Shaking the winter time cold blues.
March 3, 2009 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Is there such a thing as a "listless cold," with relatively few symptoms but a decreased energy level?

I know that these colds aren't chronic fatigue syndrome or other related illnesses because they include mild cold symptoms, and vanish after ten days or so.

But the symptoms are extremely moderate--a mild cough and nasal stuffiness in the morning, and that's it. No fever, either. However, there's a constant urge to get horizontal, a grinding feeling of lethargy and a lack of energy. Everything, from sitting upright at a desk to mild exercise, is a chore.

Are colds like these common?
posted by Gordion Knott to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can't speak to commonality in the general population, but I get these now and then, FWIW.
posted by Beardman at 9:19 AM on March 3, 2009

I don't know if anyone has done good epidemiologic studies of cold symptoms to try to correlate them with specific agents. There are dozens, if not over a hundred flavors of rhinovirus, and probably dozens of flavors of adenovirus, and lots of other creepy-crawlies that can cause colds. In addition, there are huge variations in the degree of immune response between people. There are some people who are exposed to a specific viral subtype (say, for example, a particular serotype of influenza A) who get a bad cold, and some who end up in the ICU or worse.

So, the short answer is, probably yes, they may be common (normal) for you. You may not produce a lot of snot/sneezing (lucky you), but you may be particularly sensitive to the somatic symptoms associated with cytokine release as your immune system attempts to destroy virus-infected cells. Others may have lots of snot but bounding energy.
posted by scblackman at 9:20 AM on March 3, 2009

I get these, and usually around the time my family/co-workers are all getting sick - but I get a flu shot every year. So I assume this is just my body fighting off whatever's going around, without necessarily tipping me over into Sick.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:23 AM on March 3, 2009

Like stupidsexyFlanders, I get this feeling and always thought I was fighting off a cold. It annoys the shit out of me, because I never actually GET colds, not full blown head colds like other people do. My body just fights them off, sometimes for weeks, and I just feel like 80% crap for 3 weeks instead of complete crap for 3 or 4 days. (For me, I believe these are just colds, not the flu. I never get flu shots.)
posted by peep at 9:39 AM on March 3, 2009

Thirding the above - I rarely get a *bad* cold, but I tend to feel really tired and maybe have a sore throat for a few days when something's going around. I assumed that it was a relatively tough immune system which managed to fight off the germs rather than succumbing completely.
posted by different at 9:45 AM on March 3, 2009

Gordion, have you ever been tested for allergies? Symptoms like these can be due to environmental allergies or sensitivites, rather than to a virus. Allergies often do a really good job of mimicking colds.
posted by gudrun at 9:49 AM on March 3, 2009

This is the feeling I associate with "fighting something off." Which may not be a real thing. But I have always assumed that my immune system was really, really working hard to keep me from getting sick, which resulted in a general malaise, sometimes with very minor accompanying cold symptoms.
posted by MsElaineous at 9:59 AM on March 3, 2009

As an adult, most of my colds have been like this: considerable exhaustion and malaise with just enough upper respiratory symptoms to be an annoyance (and let me know that it is indeed a cold and not something else). I actually avoid taking cold medicine for this reason, as the outward symptoms aren't bad enough to really require it, but the combination of pharmacologically induced loopiness and exhaustion leaves me unable to walk straight, much less do anything productive.
posted by jal0021 at 10:20 AM on March 3, 2009

Definitely sounds like hay fever or an allergy of some kind. For me it usually lasts 1-2 weeks and happens after alot after its been raining.
A giveaway is if you get any symptoms in your eyes like mild stinging or itchiness.
For me the symptoms are very much like a mild flu.
posted by MetaPenguin at 10:25 AM on March 3, 2009

As a data point, I had this very thing a couple weeks ago, and several people around the office reported having it too. I prefer to think of it as a virus, rather than a cold, because when you tell people you have a cold, they go "Oh, well you don't *sound* like you have a cold."

It's harder to convince people that you really do feel like shit, since you don't have many of the usual, outwardly visible (or audible) symptoms.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:08 AM on March 3, 2009

I think part of your problem might be rooted in original antigenic sin.

So, your immune system has three possibilities when it detects an infection:
1) This is something we've seen before and delt with.
2) This is like something we've seen before and delt with.
3) This is totally frakkin' new.

For option 1, your body expands up the few cells that know how to take care of the infection up to millions and millions that can take down the pathogen fast. This growth and the production of all the antibodies and interferons and interleukins and such is a very, very energy intensive process.

For option 3, your body generates millions and millions of cells that try to kill or stop the pathogen but die off when they don't. When your body finally make cells that recognize the invader and work well against it, those get expanded up and then produces buckets of cytokines and antibodies. This whole process is even more very energy intensive.

For options 1 and 3, you get sick, you get tired, and you get over it. Option 2... well, it's the not so good option. In certain cases you are infected by, say, a virus that looks to the immune system, and the memory cells, like something it has seen before. It looks enough like that prior virus that the memory cell population expands; the thing is, the new guy is different enough that this expanded population doesn't really work that well. The biggest problem is that the way the immune system works is that it pretty much goes through its options in the order I listed above so that when it thinks it has seen this new virus before, it doesn't bother going to the trouble of seeing if the products of the memory cells can efficiently rid the body of the virus or if instead a new set of T- and B-cells could do any better. So, you get stuck with cells that only kind of work but still get churned out, still use a lot of energy, but don't get rid of the virus very quickly if at all and you are stuck feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

This is usually only a problem with vaccines occassionally not providing great protection for some people and with increased mortality associated with geting infected by two different Dengue viruses but that doesn't mean those are the only incidents where this problem crops up.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 6:03 PM on March 3, 2009

I'm shocked no one has suggested the following (which everyone I know suffers from):

It's the doldrums of winter. We've been locked up in our houses without fresh air for months. Baseboard or forced air heating, combined with carpets, bedding, couches, pets, etc. have caused our sinuses to work extra hard. It's like a desert in here. Plus a lowered level of sunlight (blame daylight savings, drapes to block the drafts, eff-ing winter, etc) cause our levels of vitamin E to drop affecting our dopamine levels. Some call it seasonal effective disorder. We in Buffalo call it Feburary/March.

Put a humidifier in your room at night, exercise a bit, get into the sun as much as possible (the more desperate of us sit under a special lamp). Rest assured that the moment you open the window on soft spring day, smelling mud and tree buds, your cold will disappear along with the lassitude. You'll put on shorts (it's 50 degrees!) and walk down the street, giddily greeting neighbors you haven't seen in 4 months. Barbeques and patio's will ensue, and then it will be summer.
posted by Formiga at 9:02 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

It happens to me a couple of times a year. I rarely get typical respiratory symptoms. But I can feel very tired for several days, and the glands in my neck swell a little. Rarely, I might have some aches and pains. It can happen in any season.
posted by wryly at 12:06 PM on March 4, 2009

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