you chicken soup but they bring something even better. Peace of mind.