Sneezes, Wheezes, and Coughs, Measurement of sneezers in action that the expelled air may reach a speed of 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) or more an hour. In ancient times, people believed that the soul fled the body during a sneeze, and that devils would invade the body unless someone cried out, “God bless you!”

What is a Sneeze?

Sneezes are frequently triggered by dust, pollen, or other types of irritant particles that settle on the sensitive mucous membranes in the nose. Richly supplied with nerves, these membranes react by sending signals to the respiratory center that is located at the base of the brain. Almost immediately, the signals are sent to the muscles involved in breathing, causing the subject first to inhale, and then to close the airways and use respiratory muscles to squeeze the chest.

When the air in the lungs is under high enough pressure, the airways suddenly open, expelling the irritant from the nose and mouth. The result is a sneeze, a primitive defense mechanism by which the body tries to expel an irritant from its pathways. The air in the lungs virtually explodes upward and outward, carrying everything in its path.

The mucus-laden air exist primarily from the mouth, but it also can come from the nose. Each sneeze may contain as many as 5,000 droplets, and unless a hand or a handkerchief intervenes, some of this material, which may be infectious, can travel as far as 12 feet (3.7 meters).

What Causes Coughing?

Coughing is very similar to sneezing except that the irritating substances are located in the lower parts of the respiratory system – the larynx, the trachea, the bronchi.

Doctors tend to take coughs seriously when they last more than two weeks. Violent coughing may damage the vocal cords, bronchi, or lungs. It can also break ribs and strain abdominal muscles so severely as to cause some of them to tear away or rupture. At the very least, coughing disturbs sleep. Chronic coughing is sometimes a symptom of an underlying disorder, such as sinusitis, asthma, allergies, tuberculosis, emphysema, or lung cancer.

Can Cough Medicines Help?

If you should have a dry, or so-called unproductive, cough – that is, one in which the irritant keeps triggering the cough reflex without clearing the airway – a cough suppressant can be helpful. The most effective chemical agent is codeine, but because it is a narcotic that may cause dependency as well as other undesirable side effects, it is only used in very small amounts in over-the-counter medications, and physicians are usually conservative when they prescribe drugs containing codeine for any prolonged period of time. Somewhat less powerful is the nonnarcotic suppressant called dextromethorphan.

Medications classed as “expectorants,” available in both over-the-counter and prescription forms, are intended to encourage “productive” coughs: those that bring up fluid from the lungs. The makers of expectorants say that these agents liquefy nasal mucus ad thus help to clear ti from the airways. However, the U.S. Government’s Food and Drug Administration disputes the claim, saying that many expectorant cough medicines are ineffective and that the rest carry a variety of health risks.

Sucking hard candies, drinking lots of liquids, and keeping the air moist with a humidifier normally makes coughers more comfortable. But under no circumstances should you attempt to treat a prolonged cough on your own; see your doctor to determine its cause.

What is a Common Cold?

Surprisingly enough, the ever-unpopular and always-with-us affliction known as the common cold is not a single specific disease. Similar symptoms may be caused by some 200 different viruses.

Physicians define a cold as a rapidly developing infection that is localized in the upper respiratory passages and leads to nasal congestion or stuffiness, runny nose, and sometimes throat irritation. If you start counting from the moment the first symptoms appear to the time when cold-related congestion finally clears away, the typical cold lasts about seven days. But person to person and also from virus to virus.

Why Does a Cold Start With a Runny Nose?

In fact, it doesn’t. By the time your nose begins to run, your cold is already between one and four days old. Cold viruses produce no symptoms when they first enter the system; the real beginning of a cold therefore passes unnoticed.

What’s happening when your nose runs is that the mucous membrane that lines it has stepped up its production of fluid in response to the viral attackers. Inflammation, which causes the tiny nasal blood vessels to swell and the passages to become congested, is also part of the defensive system of your body, however unwelcome the side effects of its protective efforts.

Why Do You Get More Colds in Winter?

The cold-producing viruses are not necessarily more active or more numerous in winter than at other seasons; the body is just more receptive to them then. Cooped up indoors during the colder months, people are constantly exposed at short range to the sources of infection. Equally important, winter air – especially indoors – tends to be exceptionally dry.

Breathed into the respiratory system, dry air severely inhibits the mucous membrane’s ability to resist infection. Consequently, a cold virus that would be vigorously resisted by the body in springtime may meet much less opposition in winter.

Can You Get a Cold from Wet Feet?

So far as specialists in the common cold can determine, there is no direct connection between contracting a cold and getting your feet wet, walking in the rain, or sitting around in a draft. Some years ago, researchers in Great Britain ran an elaborate experiment designed to discover the effect of chilling and physical misery on a group of volunteers.

Dividing the subjects into three groups, the researchers inoculated one set with cold viruses and had them stand around in the cold for half an hour wearing wet bathing suits. A second group was exposed to the same physical discomfort but not inoculated. a third group was inoculated with cold virus but left dry and comfortable. In due course, the first and third groups succumbed to the sniffles at just about the same rate, while the soggy-suited second group, which had not been inoculated, stayed healthy.