Yes, This Is The Worst Cold Ever – And I Would Know

After two weeks of experiencing the 'non-covid illness' everyone is talking about, Georgia Aspinall explores why we're being hit harder than ever by the common cold.

Woman sick in bed

by Georgia Aspinall |

Increasing numbers of people are calling 111 or their GP surgery about the 'super-cold' that's currently sweeping the UK. Experts think it's the result of 18 months of lockdowns, masks and social distancing, which may have reduced our immune system's ability to fight off a regular winter cold.

Previously, the ‘worst cold ever going around’ was trending on Google. A unique search term, it was based on a BBC article that asked the same question: Is the worst cold ever going around? Clearly, the answer is yes.

Okay, I may be bias… I also currently have the worst cold ever. Except, I wouldn’t even describe it as a cold. To me, a cold is feeling congested and tired with a runny nose, maybe a slight cough or sore throat that i'm free of within a week. What I’m experiencing right now? Far beyond that. I’ve had a constant, dry cough for almost two weeks, unable to sleep at all for coughing every five minutes. Even when I do manage to get a few hours shut eye, I wake up stiff all over - even my face in pain - with my glands in my throat swollen and my body exhausted.

My throat has never been this dry, lozenges and lemon tea providing merely seconds of salvation. Of course, i've taken multiple covid tests, none of which have come back positive. I also only had covid in June, so should still have immunity, but even my covid cough wouldn't compare to this.

Turning to Twitter during that first week of terrible symptoms, I found I’m not the only one.

So what’s going on? Has the worst cold ever popped into existence or our are bodies just reacting to the fact we’re actually socialising regularly, heading into the office and going back to school for the first time in 18 months? Well, according to GP Dr Philippa Kaye, it’s a mixture of both.

‘We've actually been seeing a rise in the number of coughs and colds and viral infections,’ she told the BBC, blaming the easing of lockdown restrictions. ‘We are mixing in a way that we haven't been mixing over the past 18 months.’

‘During those first lockdowns, we saw numbers of other [non-Covid] infections fall. We think that that was primarily due to the restrictions on meeting up,’ she continued. ‘Most of these things are respiratory driven, so say somebody talks or coughs or sneezes - you breathe it in.’

Perhaps we’re all just experiencing our first rough cold in 18 months then, taken aback by how truly awful these things used to be. But even pre-lockdown, my body did not take this long to recover from a common cold. So is this some kind of monster strain of cold?

Not according to the experts. In fact, it’s our now bubble-wrapped bodies that are making cold and flu symptoms seem worse. Since we haven’t been exposed to common colds for so long by remaining indoors, being infected now is a shock to the system.

‘Frequent exposure to various pathogens primes or jazzes up the immune system to be ready to respond to that pathogen,’ Dr Paul Skolnik, an immunovirologist and chair of internal medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, told the New York Times.

‘If you’ve not had those exposures, your immune system may be a little slower to respond or doesn’t respond as fully, leading to greater susceptibility to some respiratory infections and sometimes longer or more protracted symptoms.’

In February this year, which is usually peak flu season, Public Health England did not report one single case of the flu for seven weeks. As such, when restrictions began to ease, the government did actually predict this would happen.

‘One thing I’m doing as Care Minister is looking ahead to the winter, where we can anticipate we may get a surge in Covid again because that’s the thing that happens with this kind of virus,’ Helen Whately told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme earlier this summer. ‘We are also likely to see flu again this winter and particularly this winter because we didn’t have much flu around last winter.’

So, what can you do about the worst cold ever?

Well, for those of us suffering, we go back to basics. Dr Philippa recommends ‘loads of fluids and rest, over-the-counter simple painkillers for headaches and aches and pains. Even simple things like honey in a hot drink can help ease a sore throat.’

And if you’re lucky enough to have avoided it thus far, stick to the principles of avoiding coronavirus with social distancing, wearing a mask in public indoor spaces and maintaining good ventilation where you can.

Of course, it’s also vital to remember to test for coronavirus if you have the following symptoms: New and continuous cough (coughing a lot for more than an hour, or having three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours), fever (a temperature above 37.8C) or a change in smell or taste (either you cannot taste or smell anything, or these senses are different to normal.)

Stay healthy guys, and stay away from me…

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