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The Grossest Things That Happen When You Get Sick

Updated November 5, 2019 64.7k views10 items

Getting sick is possibly the least fun thing that can happen to you... it's even worse than getting pulled over by the cops with expired registration or meeting the President with a big piece of spinach stuck in your teeth. But what really happens when you get sick? Mystery solved. Your immune system is @$% amazing and it does all kinds of stuff to boot out those invaders that are willing to move in and wreck all your cells and then die before you can get your deposit back. Seriously. Immature jerks.

From what happens when you get food poisoning, to the simple question of what happens to your body when you get sick with just a cold, the human body is capable of amazing things. Read on to learn more!
  • Body Temperature Rises

    First off, in almost all cases, a fever is not bad. It's our own immune system utilizing another weapon in its arsenal. Lots of times, a low-grade fever you probably never even noticed killed off an invader before you even started to feel sick. When the fever increases, it's because it's working harder to kill whatever intruder is replicating inside you.

    The worst - muscle aches with fever. This happens because of chemicals released to fight the invader tend to cause inflammation in muscles and joints, and often muscle enzyme levels are elevated in the blood as a result of this. Ow. When antibodies bind to the virus or bacteria they deactivate it and make it more easily digestible to white cells. However, this process causes inflammation and tissue irritation.

    Many times, running to the fever-reducers, like ibuprophen and aspirin, is totally effing up all the hard work your immune system is doing. Imagine if you kept trying to turn on the heat because the apartment was cold, and your boyfriend would walk in and turn it down every time you left the room. Annoying, right? Well, in this case you're just making things worse... because your body is trying to kill that damned bug and you're not letting it. So... just relax and let the fever work its magic. Only when the infection is super-bad and your fever goes out of control? Then you can try to reduce it.
  • Antibodies Deploy!

    Antibodies are pure awesome. These amazing little guys are produced by white blood cells. They are Y-shaped proteins that each respond to a specific invader (bacteria, virus or toxin).

    Each antibody has special sections at the tips of the Y that are sensitive to a specific antigen. When an antibody binds to the outer coat of a virus or a bacterium it can stop their movement through cell walls (like putting those mittens on kids to keep them from scratching chickenpox). A large number of antibodies can also swarm and stick to an invader, signaling to a component system that the invader needs to be removed.
  • License to Kill

    NK cells, or natural killer cells, to the rescue! Killer cells are are a type of lymphocyte (white blood cell). They contain special proteins such as perforin and proteases known as granzymes.

    When they are let loose near an infected cell slated for death, perforin creates holes in the target cell through which the granzymes can enter, inducing apoptosis. Apoptosis leads to destruction of the virus inside. This can contain and minimize the viral infections while the rest of your immune response is generating antigen-specific T cells that can clear the infection.

    T cells are another kind of lymphocyte that plays a large role in the immune response. T cells recognize the invader and bind to it - an action that stimulates the T cell to either destroy or cure the infected cell.
  • The Battlefield

    Why do you get a runny nose? A sore throat? Cough? Why do your muscles ache and why do you get those hard, swollen lumps under your jaw along your neck?

    War, baby.

    Runny nose? Your body increases the production of mucus to try and clear out the invaders. It usually shows up 3-5 days after your initial infection and you can tell if it's just normal cleanup of the cold or, if it turns green and thick - it can be a sign of a bad bacterial infection.

    Your sore throat happens when the mucus membranes that line your throat are either inflamed or infected. Your immune system sends a lot of blood into that area so that the white blood cells and antibodies have more access to the battlefield. The side-effect is that in order to get more soldiers into the area, your body releases chemicals that make the blood vessels in the surrounding tissue swell. More blood = more white blood cells and more antibodies. Sadly for you, all this swelling puts pressure on the nerve endings in your throat and causes pain. War is tough.

    Coughing... well, mucus is an irritant, and coughing is a natural reaction to irritation. What's the most insidious is that it's thought that making us cough is actually the evolutionary strategy of the virus to escape from us and move on to the next victim. We know that cold and flu viruses are spread by airborne droplets of mucous spewed out when we cough.

    And swollen lymph nodes? Think of Lymph nodes like a filter. When fighting certain bacterial infections, the nodes swell up with bacteria and the cells fighting the bacteria, to the point where you can actually feel them. Swollen lymph nodes are a good indication that you have an infection of some sort.