The rhythmic recitation of this slightly-altered slogan should sound familiar for those who grew up watching Vick’s NyQuil commercials. (Do they still air on T.V.? My television set has been replaced by my laptop for years now…) The original slogan is “Nyquil – the nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, aching, coughing, stuffy-head, fever, so you can rest medicine.” It always made me think that NyQuil fought the bad guys and that the bad guys were all of those symptoms listed in the cadence above.
This was a typical case of “blaming the messenger” because — and it may be obvious to most of you already — these symptoms are indications that your body is actually fighting the real bad guys: bacteria, viruses, food-allergens, toxins, and other foreign substances. Consequently, I have decided to take a look at some of these symptoms to explain how they help your body destroy and dump some of those unwanted foreign bodies.
1. Sniffling is the annoying voluntary-yet-obligatorily-involuntary thing you have to do during a test that makes you the target of a dozen or more stink-eyes from classmates that can all hear your face vacuum the mucous back into your head. Too disgusting of an image? I agree, but without the saving graces of a Kleenex, you either turn on the suction and momentarily risk your popularity or make a mortifying mess only excusable among toddlers. So why does this happen?
Our sinus area has tissues interspersed with tiny blood vessels that behave like sponges. The tissues themselves are neither too dry nor too wet and, in conjunction with the blood vessels, keep the temperature balanced in the hollow area. When we are sick due to a virus, there is an excess of fluid being used by the lymphatic system (hence the recommendation to drink fluids), a system that functions much like an exterminator that brings pest-fighting fluid to the site. This fluid may also reach areas of your body with openings such as your nose and mouth because they serve as exits for mucous containing foreign substances and waste. There are a myriad of other things happening to fight off the cold that lead to fluids building up in your nose, including the relaxation of blood vessels to cool the body from the fever intended to “cook” the virus. The tissues behave just like sponges, soaking up the fluids and expanding. Much like sponges, once filled to capacity, the excess may drip from your nose. We sniffle to keep it from dripping out.
2. Sneezing and coughing are additional ways to expel waste from your body. We do this even when we are not sick, but we do it more frequently when we are sick, and we may expel mucous at the same time.
3. Fever happens as a result of the body trying to “cook” the virus and kill it, just like boiling food or — in many cultures, before the invention of the washing machine — boiling clothes to kill the germs living on them. Louis Pasteur applied this concept in his work which eventually led to the pasteurization of milk today.
4. A “stuffy” head is usually a result of the pressure that builds up as a result of blocked sinuses. Sometimes your ears can feel clogged for the same reason.
5. Some people feel achy when they have a cold or the flu as a result of being in a weaker state. Remember, the body is very busy using the energy that usually makes you resistant to a punch to the arm to fight an internal battle with a virus. Furthermore, any time there is an excess circulation of fluid, your skin can often feel more tender.
For me, understanding what my body is doing to protect me has not only helped me tolerate the unpleasant symptoms, but it has also motivated me to take better care of my body. My body has acquired a greater sense of value to me. I most definitely think about the human body differently, whether it is sick or healthy, and this has had beneficial ramifications, particularly in diet and exercise.