The purpose of sore throats and tickly coughs
December 16th, 2009
Why, exactly, is it that the virus that causes the common cold – rhinovirus – causes sore throats and coughs? Why? What’s the point? What earthly advantage does an irritating, tickly cough convey to anyone? Just WHY? WHY do I have to suffer weeks of dull, grouch-inducing pain every time I try and swallow anything (oh haha guys.) Why, why, WHYYYY??
As you might be able to tell, I have been suffering from a cough and sore throat for a good week now, and I’m more than just a little bit tired of it. A lovely new addition is this semi-acute earache and intermittent headache, exacerbated immeasurably by looking downwards or at bright lights.
I’ve not caught a cold for a very long time; I thought I’d escaped the (almost) inevitable Freshers’ flu this year, but it seems it finally caught up with me. Literally the moment, the very moment my ought-to-be-illegal viol of pure menthol for injecting into one’s face every 30 seconds (Vicks “First Defence”) ran out, and before I had time to replenish my stocks, I caught the mother of all colds. Running a temperature of nearly 39°C, it floored me for a few days; it prevented me from getting out of bed, and made continuing with any aspect of my life temporarily impossible.
Now that I’m out of bed, I’ve doped myself up on every legally-available analgesic I’ve been able to get my hands on, and have been periodically swigging cough mixture out of the bottle (it seems the credit crunch hits all areas – the bottles no longer come with a plastic spoon). Clearing the backlog of work that didn’t get done this term has only just begun, yet progress is still being seriously impaired by the savagely bad mood that the tail end of this cold is eliciting.
When I started this piece, I fully intended to create one of my nerdy discussions about the exact cause and purpose of cold symptoms, but my brain just isn’t working. I think, in the case of the particular rhinovirus serotype that is currently resident in my upper respiratory tract, some additional symptoms include brain disengagement, lack of ability to apply intelligence, and severe aprosexia (that’s lack of attention-span, for those of you imagining any seedy, après-coital activities).
Unlike the sore throat and tickly cough, I can at least see an advantage that the latter three symptoms might convey to the virus. Perhaps the virus knows that if I study the relevant immunology, I might stumble across the key to ridding myself of the cold, which is certainly not in the interests of the virus.
If, indeed, the virus is as intelligent as herein I give it credit, then surely it must have considered the possibility that by giving me a bad cough and sore throat, all it is likely to do is put me in a bad enough mood to make me want to stay indoors, wearing hideous tartan PJs and a man-sized cardigan, wrapped up in a duvet and sipping chamomile tea through a straw while watching girly movies. Oh! Fancy that! That’s exactly what I’m doing! Indeed, the virus ought to FURTHER know, that by making me want to stay indoors wearing hideous tartan PJs and a man-sized cardigan, wrapped up in a duvet and sipping chamomile tea through a straw while watching girly movies is NOT particularly conducive to spread of virus, which, surely, is the whole point of an infection in the first place, n’est-ce pas?
So actually, despite my temporary lack of ability to apply it, I can rest assured that I am the possessor of superior wit over my friend rhiny. I don’t think she’s very happy. Maybe she’s trying to get her own back. Maybe THAT’S the reason behind the otherwise utterly pointless but insanely irritating sore throat and tickly cough!!
With brains like that, one day I’m going to be a professor.