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Why Do I get Sick When the Seasons Change?

Most of us enjoy the change of seasons. The winter’s first snow and spring flowers bring a sense of wonder. Fall offers the beauty of changing leaves. Summer welcomes warm lazy days with friends.

But does the change of seasons mean we’re more susceptible to colds, flu or other respiratory problems?

The answer is a little complicated, but research shows the answer is a qualified, “Yes.”

Can You Catch a Cold from Being Chilled?

We can dispel the old myth that being cold can give you a cold. You have to be infected by a virus to catch a cold or the flu.

However, influenza viruses peak in the winter. And the rhinovirus that causes colds peaks in the spring and fall when the temperatures are cooler. Also, being out in the cold appears to limit the ability of your nasal hairs and mucus to catch and stop germs coming into your nose.

What Affect Does Cold Weather Have on Colds and the Flu?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that dry winter air allows cold and flu viruses to survive longer and transmit more easily. 

The research suggests that the virus’ exterior coating becomes tougher when the temperature is close to freezing. This extra strength helps viruses be more active and resilient. So cold weather is conducive to you crossing paths with these viruses more often.

When it’s cold outside, we tend to spend more time together indoors. The likelihood is that when we’re indoors with others, we’re more likely to be exposed to germs from others who may already have the sniffles.

One research study found that students in dorm rooms with poor ventilation caught more colds. Another study found that good ventilation along with high indoor relative humidity rendered the influenza A virus inactive.

How Can You Tell If It’s a Cold or Flu?

We have an online Flu Symptoms Guide that explains the symptom differences between a cold and the flu. The guild includes five tips for staying healthy during flu season.

What About Seasonal Allergies?

The change of seasons also means different pollens and other allergens tend to spike.

In the spring there’s lots of trees, grasses and weeds dishing out pollens. Later flowers add to the mix and potential misery.

As fall drops in on us, ragweed and moldy leaves are big allergy sources. As windows close for the season, indoor dusts and pet dander may also contribute to allergy discomfort.

As we’ve noted, cooler fall and winter temperatures are conducive to more cold and flu viruses to hang in the air. And allergies can irritate your lungs and nasal passages leaving you more susceptible to cold or flu viruses — it’s essentially a one-two punch for ending up being sick when the seasons change.

What Can You Do to Feel Better When Seasons Change?

We can’t control the temperatures outdoors, but we can take steps to keep our indoor surroundings comfortable. Consider a humidifier at night to keep your airways moist.

Treating seasonal allergies can help keep mucus in your nasal passages at the right level to do their virus-catching job better. Moist air will be more comfortable if you do catch a cold.

If you have a cough, we have some tips for cough relief.

Here Are Three Important Tips for Avoiding Sickness

  • Get plenty of sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, exercise and keep stress under control.

If you wonder if you have a cold or an allergy, see your health care provider. 

And your health care provider can also answer your questions about getting your flu shot.




Meet the Author

Steven J. Heyden, MD is a family medicine physician at the Aurora Health Center in Whitefish Bay.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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