If you’re feeling under the weather this fall, you’re not alone.
People seem to come down with a cold or the flu when the seasons change. But these dramatic temperature changes aren’t the direct cause of these illnesses, experts say. Rather, the temperature shifts permit a different group of viruses to flourish, and it’s these viruses that make people sick.
Rhinoviruses and cornoavirsues — the two main agents that typically cause the common cold — replicate more easily in cool, but not too cold weather, says Dr. Kittu Jindal Garg, an internal medicine specialist with the Cleveland Clinic.
“A lot of the viruses that cause the common cold are shown to cause outbreaks more frequently in the early to late spring and early to late fall,” Dr. Garg said.
Likewise, this is basically the same reason flu season occurs in the winter. The influenza virus replicates and spreads most effectively when the air is cold and dry, hence why people tend to get the flu in the wintertime. As such, it’s still the virus, not the cold air, that’s causing you to fall ill.
“There have been a lot of studies done, but really there’s still no evidence to show that it’s the cold weather itself that’s making us sick,” Dr. Garg said.
While cold weather doesn’t directly make you sick, cooler temperatures can make you more likely to get ill in several ways. For one, as fall creeps up, people have to pick between frigid, dry outdoor air and the stale, heated air provided by indoor space. As such, people’s your respiratory system suffers the consequences.
“Colder temperatures also force you inside, which can increase disease transmission for a few reasons,” explained Alexandra Sowa, an internist at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medicine. “People are relegated to the indoors, where there tends to be dry heat and poor ventilation. Both of these have been postulated to increase disease transmission and susceptibility.”
Besides respiratory system issues, sniffling co-workers are perhaps an even greater concern. “Close quarters also mean more physical contact with others, so people are more apt to spread germs to each other,” Sowa said.
Furthermore, seasonal boosts in allergies can irritate some people’s lungs and nasal passages, making them even more susceptible to a cold or the flu. Recurrent allergies can even lead to secondary bacterial infections in your sinuses, which could lead you to feel like you spend weeks or months at a time battling the same cold.
To dodge seasonal sickness, here are a few tricks you can use to help make this your healthiest fall and winter yet.