It seems to happen in a flash: cold weather sets in, and suddenly, it seems like everyone you know is sneezing, sniffling, or dealing with something worse.
But have you ever wondered why these pesky germs tend to strike more during the winter months?
While it might feel like germs have a habit of sneaking in with the first gusts of cold air, the truth is that germs are active year-round, but there is a biological explanation for why people are more susceptible to sickness in the winter.
In 2022, researchers discovered cold air damages the nose's immune response. And it doesn't take much: a decrease of 5 degrees Celsius can drastically lower the bacteria-fighting cells in the nasal passage. The caveat is the study is the result of in vitro analysis, meaning it was conducted in a lab on human tissue, and the results may differ when they are eventually tested on a human nose.
Avoiding colds in the winter
While no preventive measure is foolproof, there are some things that can be done to reduce the risk of getting sick during the colder months.
If you do become ill, it's important to rest, stay hydrated, and seek medical advice if necessary.
Wash your hands. Regular and thorough handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of cold-causing germs. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This tactic can reduce your chance of getting a cold or respiratory illness by up to 21 per cent.
Sneeze (and cough) smart. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of used tissues properly, and avoid using your hands to cover your mouth.
Socially distance. Stay away from people who are sick, and if you're not feeling well, try to keep your distance from others to prevent the spread of germs.
Get the flu shot. Consider getting a flu vaccine, as the flu is a common cause of cold-like symptoms during the winter months. In healthy adults, the flu vaccine reduces the risk of getting sick by about 50 per cent.
Boost your immunity. Maintain a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercise, and try to get a full nights' sleep to keep your immune system strong.
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can help keep your respiratory system moist, making it harder for cold viruses to take hold.
Avoid touching your face. Cold viruses can enter your body through the eyes, nose, or mouth, so try to avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
Disinfect. Regularly clean and disinfect common surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, and countertops to prevent the spread of germs.
Use humidifiers. Humidifiers can help maintain optimal indoor humidity levels, which may reduce the risk of catching a cold.
Wear appropriate clothing. Check the weather forecast before heading out and dress appropriately to protect yourself from the cold.
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