Growing up, your mom surely told you, “Zip up your jacket… or you’ll catch a cold.” You probably never questioned this as a child, but what did she mean exactly? Did this mean that colds are caused by cold weather? Why do we tend to get more sick in colder months compared to the rest of the year? At Hospitality Health ER, our busiest months are the colder months, and there are a few scientific reasons why. Let’s take a look.
Why Do We Get Sick in Colder Months?
Colder temperatures alone aren’t what get people sick. In order to become sick, you have to come into contact with a virus. So does this mean that certain viruses aren’t lingering around in warmer months? How does this explain why there are more people who get sick in colder months?
#1: Rhinoviruses peak in the fall and spring. These are the viruses that cause the common cold and upper respiratory infections. But if they also peak in the spring, why don’t we see as many people sick in the springtime? This is where cold temperature plays a role, leading us to #2…
#2: Cold temperatures create conditions that make people sick in colder months. Rhinoviruses reproduce better in cooler environments, like in your nose. Evidence also suggests that your immune system’s defense against viruses works better in warmer environments. Because your nasal cavity is cooler than other parts of your body, it is less protected by your immune system and becomes more vulnerable to viruses.
#3: Flu viruses peak in the winter. Hospitality Health ER is all too familiar with this fact with our revolving door of patients seeking relief from flu symptoms in the wintertime. Peak season for influenza combined with weakened immune systems in the cold weather makes for a sick population.
#4: Dry air makes it easy for viruses to enter your nasal passages. Hiding inside from cold weather means you have less ventilation and humidity, factors that can keep you from getting sick. One study showed how sufficient ventilation and high relative humidity indoors deactivates the influenza A virus. Perhaps cracking one or two windows slightly open can help. But keep in mind that dry winter air also allows for an environment for the flu virus to survive and spread.
#5: Very cold temperatures are ideal for the flu virus. Temperatures near freezing makes the flu virus more active and its coating tougher. This enables the virus to survive longer and spread more effectively.
If you like these interesting health facts, read Can You Really Catch Pneumonia from Getting Wet? or like our Hospitality Health ER Tyler Facebook page.