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Does Cold Weather Make You Sick?

Jan. 11, 2018 at midnight

With winter temperatures come ear infections, runny noses, sore throats, and serious bouts of influenza. Is it actually the cold air that makes you sick? Well, not exactly. Doctors say it's the way people behave when temperatures drop.

When it's cold outside, you stay inside, and so does the rest of your family and friends. And while you and your loved ones are sitting inside together, staying warm, sipping hot chocolate, and watching movies, you're sharing more than your time; you're also sharing your viruses and bacteria.

What about your little one's earache that returns every winter -- that can't be coincidence, can it? It isn't. Here's what happens:

All those children at the daycare are carrying viruses that cause upper respiratory infections. Blame their young immune systems for that. They're just more vulnerable to viruses than you are. But they pass the upper respiratory infections around, and those infections cause the tubes (which are already narrow) in their ears to swell so their ears can't drain and fill with fluid, bacteria grows, and voila -- your child has yet another ear infection. This can happen at any temperature, but viruses thrive in lower temperatures. Mix in all that dry air you breathe that makes your airways more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria and decreased circulation caused by the cold, and you have the perfect situation for infections and other issues.

And your runny nose? You can blame the dry air for that, too. One of your nose's functions is to warm and humidify the air before it gets to your lungs. Your runny nose is just your body doing its job by trying to prepare that cold, dry air for your lungs. Air doesn't just enter your body, though; it leaves your body when you breathe out. When it's cold outside, and you breathe out warm, moist air, condensation forms at the end of your nose. In effect, when it's cold outside, your nose produces moisture when you breathe in and when you breathe out.

Your sore throat is more straightforward. Dry air dries out your throat, which causes irritation, which makes your throat sore. If your stuffy nose is causing you to breathe through your mouth, the effect can be even worse.

Most cold-weather ailments should be manageable and improve when you're indoors or run their course over a few days. If they don't go away or start getting worse, it's time to see your doctor to ensure that an inconvenient virus doesn't become something a lot more serious.



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