The content provided here is for information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist or worsen.
Though coughs can be caused by a variety of triggers, from environmental factors to medical conditions like asthma, it should come as no surprise that most acute or short-term coughs are caused by viral infections. There are many different types, the most common of which are called rhinoviruses—otherwise known as “the unstoppable cause of the common cold.” So how does a virus like this make its way into your system?
The virus enters via the upper respiratory tract. The most common gateway is the nasal passage: either you inhale particles in the air or you touch your nose with a contaminated hand. Ten to 15 minutes later, the virus has migrated to the back of your throat, where it attaches itself to cell surface receptors and the infection takes hold.
Once the virus enters your body, your immune system reacts by increasing mucus production (a.k.a. a runny nose). The lining of the nose begins to swell, making it hard to breathe and causing congestion. The irritation in your nose makes you sneeze, and the increased mucus dripping into your throat makes you cough. (Other known side effects include complaining to loved ones about how rotten you feel. You may also start demanding chicken soup.)
Little kids (and some adults too!) tend to get more needy when they get sick. Their immune system is weakened, they’re tired and they’re looking for comfort. So if you suddenly have a little cuddler on your hands (more so than usual), keep an eye out for cold and cough symptoms. And, to keep the virus from making the rounds within your household, don’t forget to wash your hands often.