Sniffling. Runny nose. Sneezing. Coughing. Each winter it’s like a commercial for cough medicine. As sure as the birds migrate (probably to avoid the coming sickness), the leaves fall from the trees and Santa goes about his merry way, winter brings illness.
So what causes us to see a huge spike in sickness during the winter? Is it the cold weather that makes us sick? Yes and no. Let me explain.
Why We Get Sick in the Winter
The virus that causes most seasonal colds is called the rhinovirus and this little guy likes the winter. In fact, he flourishes in colder temperatures. Plus, according to research reported in Nature, a journal of science, our immune systems take a little vacation during the colder temps. The studies they conducted show that at warmer temperatures our bodies bring out the SWAT team of antiviral signals but that during cold temperatures our bodies send out Barney Fife.
So when it’s cold and our buddy rhinovirus is turning into the hulk, our bodies confront it with Barney Fife. This isn’t exactly a recipe for staying sick-free. So to answer the question, “Does cold weather make us sick?”
Cold weather doesn’t directly make us sick. It just provides the conditions where both the virus thrives and our immune response is taking a holiday. So the next time someone says, “the cold doesn’t make you sick,” don’t listen. If your body gets cold it will not only be a better breeding ground for viruses but your body won’t fight it as well either.
How We Can Reduce Our Chances
You may do one or two of these things, but you’d be a rare bird indeed if you did all three. We all know we should do at least these three simple actions but often we don’t.
Wash Your Hands. Yes, no big shocker here. But did you know that 33% of people observed in an American Society for Microbiology (ASM) study did NOT wash their hands with soap and water. According to ABC News, ASM conducted this study in 1996 as well and found that not much has changed.
The common cold virus is spread by hand contact with people who have the cold and have hands with secretions on them, according to an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. You know what else they found? That among all the ways to prevent the spread of the cold, hand washing is the most effective.
Get Your Sleep. When you’re not sleeping enough, your body begins to feel the effects. Your immune system is one of the first casualties of the sleepless war. Luciana Besedovsky, writing in a medical journal, says that, “Over the past 15 years, research…has accumulated surprisingly strong evidence that sleep enhances immune defense.”
We know this to be true. In fact, it’s cliche. Sleep helps healing. But we so often don’t do what we know. This winter, if you truly want to avoid the winter sickness, get enough rest. Sleep 7-8 hours.
Clean Your Screen (and other stuff). Your cell phone screen gets touched more than the doorbell on Halloween night—everyday. You touch it and share it with others. It’s a center for germs. If you don’t clean it right you’ll carry that right into your meal, where you will most likely pull it out and tap it at least once before finishing your meal. All that handwashing doesn’t matter if you immediately grab dirt and germs.
Other items to consider cleaning this cold season: your computer keyboard, the light switches and the TV remote. All of these items are designed to be touched a lot and yet we rarely, if ever, clean them. The air duster doesn’t really count since blowing dust away doesn’t remove germs. Find a safe cleaning method, such as alcohol wipes, to help kill the germs.
If you do these three simple things consistently this cold season, you will drastically reduce your chances of getting sick. We should all be doing these things as good common practice, but like me, I’m sure you get busy, get distracted and forget. Get back in the habit. Enjoy the holidays with a dry nose and clear head. Let the eggnog and New Year’s celebration be the only reason for not feeling well.