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How Cold Weather Can Make You Sick

For most of the country, winter has arrived. Temperatures have dropped, and in many places, snow is already blanketing the ground. The arrival of cold winter weather means busting our your warmest jacket, and also being more vigilant about keeping illness at bay.


The common cold is likely the most easily recognized illness. Symptoms include a runny nose, sore throat, itchy eyes and a low-grade fever. Believe it or not, the common cold is the leading cause of doctor visits. Children may have between six and 10 colds each year, and the average adult suffers between two and four colds each year — the majority of which occur during the fall and winter months.

Growing up, your mom may have told you to stay warm and out of the cold to stay healthy. You may have dismissed this advice as an old wives' tale, as colds are caused by viruses and not by the weather. However, recent research has demonstrated that while viruses trigger your symptoms, cold weather has a significant impact on whether you "catch" a cold.

A cold passes through direct physical contact with one of nearly 200 viruses that can trigger symptoms. Someone who has a cold can pass it to you by touching your hand, sneezing near your face, or through contact with their body where the cold virus has been sprayed after a cough or sneeze. You may also acquire the virus after touching a door handle, computer keyboard or utensil where the cold virus has been deposited, then touching your face or nose.

Once inside, the virus attaches itself to the lining of your throat or nose, triggering your body's immune system to send white blood cells. If you've built antibodies to this virus in the past, the fight doesn't last long. However, if the virus is new, your body sends reinforcements to fight, inflaming your nose and throat. With so much of your body's resources aimed at fighting the cold, you are left feeling tired and miserable.

It’s true that the cold virus is spread more easily during cold weather months. When it’s cold outside, you likely spend more time indoors, placing you in close proximity to those who are ill. Dry air in the cold months may also dry your mucous membranes, making the symptoms of a cold much worse. Recent research shows that colder temperatures also increase your likelihood of getting sick, by weakening the first line of immune defense in your nose, and causing a slower immune system response.

For tips on staying healthy this winter, check out this article on the best nutrients for cold and flu season.

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