What Does A Covid Cough Sound Like
When you think of the respiratory viruses that cause coughs and colds — or covid-19 for short — your mind probably goes to those nasty little critters known as rhinoviruses. These viruses enter our bodies through tiny tears in our nasal membranes (called nostrils) and then infect our upper airways, from nose to throat, causing symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and congestion. But they don’t always do so via the mouth. Some can also get past these defenses by entering our lungs, where their DNA is copied into new virus particles called virions, which are released into our bloodstreams and travel throughout our body tissues, including our mouths.
In this case, we call them coronaviruses. They typically spread when people inhale droplets containing the virus that were expelled out of another person’s mouth, nose or eyes during coughing or talking. This is why you may be more likely to catch a cold if you’re around people who have an active infection with one of these viruses, rather than just being exposed to someone else’s germs. In fact, some scientists believe that this airborne transmission is how most of us caught our first colds back in the pre-vaccine era.
But there are other types of coronavirus that can make us sick too. The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes covid-19 has been linked to severe illness and death. Other coronaviruses, such as OC43, NL63 and HKU1, aren’t known to pose serious threats to human health. However, they can still cause milder cases of the common cold, including symptoms like fever and chills. And what about the sound these viruses make? Do they really sound like hacking up lungs?
“I’ve never heard anyone say ‘cough hacking,'” says Dr. David L. Morens, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. “That would be my guess.”
Dr. Daniel Jernigan agrees. He’s an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and co-director of its Center for Respiratory Virus Research. “Coughing isn’t usually described as ‘hacking’ per se,” he says. “It’s more of a grunt or squawk. We might even describe someone exhaling as having ‘lunged’ at their breath.”
So, does that mean that all the noise made by these viruses is soft and gentle sounding? Not necessarily. One thing to note is that, unlike many bacteria and viruses, these respiratory infections often take hold without any obvious signs of disease. You could end up feeling perfectly fine one day, only to wake up next morning with a stuffy head, headache, low energy and general malaise. By day three or four, however, you’ll start noticing things like congestion, a scratchy throat, watery eyes, fatigue, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting.
The reason behind this mysterious latency period is that these viruses replicate inside cells before bursting open and spreading throughout our body tissue. So, the initial infection takes place in the nose and sinuses while the immune system tries to fight off the invasion. Once the immune response kicks in and starts making antibodies against the virus, the inflammation caused by the infection begins to subside. That means that it’s easier for the virus to find its way to the lower airway, where it can multiply and cause damage far greater than anything seen during the original infection. Once in the lower airway, the virus can trigger allergic reactions, asthma attacks, pneumonia, and other complications that can lead to hospitalization and death.
All this makes it very difficult to treat these diseases once they become established. Antibiotics won’t work against viral illnesses; instead, doctors prescribe antiviral medication that targets the host cell rather than the virus itself, such as Tamiflu and Relenza. Even though these drugs can shorten the duration and severity of symptoms, they don’t prevent them altogether. For instance, patients on Tamiflu will still shed the virus longer than healthy individuals, but they won’t transmit it to others.
This is why it’s important to seek medical attention early on if you suspect you’ve come down with one of these viruses. Otherwise, you risk letting the infection spread unchecked, leading to severe outcomes. It’s also especially critical for children under age 5, whose immature immune systems leave them particularly vulnerable to getting seriously ill.
For now, experts emphasize that washing hands thoroughly and frequently can help keep us safe from these viruses. They recommend using hand sanitizers with 70 percent alcohol or higher, since it’s unlikely that the simple act of touching something touched by someone with a cold would transfer the virus to you. If you must touch surfaces shared with someone who appears sick, wear gloves or cover your face with a mask.
And finally, remember that no matter what type of virus you’re infected with, you should stay home and rest whenever possible, drink plenty of fluids, avoid crowds, wash your hands, and try not to expose yourself unnecessarily to sunlight.
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