As the seasons change, and the daily temperatures fluctuate wildly, we often hear the weather blamed for illness. But does going from warm to cold and back again actually have anything to do with whether we get sick?
The answer is...well, maybe.
While scientists have long insisted that it is a virus that makes you sick, not the weather, several recent studies have found that the weather might help that virus get a foothold.
First, different viruses flourish in different weather. If we have the cold dry weather that the flu virus loves one week, and the more mild weather that cold viruses thrive in the next, there are more viruses available to be infected with, according to Dr. Benjamin Kaplan, an internal-medicine physician. He added that those fighting seasonal allergies might have their immune systems go into overdrive to fight the allergens, leaving them more susceptible to viral contagions.
Another factor that might increase our susceptibility to all the viruses is vasoconstriction. In chilly weather, the blood vessels in our extremities narrow, including those in our nose. This can make our nose dry, which inhibits its ability to filter infections. Then, upon returning to warm air, our vessels dilate so quickly that our nose runs and causes us to resort to mouth breathing, which lacks the filter that nasal breathing does.
The advice on how to stay well whatever the weather hasn’t changed: ramp up handwashing, make sure to get good sleep and eat healthy.
Hobson, K. (2005). Fight Colds by Staying Warm. (Cover story). U.S. News & World Report, 139(24), 61.