What is it about winter that makes it the “ideal” season for making people sick? Fevers, sore throats, and colds in general affect people far more often during the winter and in cold climates, as compared to other seasons and climates.
This leads many people to believe that it really is possible that by simply lowering the temperature of your surroundings, you can become sick. However, is that really true? Or are there other factors associated with winter that’s making us ill?
The Cause of the Common Cold
First off, let’s settle one thing. The common cold, which is often mistakenly known as the flu (despite the influenza virus being entirely different) is not caused by cold temperatures. In fact, the agents responsible for making you ill are viruses.
Factors that Make you Sick During Winter
To get to the bottom of this problem, we must look at factors that favor the transmission of these viruses from one person to another. Everyone loves going outside when the weather’s warm and the sun’s shining, but when the seasons change, and the dark, cold winter sets in, people prefer to stay huddled up indoors.
This means that more people are confined to small spaces with other people for long periods of time. This means frequently coming in contact with other people – as well as their germs. If one person is sick, then others near them are more likely to get sick under those indoor conditions.
Furthermore, winter brings with it decreased humidity levels, which in turn directly affect the way our nose functions. Due to the decreased humidity, less mucus is secreted to line the inside of our nose. Mucus is crucial for stopping germs in their tracks before they invade our bodies through our airways. Therefore, in winter, the lack of mucus gives those germs free passage to wreak havoc on our systems.
It has already been discussed how important vitamin D is for our bodies. During the winter, because most of our time is spent inside our homes, in addition to shorter days with less sunshine, our bodies produce less vitamin D through the skin.
Less vitamin D means a weaker immune system, giving pathogens a better chance at winning the battle against these vital systems.
How Colds Affect Your Body
It isn’t just factors associated with winter that can make you sick. The cold temperature itself also plays a major role in the spread and severity of viruses.
Firstly, the cold temperature constricts blood vessels in our bodies, meaning that white blood cells (the body’s first line of defense against pathogens) take longer to reach the virus and combat it. These cold viruses mainly invade our bodies through the lungs or airways, and studies have shown that the cells in our airways are more efficient at dealing with viruses under warmer temperatures.
Now, let’s talk about the cold virus itself. In colder temperatures, the virus reveals their secret weapon to the world (much to the dismay of humans). This special weapon is their outer covering, or envelope, which hardens to protect the virus against defending immune cells in our body. In warm temperatures, however, the covering is more like a gel, and the virus is much easier to handle and neutralize.
Essentially, merely being chilly isn’t enough to give you a cold, especially if there are no viruses in the air around you. However, in the presence of cold viruses, or when coming in contact with an infected person, you’re far more likely to catch a cold during the winter.
Keep warm, and stay healthy!