Op-Ed: 'It's Just a Cold' Doesn't Mean It's Not Serious

a woman blowing her nose on a tissue

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Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is an award-winning journalist specializing in health and disability. Their work is featured in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider. Charlton-Dailey often uses their platform to spotlight issues that affect disabled people.

I was walking my dog last week when I bumped into a neighbor who was also walking her dog. As the two animals played, we walked together, when suddenly my neighbor started sneezing and coughing.

Naturally, I became anxious, put some distance between us, and wrapped my scarf around my nose and mouth. In between splutters she nonchalantly informed me, “Oh, it’s okay! I don’t have COVID; it’s just a cold.”

I know this was meant to reassure me, but it did was the exact opposite.

A cold isn’t “just a cold” for those with weak immune systems like mine. Viruses like colds and the flu wipe out my energy supplies, leaving me drained. Because of lupus, my immune system isn’t very strong, so colds and the flu can persist for weeks. Sometimes, they even mutate into bronchitis or pneumonia.

How My Colds Escalate

  • A common symptom of a cold is a sore throat. But with lupus, this can progress to ulcers in the throat and mouth.
  • The pressure in my head causes severe headaches, occasionally bringing on migraines.
  • Excessive coughing leads to back pain. One time, I pulled a muscle.
  • Aches and pains can trigger an arthritis flare.

Is 'Normal' Really What We Want?

Before the pandemic, winter colds and flu were the norm. But masking and germ prevention led to a steep drop in cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that between September 28, 2020, and May 22, 2021, only 0.2% of samples tested were positive for a flu virus. Comparatively, the previous three flu seasons peaked at rates of 26.2% to 30.3%.

This winter, the world partially opened up again, resulting in an onslaught of everyone else’s germs. After a two-year break from colds and flu, my body isn’t used to fighting them and can’t remember how. In November, I ended up in hospital after my husband brought home a cold that developed into bronchitis. Doctors prescribed me three courses of antibiotics, but it took me two months to get rid of what should’ve been a “common cold.”

After how much effort went into protecting ourselves from viruses like COVID-19, it seems bizarre that we’ve always accepted that we will catch and pass on colds every year.

After how much effort went into protecting ourselves from viruses like COVID-19, it seems bizarre that we’ve always accepted that we will catch and pass on colds every year. Sure, they’re not as debilitating or as deadly as COVID-19, but they’re still pretty horrible. Why do we willfully put ourselves through that every single winter? 

We should have learned how important it is to stay home when you’re sick instead of needlessly spreading a virus.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have the option to stay home. They have to go to work and can’t afford not to.

With that in mind, I'll gladly keep wearing my mask during cold and flu season. It's the simplest preventative tool.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020-2021 Flu Season Summary.