For Your Health: What happens when you get sick?

For Your Health: What happens when you get sick?

Morgan Smith, Staff Writer

As far back as I can remember, catching a cold always felt like it would be the last days of my childhood, even though at the worst I’d only suffer for a week and a half. But to this day, I know for sure that when I wake up and my throat feels off– even if only a by a bit– I’ll be going to school with a bag of Halls and a box of tissue in tow. Fortunately, the human body, like the well-oiled machine that it is, has several defense mechanisms in place to make sure that nobody suffers for too long when they are sick. White blood cells serve as the army in the never ending street war called the immune system.

Pathogens are any organisms that can cause disease or sickness. These viruses and bacteria are always trying to get a piece of us. Our bodies provide an ideal environment to reproduce in: warm, wet, salty, and nutrient rich. Different flavors of white blood cells work to keep pathogens from taking up residency in the body.

Pathogens are any organisms that can cause disease or sickness. ”

Mast cell and basophils, the first class of white blood cells, patrol the circulatory system looking for these invaders. When a germ happens to get through, they sound off the alarm and begin to produce histamines. This chemical causes the veins to swell and become more accessible to the next class of white blood cells, phagocytes.

This class of white blood cells is like the elite, ninja assassin strike force of your immune system. Some roam the body looking for a fight and others act as stationary bodyguards in organs; another type can even gather information on different microbes. Antibodies help recognize and assist with the smash on pathogens. Once they tag the pathogen as an intruder, they alerts nearby phagocytes that it’s time to eat– literally. Phagocytes carry out their dirty work by chasing down and engulfing the offending virus or bacteria.

The next class of white blood cells is like the immune system’s version of the CIA. These memory cells keep files on every pathogen your body has successfully defended against. The amazing thing is that the information stored can be called on whenever that specific pathogen disrupts your system  for years to come. This allows your body to mount up a quicker response, which is why under normal circumstances, you don’t catch the same disease or sickness twice. The only downfall is that viruses like the cold or flu mutate periodically; so, the strain of the cold you caught one year won’t be the same one you catch the next.

The body produces mucus as another line of defense. It traps microbes and keeps them from getting farther into your system. Your body will do anything to get those pathogens out of you, so the mucous membranes responsible go into overdrive. This combined with histamines causes the excess of runny, stuffy noses, coughing, sneezing, and tissue. I find that a stuffy nose is the most detrimental symptom of a cold because it affects one of the things I hold most dear: sleep and rest is a must on the road to recovery.

Thankfully, someone else feels my pain because NyQuilexists. It takes the edge off of the congestion and stuffiness to allow you a good night’s rest. Sudafed, another decongestant, alleviated pressure felt in the nose and head by reducing swelling and helping with airflow. Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, because it replenishes the water used to make mucus– but avoid Starbucks, as caffeine can be dehydrating.

As for a cure to the cold and an end to the sniffling and tasteless cherry cough medicine, there is none in sight– just for now hopefully. Until then, your immune system will continue the war on terror and viruses.