Do Colds Get Stronger As We Get Older?

I have a mystery.  My annual colds are getting more debilitating each year.  I missed 5 work days with this cold, and I was sick on both connecting weekends too.  I still have nasty lingering symptoms.  This year was so bad that I’m freaked out about next year already.  Usually when I get a cold I’ll miss a couple days of work and get some reading done.  I didn’t even feel like reading this year. 

Why?  Here are some possibilities:

  • I’m getting older – is a cold harder to handle at 59 than 49 or 39?  How will they feel at 69, 79, 89?
  • I’ve been taking flu shots for the last three years, could this be a side-effect?
  • I’ve been living in a new (old) house and it has a new heating system – could that affect my system?
  • I’m exercising less because of a back problem – could reduce stamina hurt my ability to handle a cold?
  • Maybe I just hit a run of stronger cold strains and things will change?
  • Or is it only a matter of self-deception and the current infection is always the worse?

Looking back over my life I don’t remember colds being this unpleasant, but the one I’m getting over now has been a doozy.  And to be honest, after studying colds and flus, some of my memories of having the flu might actually have been a cold, so that I did have some bad colds when I was younger.

Wikipedia has a wonderful essay on the common cold.  It says the average adult gets 2-4 colds a year, and the average kid gets 6-12 cold infections annually.  It also says the average length of a cold is 7-10 days with some symptoms lasting up to 3 weeks.  Now that describe my “bad” colds.  And hell, I don’t ever remember having that many colds, either as an adult or a kid.  (If you do the math from Wikipedia, something sounds fishy though.  Some people must be sick all year round.)

I do think I’m on a four winter streak of ever worse colds, and I wonder why.

Under normal conditions having a cold wasn’t all that bad, I took off from work and read.  I’ve even thought  that a cold produces a nice high that’s perfect for rereading favorite novels and wallowing in nostalgia.  This year I couldn’t read.  I watched damn little TV.  I just tried to sleep as much as possible to escape the misery of the moment.  It’s been 12 days now, with the last three back at work.  I’m better, but I have a lingering hacking cough that scares my co-workers and keeps me up at night.  I’m still coughing up green pus, blowing out green snot (which is sometimes bloody), and if I leave my eyes shut for any length of time they will gum up with green goo. 

People keep telling me to go to the doctor and get antibiotics.  Several people have said green is a sign of infection and I need antibiotics to fight it off.  I found this article that contradicts that.  And besides, I’m afraid of going to a doctor.  I picture her waiting room filled with sick people with even more germs to infect me.  And I’m also chicken about taking antibiotics.  I ended up in the emergency room in my twenties and I was told it was probably a reaction to penicillin. 

I’m a total wimp when it comes to getting sick.  If I can barely handle a cold now, how will the flu feel?  If my body can’t handle a common ailment how will it do if I have a heart attack, or pneumonia or cancer, or any of those other diseases old people get?  I need to build up some stamina if I’m going to even make it to my social security years.  It makes me wonder if God is getting me back for my skeptical life, or at least my body is getting me back for living a slothful, overweight life.  How can I redeem myself?

My friend Mike is four years younger than me, but when he had some health problems, he took control, lost weight, and is now running half marathons.  I need to make Mike my role model, but there’s one problem.  Mike has always been very disciplined and I’m not.  I’ve been trying to lose weight for twenty-five years and never have succeeded.  And that’s despite the fact that I’ve given up eating most of my favorite junk foods.

Be that as it may, I still need to work a little miracle of self-transformation on myself.  I just don’t know how.  I also feel that if I don’t find some method of aerobic exercise that my back can tolerate that my vitality and stamina is in a slow decline.  I bet next year’s cold will be even worse than this year’s cold.

JWH – 1/26/11

19 thoughts on “Do Colds Get Stronger As We Get Older?”

  1. Mystery solved, Mr. Holmes! I think you hit the nail on the head several times with your ideas about why this may be. I certainly believe as we age we are not as resilient as our younger selves and that illness hits us harder, for many reasons. With work and other adult responsibilities I think our bodies and minds are working harder, working through more stress, on a regular basis and that wears us down even when we don’t notice it. Introduce a new variable, like a flu bug or a cold, and it becomes that proverbial straw.

    On top of that, I think science tells us all the time that there are new, more resistant strains of illness that are growing stronger every day. If it is to be believed, and I see no reason to doubt it, that makes these things harder to shake. Even more so if you don’t go get medicine to deal with it. And I’m not chiding you, I am very much anti-doctor, anti-medicine when it can be avoided.

    Like you I need to find a way to get beneficial exercise. I’ve changed some eating and drinking (soda) habits and that helps, but I still don’t get a proper amount of sleep at night and I don’t eat as many fruits and veggies daily as I should and I don’t exercise consistently. Once it is nice out I’ll walk more, but that is just a flimsy excuse for not doing something aerobic indoors now. One thing I’m going to do when I buy a new large tv is get the Kinnect for XBox 360. We messed around with Kinnect Sports at a friend’s house the other night and you talk about an aerobic workout! Whew! I was sweating like crazy, and without doing a lot of stuff that was hard on the joints. Might be something you want to look into. It definitely makes getting an aerobic workout fun.

    “I’ve even thought that a cold produces a nice high that’s perfect for rereading favorite novels and wallowing in nostalgia.”

    Nicely put, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone talk about that feeling, although I have had it myself and have gone so far as to feel a twinge of joy when I get sick with a cold, anticipating that reading high. I have many wonderful reading memories that occurred when I was home, legitimately sick, but in that groove of feeling that high.

    Getting back to the “why’s” of all this, I also think our economic climate contributes to the effect of illness on our bodies. So many people come to work sick because they don’t have time to take off or they feel a need to measure up to some toughness standard in order to keep their job and keep favor in the bosses eye. As a supervisor, I repeatedly send sick people home. They don’t impress me when they come in sick, they annoy me. I don’t want their germs. It used to be when your kids were grown that you weren’t exposed to so many illnesses (because kids in school is a recipe for non-stop seasonal illness). Now you cannot go to work without someone sneezing, coughing, feverish, etc. exposing everyone to illness. We pass it around like a hot potato.

    Anyway, I hope you feel better very, very soon…in your back as well.

      1. We have it too if that helps you.My husband has had it a week and I got it a few days ago .I am taking coldfx and oil of oregano today,delsym cough suppresant a bit and blowing my nose in between all of it.I feel the same as you that I’d rather die and go to heaven than think about going thru this again next year……..but my husband says I exaggerate.Get some vit c 3×1000 a day someone here said,someone else told me to put vicks on my feet on bottom and then socks…………nothing really works til it takes its course

        1. I did try the Vicks on the soles of my feet and that did help the breathing at night. However, putting Vicks on my upper lip also cleared my breathing for awhile.

  2. I found that taking a daily nutritional drink as I got older actually made my wife and me MORE resilient so that now we hardly get any colds, and when we do they are so minimal they do not slow us down at all. In fact, with the drink, we have stopped taking all vitamin supplements as well, and are still healthier than we ever were. Our bodies just needed some additional support we never gave it previously.

  3. the SCS clinic thought this bronchitis would last 21 days. they gave me a steroid shot, an inhaler, and an antibiotic. just in 24 hours i feel 80% better. hope you feel better tooo!!!! will you be here sat night?

  4. Jim,
    As you know we are almost exactly the same age and I don’t find myself being knocked down so hard by a cold. I suspect you had something more than that such as one kind of flu or another.

    One’s physical condition plays a factor too, I don’t know what your current exercise routine is but perhaps you should consider more of it or change it, etc. Get that blood moving! I want to keep reading your blog, OK?

    Its good that you don’t smoke cigarettes or drink too, I might add.

    I wish you well and hope you feel better now

    1. What a blast from the past! I’ve been wondering what you’ve been doing Greg. I need to find a good vitamin supplement. I tried Centrum but they gave me a stomach ache. I can’t handle steroids.

      Are you still reading science fiction?

      1. I read some SF now and again. I read a lot of nonfiction, science writing, etc. For example I read the Skoot book several months ago. I usually have about 4 or 5 books going at any one time which seems to bug some people. Not sure why. If I’m in the mood for some science I read that, or a mystery I pick that one up (I love Ian Rankin, for example, but have not read that much of his stuff yet). I read a lot of history too. It always fascinates me on just about any topic. Just reread Barbara Tuchman’s THE GUNS OF AUGUST about how WWI got started. I went to the Southern Festival of books last month and picked up a heap of books and am working my way thru them. The problem is that I am also working on getting my MAT to teach Chemistry in High School. LOve to get a job through a Transitional LIcense and start work straight away. (I could teach History too but they say that in the High Schools its always the football coach who does that).. Well I do go on

        Hope my notes helped you some. Centrum is an OK vitamin supplement but be sure to one with no Iron, or did I mention that? What often upsets people’s stomaches are the various minerals. For some reason, the form of zinc in some supplements bother me.

  5. Oh, forgot to mention a good quality vitamin supplement also, which also has a good range of minerals. I can tell the days when I don’t take mine.

    Additionally, someone mentioned steroids too. For extreme cases of bronchitiis, etc. steroids really do help. (I had a case of Bell’s palsy and getting steroids really helped me, for example). For the most part one shouldn’t use steroids any more than absolutely necessary. THey have side effects for long term that often outweigh their advatages for a brief use, When they began prescribing them in the early ’50’s, they used HUGE doses. Ever seen the James Mason movie where he’s given steroids and goes nuts? Well, it can actually happen while you’re on the steroids as well as severe bone loss, etc.

  6. Bronchitis generally not infectious as such. Its more often related to an allergic reaction that creates mucuos that gets infected. Some people are more susceptible to it than others., too, I understand. A dusty environment, etc. will precipitate it, for example.

  7. You also mention Ensure which is fine but that that is an expensive way to get what they deliver. I know you are a vegetarian too, so I would suggest that you look into varying your diet a little bit too – read a bit more on what you might be missing at your age, etc. and see if there are vegetarian alternatives that fit you needs.

    Ensure is used for tube feeding, often with patients that have problems swallowing, or eating enough to meet their needs. It might be what you need but I think you could do it by regular diet, too.

  8. Also, if you are sharing your Wii, get Just Dance, etc. and run the routines through a video recorder and use the tape as often the routines seem to be repetitive anyway (having to listen to my 3 kids dance to it it seems that way anyway!). You might not be able to score at it but you’d get the same exercise effect!

  9. That’s so interesting! Have you ever thought about taking a probiotic? They are really being shown to help boost immunities. We have been taking our Vidazorb for nearly two years and really love it!

    1. I did think about probiotics, but I wasn’t sure what to get, and things like Activia has aspartame, so I didn’t want that. I did start back on old-fashioned Dannon yogurt. But if Wikipedia is right, my cold was severe because I have a too active immune system.

  10. Jim, I’m just the reverse, I think. I rarely get colds these days. But I’m not around a lot of people, now that I’m retired. Man, when I was younger, and often around people with young kids, I’d catch everything!

    But I also think that your last explanation is the best one. We just don’t remember previous illnesses as being so bad. I always used to think that I’d enjoy being sick, so I could stay home from school or work, but the reality always seemed to be disappointing. I always seemed to feel worse than I’d remembered it.

    But I tend to be skeptical about much of this. I think most people get plenty of the vitamins and other nutrition they need. You just pee out the excess, anyway. And being fit is valuable, no doubt, but I wonder if it has much effect on disease. After all, the native Americans were VERY fit, but were still devastated by European diseases.

    Well, it can’t hurt, at least if it doesn’t cost anything. (Spending money on vitamin supplements is another story. I tend to think they’re a scam.) But if you’re giving up your favorite foods and still not losing weight, what’s the point except to make yourself miserable?

    Admittedly, this is from a guy who pretty much lives on bacon, and I know THAT’S not healthy. 🙂

  11. jim,
    i tried to send you the reliv information via email, but it got bounced back. can you send me your current email address and i’ll send it again? thanks.

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