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What really happens when you’re sick

This is an edition of The Wonder Reader, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a set of stories to spark your curiosity and fill you with delight. Sign up here to get it every Saturday morning.

When you’re suffering from a cold, the situation might seem perfectly clear—your nose is stuffed. But the truth about what’s happening to you is a little more complicated. For starters, the nose is actually two noses, which work in an alternating cycle that is connected to the armpits.

In a new article, our Science writer Sarah Zhang explains what’s really going on in your body when you’re congested. There’s something oddly empowering in understanding how colds work, even if the knowledge won’t cure you. Today’s newsletter will help you get to know the inner workings of your body when it’s not at its best.

On Colds

Everything I Thought I Knew About Nasal Congestion Is Wrong

By Sarah Zhang

Start with this: You really have two noses.

Why Has a Useless Cold Medication Been Allowed on Shelves for Years?

By Sarah Zhang

Studies prove that popular decongestants just don’t work.

No One Wants Your Cold

By Caroline Mimbs Nyce

How to know if you’re too sick to hang

Still Curious?

Other Diversions


I’ll leave you with a beautiful essay by my colleague Elizabeth Bruenig from last spring, about the power we lose and the understanding we gain after a season of illness. “There is a profound helplessness to falling ill, even in cases of ultimately mild and transient illness,” she writes. “If the pandemic ought to have given us anything, it should have been a more universal empathy toward the condition of illness, of being susceptible to getting sick.”

— Isabel

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