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Common Winter Viruses and Illnesses
The winter season brings holiday activities and gatherings with family. However, did you know that winter air can also make you more vulnerable to viruses?
During the winter months, respiratory viruses and illnesses spread easily due to people spending more time indoors away from the colder weather. Numerous factors make your immune system more compromised in the winter.
Cold air holds less moisture than warm air. The combination of cold and dry air has multiple effects on your body:
- Mucus, which is meant to be a natural defense to filter out the airways, dries out and cannot effectively prevent bacteria from entering the airways
- Your body may try to compensate by producing more mucus, which can lead to a runny nose
- The respiratory system is irritated by the dry air, causing the airways to narrow and irritate the lungs1
These symptoms can make it more difficult to breathe, especially when there’s a respiratory virus involved. For those who have respiratory disorders, the cold affects the respiratory system even more. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of illnesses going around and how to protect your health.2
Here are 6 common respiratory conditions and viruses that are prevalent in the winter, and how to protect you and your loved ones from getting sick.
In the winter months, most climates are cold and dry, which can irritate the lungs. Additionally, colds and flu, among other infections, are more common in the winter, which can also make asthma symptoms worse.
The flu, also known as the influenza virus, is a common illness that circulates each year, mainly during the winter. It’s caused by airborne droplets that infect the respiratory tract.
The common cold and the flu can both lead to increased mucus production, causing a runny nose and cough. The flu shot is one of the most effective ways to help prevent the spread of the flu.3
Bronchitis occurs when the respiratory passage allowing air into the lungs becomes inflamed. Acute bronchitis may have similar symptoms to a cold, but chronic bronchitis can be more severe.4
Cold, dry air can make symptoms of bronchitis worse, including chest congestion, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Pneumonia is the result of another bacterial or viral infection, and it typically attacks individuals with weakened immune systems.5
Cold air can worsen a cough or respiratory infection like pneumonia, which can cause symptoms including shortness of breath and a fever.
COPD patients are more prone to illnesses in the winter because the cold temperatures and wind impact the lungs by narrowing the airways and causing flare-ups. Flare-ups, also known as exacerbations, can involve mucus production, coughing, and difficulty breathing.6
Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) is an infection of the lungs and respiratory tract. Symptoms of RSV include coughing, a runny nose, wheezing, and a fever.
RSV commonly affects those with weakened immune systems, including children and older adults, and can lead to more serious respiratory infections such as pneumonia.7
How to Stay Healthy This Winter
Here are some tips to help you stay healthy this season in case you come in contact with any common winter viruses.
- Stay warm. Dress in warm clothing, especially when you’re outdoors in cold weather and wind. Wear a scarf, heavy coat, gloves, and a hat.
- Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. The blood vessels in the nose help warm and humidify the air before it enters your lungs.
- Wash your hands. As always, washing your hands is important to prevent the transmission of bacteria and viruses.
- Clean. Dust, mold, and pet dander circulate more in the winter. Make sure to regularly clean to avoid irritating the airways with any allergens.
- Use a humidifier. The cold air outdoors is dry, but so is the air inside when the heat is on. Having a humidifier on, especially at night, can help prevent the airways from drying and swelling.
- Avoid strenuous activities outdoors. Strenuous physical activity causes you to breathe hard and gasp for air, which can trigger breathing problems when inhaling cold air. If you have respiratory problems, outdoor exercise in cold weather can hurt your lungs.
- Eat a balanced diet. Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated can help keep your body healthy and reduce your risk of catching a virus.
- Don’t forget medication. Remember to keep your medications stocked up with at least 3 days’ supply in case of a winter storm, power outage, or extended travel over the holidays.
- Check medical equipment. If you use medical equipment that needs power such as oxygen, CPAP machine, or a ventilator, check the instructions and plan accordingly to have a backup power source.
- Check on family and friends. Check on those around you, especially older adults who may live alone, to make sure their homes are properly heated and they have what they need in case of an emergency.
Learn More Today
Take the time to learn more about respiratory viruses and how to protect yourself and your loved ones from getting sick this year. By knowing the symptoms of some of the most common winter viruses, you can take the steps to reduce your risk and overcome illness.
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Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long-term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “Common Respiratory Problems This Winter.” Medica Synergie, medicahospitals.in. Accessed December 14th, 2022. https://medicahospitals.in/blog/be-wary-of-these-common-respiratory-problems-this-winter/.
- “How Cold Weather Causes Trouble For Your Respiratory System.” Pulmonary Associates, floridachest.com. November 15th, 2018. Accessed December 14th, 2022. https://floridachest.com/pulmonary-blog/how-cold-weather-causes-trouble-for-your-respiratory-system.
- Daugherty, Luke. “It’s Almost Winter. Here’s How Cold Weather Affects Your Breathing.” Red Ventures, CNET. December 1st, 2022. Accessed December 14th, 2022. https://www.cnet.com/health/medical/its-almost-winter-heres-how-cold-weather-affects-your-breathing/.
- “Bronchitis.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. Accessed December 14th, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bronchitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355566.
- “4 Facts About Pneumonia.” Saber Healthcare Group, saberhealth.com. November 12th, 2020. Accessed December 14th, 2022. https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/facts-about-pneumonia.
- “Signs and Symptoms of COPD Exacerbation.” Saber Healthcare Group, saberhealth.com. November 16th, 2022. Accessed December 14th, 2022. https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/exacerbation-of-copd.
- “The Most Common Winter Respiratory Illnesses.” East Valley ER & Hospital, eastvalleyhospital.com. November 11th, 2022. Accessed December 14th, 2022. https://eastvalleyhospital.com/common-winter-respiratory-illnesses/.