Why Do We Get Sicker in the Winter

As the cool, brisk winds start rolling in, so do, invariably, the sniffles and scratchy throats. But why does it feel like all the bugs seem to roll in like a fog as soon as cold weather hits? Does the cold really lower our immune resistance? We’re here to set the facts straight. 

Viruses Thrive in Cold, Dry Conditions

So in some cases, the culprit really is the cold. Viruses appreciate cold, dry air. Rhinoviruses, which are the major culprit of most common colds, especially spread in the cold. As humidity levels drop, these viruses thrive, making it easier for people to get sick.

There we are, walking along in the cold, dry air, and suddenly we've got a virus that we caught from suspended virus particles left behind by someone coughing, sneezing, or just breathing out their warm vapors that disperse and suspend in the air for a little while before settling to the ground. These can quickly come in contact with the mucous membranes as we walk by and unsuspectingly breathe in those suspended vaporized particles. Because they thrive in the cold, they multiply quickly in the body, it's pretty likely you'll get sick if you come into contact with them.

Freezing temperatures also might allow viruses like the flu to create a firm, protective outer layer. While frozen, this rubbery gel-coat protects the virus and makes it easier to spread to others, causing them to get sick as well. 

One way to protect yourself, at home at least, is to keep moisture levels in check by using an indoor humidifier in a warm environment.  

The Immune System Changes in Cold Weather

As cold weather takes over, the human body adjusts accordingly. When exposed to cooler temperatures, the immune system becomes impaired because extremely cold temperatures constrict blood vessels which also impairs immune response just as a virus enters the body. 

Cold weather also may prevent white blood cells from reaching mucous membranes to fight off illness.

Keep your immune system in fighting mode by getting lots of vitamin C daily.  

Staying Indoors Fuels The Fire of Viruses

Once the virus warms, either through contact with our bodies or by being brought indoors, it may propagate. When people spend more time indoors, sharing air and being closer, it's easy to transmit the germs they carry around to others even without the help of the cold. The holidays bring lots of hugging. Then there are nights spent around the table breathing the same air and playing games. The cold nights bring lots of cuddling, and the next thing you know the entire family is sick. 

Keeping a healthy immune system and being mindful of how we pick up viruses outside the home can help to keep us healthy. Of course like always, regular hand washing and careful hygiene, including mask-wearing during the pandemic, are the best defenses.

Prevention is Key

The best way to ward off these nasty bugs is to prevent them from getting into the body in the first place. The common cold virus enters the body via droplets from an infected person. These droplets can enter through your nose, eyes or mouth. We can pick up the particles from the air or from surfaces onto our hands which we then transfer to our faces.

Cold weather both directly and indirectly causes virus cases to skyrocket. Though cold temperatures, alone, won’t make us sick. There are plenty of cold-weather activities that promote health and wellness out there and the outdoors is still the healthiest place to be as long as we practice good winter safety. So bundle up and go have some fun!

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11/30/2023 5:00:00 AM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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