When Your Cold Is Not A Cold

Every time you get a cold, notice how it usually starts in the throat with a tickle, a scratch, or a slight cough. It then progresses into chest congestion or travels up into the ears and the sinuses. You’ll have a low grade fever, mild chills, and a runny nose. Even if you start out with a runny nose, eventually, you’ll have throat symptoms later on. Sounds like a classic cold, right? When you see your doctor, throat redness and irritation and swollen glands are noted, confirming even further that you’re in the middle of a standard upper respiratory infection, or the common cold. Typically, it’ll last anywhere from 3-5 days. A small minority will progress into one of the classic complications of a common cold, such as a bronchitis or sinusitis.


Any time I see patients in the office that come in with any of these classic symptoms or one of the more severe complications such as sinusitis, I always ask about the few days or weeks prior to the onset of the throat symptoms. With few exceptions, most of you will have either increased stress (out of the ordinary), a history of eating later than normal, or drinking alcohol later in the evening. Sudden weather fluctuations such as pressure or humidity changes is another common trigger.


If you’re susceptible to sleep-breathing problems at all (most modern humans are to some degree), any degree of inflammation in the throat will cause further swelling, starting up a vicious cycle that brings up more stomach juices into the throat, which causes more obstructed breathing and stomach juice reflux. It’s important to realize that whatever comes up from your stomach includes not only acid, but also bile, digestive enzymes, and bacteria. Even microscopic amounts will cause irritation to your delicate voice box, giving you a scratchy throat, cough or hoarseness. This is why these symptoms are most obvious when you first wake up in the morning.


It’s also been shown that these same stomach juices can then travel down into the lungs or up into the ears of the sinuses. Pepsin, a digestive enzyme, and H. pylori, a common stomach bacteria, have been found in lung and sinus washings. This is also why the ears are usually affected before the sinuses—it’s a direct line from your throat to the eustachian tubes, whereas you have to take right angled turn to reach the sinus passageways in the nose.


You may now be asking, "but what about the fever and the chills?" Any sudden, or abrupt change in your sleep-breathing status can cause an autonomic nervous system imbalance that can bring about these same fevers, hot flashes, chills and sweating.


How does your typical cold start? Please enter your experiences below in the comments box.

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4 thoughts on “When Your Cold Is Not A Cold

  1. I’m starting to forget what colds are like…ever since I bumped up my Vit D3 supplementation high enough to maintain a 25 (OH)D level of at least 50 ng/mL (and stopped avoiding all midday sun exposure – though I still avoid burning) – that’s about 5000iU D3 daily on average all year – I haven’t had a full-blown cold. A few times I’ve felt like I had a cold starting, but taking extra D3 for 4-5 days at the first sign of a cold and the symptoms peter out within 2-3 days. I think it’s been close to two years since I’ve had a real cold. I used to catch really nasty colds after nearly every plane ride (especially long international journeys with many time zone changes). My husband swears by saline nasal spray used frequently during th flight to avoid “airplane” colds, but I swear by a low inflammation diet (no grain, little to no sugar, and avoidance of high omega 6 corn/soy/vegetable seed oils), and most of all, maintaining a higher 25 (OH) D status.

    I’m quite sure it is the D3 that is helping to avoid or shut down colds because of two experiences last winter. The first occasion was in November when my husband and son returned home from a 4 day trip; upon arriving home my husband needed to go to urgent care for something (not a cold or anything contagious). Our son went to the neighbors’ house. I had spent the 4 days working at home, so I hadn’t been exposed to any colds and our son wasn’t exposed to the Urgent Care waiting room. The Urgent Care waiting room was full of sniffling, coughing sick people. 24+ hours later my husband and I both began similar signs of a cold – esp the throat symptoms, but our son did not (so I don’t think my husband picked up the cold during their trip).

    I immediately doubled my D3 dose to 8000iU/day but my husband continued taking his usual 4000iU dose and pooh-poohed my extra D3. At that time his 25 (OH)D was only about 45 ng/mL. He went on to develop the full cold that lasted 2 full miserable weeks. I had a sore scratchy throat for a day and a half, then was back to normal.

    Then in late December while we were visiting my very Vit D deficient (documented by 25 (OH)D tests) relatives during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, we were continually exposed to a virulent cold strain that spread quickly through the family the week of our visit. By that time we were all taking 1000iU daily for EACH 25 pounds of body weight (3000/ 5000/8000iU for our son, me, and my husband, respectively), but we doubled our D3 doses and didn’t catch the cold, though everyone else caught it (except my dad, the only non-deficient NE relative, because he takes the high dose Vit D3 I send him ;-).

  2. Gotta chime in here, sorry can’t keep my big mouth shut. Sinus infections are no fun at all and every case is different but I always say start w/ more natural remedies first. Nasal rinses, neti pot for example.
    And then of course keep in contact w/ your doctor as if things progress you might have chronic sinusitis. And then it’s a ct scan and the choices are usually balloon sinuplasty or endoscopic sinus surgery.
    Stay informed and Take Care!
    -J. Purcell

  3. In the past 10 years I have had frequent sinus infections and bronchitus.  Since I have been using the CPAP (99.3% compliance), I have not had bronchitus or a sinus infection for 3 years.  I'm convinced that the filtered, humidified air from the CPAP stopped these infections.
    But I do get something like a sinus infection that I have come to differentiate by the difference in its symptoms.  I will have watery eyes, running nose (running as in a constantly dripping faucet), and sneezing.  The running nose and sneezing keep my hands constantly occupied with a handkerchief.  The mucous from the nose is clear and watery, rather than thick and cloudy.  I am unable to go to work when this hits me.  There is something else about these "infections" (what I call respiratory fits) that puzzled me.  They only last for one day.
    After reading Dr. Parks book, Sleep Interrupted, I finally put the pieces together.  While I have been on CPAP therapy, there would still be nights when I would wake up around 2am and could not go back to sleep.  I had to assume the apneas were taking place, because I would feel the burning in my throat.  This would most likely happen because the seal would break on the nasal pillows while I was asleep.  The decreased pressure in the airway would not hold the airway open, and the apneas would start.  The respiratory fits would begin within a day or two.  Last winter I had 7 of these "fits" in a timeframe of 2 months.
    After reading Dr. Park's book, Sleep Interrupted, I realized that these "respiratory fits" were coming on as a result from the reflux of the gastric juices in my stomach.  Since I don't have a hiatal hernia, the only time I have acid reflux is when the apneas take place.  The apneas create a vacuum in the esophagus and the stomach contents are sucked upwards into the throat and sinuses.
    I want to thank Dr. Park for his willingness to think and speak outside the box on this issue.  I know what it is like to say what you believe to be true, and have it ignored.  I'm sure this has happened within the medical community, too.  When all of these symptoms and evidence come together as a package, I interpreted this to mean a different diagnosis other than respiratory infection was needed.  A person can not manage their illness properly until the diagnosis is correct.
    I have been able to manage the "respiratory fits" by not eating anything after 5pm.  I usually bed down around 10pm or 10:30pm.  Also, it is important to find a CPAP mask that will hold a seal on the the mouth and/or nostrils.  In my case the nasal pillow with the side feed tube does it for me.  Keep the pillows changed when they wear out.  Since I have been following this I have been able to manage the reflux, "respiratory fits" and sleep.  Last night I slept for 7.5 hours!  This is my best time in 3 years!!