Ruminations on a cold

I caught a cold this weekend - a fairly nasty one by my account. It started Saturday night with a really sort throat and post nasal drip. My throat was so sore (and constricted?) that I could only swallow the post nasal discharge in a sitting position. Lying down it would choke me (which made sleeping a lot of fun). The next say I had the body aches, stuffy nose and headache. By Sunday evening, it had descended into my lungs, giving me a nasty burning, rattling cough. This is unusual for me as usually I only get the cough toward the end of the cold about 4 days after it starts. This cold seems in a hurry to bring me all the symptoms at once! Then on Monday, the fever set in, keeping me home from work all day Monday. On Tuesday, I came and went from work as there were a couple of important meetings I couldn’t afford to miss, but I had to take lots of Dayquil to keep myself functional. And now (Wednesday) the fever is gone, as are most of the body aches and sore throat, though the cough is still pretty grotty.

So that’s my cold in a nutshell. Anyway, while I was lying in bed on Monday, I got to thinking about colds in general and came up with three burning questions for Dopers.

  1. For how long am I contagious with a cold? I recall my mom telling me when I was a kid that you stop being contagious when the fever breaks. Is there any truth to that? I usually force myself to the office when I am sick, but I realise that isn’t doing my colleagues any favors. When am I actually ‘safe’ to return?

  2. How does Vicks work? I love Vicks. Nothing cuts through a blocked nose as well. It can dissolve even the hardest, most densely packed snot. But how does it do it? Do the menthol-camphor-eucalyptus vapors actually turn the snot from solid to liquid? Does it cause an increase in my nostril temperature which in turn melts the stuff?

  3. Lastly, is it actually possible to ‘cough out a lung’? Some of my coughing fits seem so deep and painful that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I opened my eyes to find a lung on the floor. Has this ever happened? Is it physically possible?

Inquiring minds want to know…

News Update, Wednesday afternoon: Now my ears are blocked!

My sympathy, and my stabs at the questions:

  1. Colds are most contagious in the first 2 or 3 days of symptoms. Shedding of virus has no connection with the fever (many colds don’t even produce a fever). You can even shed virus before symptoms develop, and continue shedding until the cold is nearly over.

  2. I have no idea how Vicks works. I agree that it’s neat stuff.

  3. Humans are so variable it’s not wise to say anything anatomical or medical can “never” happen, but it’s pretty safe to say “coughing up a lung”, like “puking your guts out”, is just an expression. Thank Og. Lungs are large and fluffy things, and would be pretty well pulped by the time they got up through your trachea.

You can crack a rib or your sternum in a really nasty coughing fit, though. You can also burst capillaries and bleed from the throat, the lungs, or even around the eyeballs. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), find a doctor ASAP if you notice any of this happening. Likewise if the cough hangs around longer than, say, this weekend.

Get better soon!

just another update:

After about a week, the cold was mostly better (most of the symptoms were gone). However, the cough remained, and over the next week, seemed to be getting worse, not better. I would get these massive fits of really deep, powerful, bodyshaking coughs.

I know I joked about coughing up a lung. Didn’t do that, but guess what, I did manage to break a rib. Yes, ryobserver had it right. I didn’t believe it when you said it, but indeed, that can happen. It happened to me.

And let me say, it is no fun at all. For 3 weeks now, any further coughs hurt like bloody murder, like several knives in the back. Twisting. Fortunuately the drugs the doc gave me (including steroid nose drops and codeine, cool!) controlled most of the coughing. But I could only splep in one position. I couldn’t breathe more than half way. I couldn’t laugh hard. And best of all, I couldn’t sneeze. This last one is particularly relevant as the nose drops the doc gave dried out my nose lining and made me sneeze. Like all the time. Sneezes combined with screams of agony.

So that’s the (hopefully final) update on my cold. It is now 5 weeks since my first email and I am happy to say that the cold is gone and my ribs feel about half healed. So I think the worst is behind be.

Except, I just noticed that my throat is feeling a bit sore again…