1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Catarrh

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CATARRH (from the Gr. καταρρεῖν, to flow down), a term principally employed to describe a state of irritation of the mucous membrane of the respiratory passages, or what is called in popular language a “cold.” It is the result of infection by a micro-organism in one or more of various predisposing conditions, damp, chill, fatigue, &c. The complaint usually begins as a nasal catarrh or coryza (Gr. κόρυς, head), with a feeling of weight about the forehead and some degree of difficulty in breathing through the nose, increased on lying down. Fits of sneezing accompanied with a profuse watery discharge from the nostrils and eyes soon follow, while the sense of smell and to some extent that of taste become considerably impaired. There is usually present some amount of sore throat and of bronchial irritation, causing hoarseness and cough. Sometimes the vocal apparatus becomes so much inflamed (laryngeal catarrh) that temporary loss of voice results. There is always more or less feverishness and discomfort, and frequently an extreme sensitiveness to cold. After two or three days the symptoms begin to abate, the discharge from the nostrils and chest becoming thicker and of purulent character, and producing when dislodged considerable relief to the breathing. On the other hand the catarrh may assume a more severe aspect and pass into some form of pulmonary inflammation (see Bronchitis) or influenza (q.v.).

When the symptoms are first felt it is well to take a good purge, and to encourage free perspiration by a hot bath, some diaphoretic drug, as spirits of nitrous ether, being taken before retiring to bed. Some of the older school of physicians still pin their faith to a dose of Dover’s powder. When the cold manifests itself by aches and pains in back and limbs, aspirin taken three or four times in the first twenty-four hours will often act like magic. Locally a snuff made of menthol 1 part, ammonium chloride 3 parts and boracic acid 2 parts will relieve the discomfort of the nose. Also, remembering the microbic origin of the disease, gargling and nasal syringing should be repeated at intervals. As soon as the attack shows signs of subsiding, a good tonic and, still better, a change of air are very helpful.

The term catarrh is used in medical nomenclature in a wider sense to describe a state of irritation of any mucous surface in the body, which is accompanied with an abnormal discharge of its natural secretion, hence the terms gastric catarrh, intestinal catarrh, &c.

See also Respiratory System: Pathology, and Digestive Organs, Pathology of.