The real reason you get sick more in winter

The real reason you get sick more in winter

Scientists may have just busted the age-old myth that the winter season is why we have more cold and flu cases. The frosty weather may keep us inside, close to each other, and allows us to spread germs more easily, but it’s not as simple as you may think.

A biological reason was just discovered – and it involves your nose.

A research study reported that exposure to colder temperatures significantly impairs the immune response of our nasal cavities.

When we breathe in airborne viruses, bacteria and other particles, certain cells in our nasal passages jump into action. These cells quickly produce mucous, which contains special substances that entrap and kill pathogens, and keep them from infecting us.

That is why Dr. Katerina Christopherson, a family medicine physician at Aurora Health Care, says having a stuffy or runny nose is actually a sign your body’s immune system is working.

But when the nose is exposed to colder temperatures, this immune response doesn’t seem to work quite as well. In the study, the researchers exposed nasal body tissue to 39.9 degrees Fahrenheit. This resulted in about a 9 degrees Fahrenheit drop in the tissue temperature of the nose, which reduced the amount of the pathogen-destroying substances in the mucous by 40%, as well as affected the quality.

The researchers concluded that this significantly reduced immune response can allow viruses and other pathogens to infect a person more easily – and may finally explain why we get sick more often when the weather becomes chillier.

“There are more than 200 different viruses that cause the common cold, and most people get two or three colds a year, but unlikely the same one twice,” says Dr. Christopherson.

To help boost your immune system, she recommends eating well, being physically active, managing stress, getting enough sleep and quitting smoking.

Dr. Christopherson also says there are a number of protective steps you can take to help keep you and others from getting sick, in the winter or any time of the year. She offers these tips:

  • Wash your hands or sanitize often and thoroughly.
  • Wear a mask, especially when cases of respiratory illnesses are high in your area.
  • Cover your sneeze: Sneeze or cough into your elbow.
  • If you feel sick, stay home.
  • Get vaccinated against the flu, COVID and other illnesses.

Find a primary care doctor near you: Illinois | Wisconsin

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About the Author

Mary Arens
Mary Arens

Mary Arens, health enews contributor, is a senior content specialist at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has 20+ years of experience in communications plus a degree in microbiology. Outside of work, Mary makes healthy happen with hiking, yoga, gardening and walks with her dog, Chester.