The cooler seasons are notorious for a dramatic increase in the prevalence of coughs, sniffles, and fevers. The idea that getting chilled causes illness has been debunked; it’s not chilly temperatures that cause us to contract an illness, but rather viruses. So why, then, do we experience a high number of people falling ill as the cold weather takes hold?
There’s actually a number of factors that likely play into the phenomenon. For one, as the temperatures drop, we tend to move our activities indoors, which puts us in closer proximity with other people, raising the likelihood of spreading airborne viruses. Additionally, some pathogens thrive in winter’s cool, dry air, which allows them to remain airborne longer than the warmer, more humid summer air. To further complicate matters, cold weather puts additional stress on our respiratory and cardiovascular systems, suppressing the processes that typically protect us from contracting viruses.
Iowa Specialty Hospital in Clarion and Belmond, IA takes a closer look at common sicknesses to be on the lookout for this winter. We’ll tell you what you can do to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting common winter illnesses.
Six common illnesses to keep an eye out for
While there are a large number of viral and bacterial illnesses present in the winter months, some are more common than others.
Here, we take a look at the signs and symptoms of six of the most common afflictions to be on the lookout for:
• Common cold: The most frequent offender in the cooler seasons, the common cold is associated with a runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, and headache. There are a few viruses that can cause colds, but rhinovirus is the most frequent culprit. Rhinovirus is contracted through the respiratory system through droplets in the air that are created by an infected person coughing and sneezing. Rhinovirus can also be spread through person-to-person contact or touching contaminated surfaces. Fortunately, colds are typically harmless and symptoms begin to improve within a week.
• Bronchitis: Typically presenting as the result of another illness such as cold or flu, bronchitis is associated with a strong, persistent cough. While bronchitis tends to clear up on its own in healthy individuals, those that suffer from chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma or COPD have a higher risk of complications.
• Influenza: Referred to as the flu, influenza presents quickly with common cold symptoms in addition to a high fever and muscle aches and pains that can last for one to two weeks. While very uncomfortable, influenza isn’t typically a major issue in healthy individuals, but can be deadly for at-risk populations, such as children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people.
• Strep throat: Though most common in school-aged children, strep can affect adults as well. This illness causes a severe sore throat, headache, and occasionally stomachache. Fortunately, it’s easily treated with antibiotics, and early treatment can prevent the risk of complication and transmission to others.
• Norovirus: Commonly referred to as the stomach flu, norovirus is a contagious stomach bug that causes diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and fever. Because of its viral transmission, there’s no treatment. Luckily, symptoms tend to last only for a few days.
• Croup: Most common in young children, the most common symptom of croup is a loud, barking cough that tends to be worse at night. It’s not typically a major cause for concern and can be treated at home, with symptoms lasting for about three to five days.
How to reduce your risk of exposure
No one enjoys being sick, no matter how mild symptoms may be. Though illness is unavoidable at times, there are several ways you can reduce your chances of becoming infected, minimize the risk of transmitting illnesses to others, and reduce the chances of complications.
Common ways to stay healthy and recover quickly are:
• Vaccinations: Yearly flu vaccines are a great way to reduce your risk of contracting influenza. And, in the event you still contract the flu after receiving the vaccination, the vaccine will minimize the severity of symptoms. You’ll also be doing your part to minimize the risk of infecting others, potentially saving lives. Similarly, pneumococcal vaccines help to prevent the contraction of pneumonia.
• Hygiene: Make it a point to frequently wash your hands with soap and water to prevent hand-to-hand transmission of infection. You’ll also want to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough, preferably into the inside of your elbow or another area that doesn’t commonly come in contact with surfaces, objects, or other people.
• Diet and lifestyle: Staying hydrated, striving for seven to nine hours of sleep, and eating a healthy, balanced diet go a long way to supporting a healthy immune system.
• Vigilance: Wipe down surfaces that are commonly shared, such as doorknobs, phones, remotes, and shopping carts. If you’re already exhibiting symptoms of illness, do your best to avoid situations that raise the risk of spreading illness to others, such as indoor events, attending classes, and even reporting for work.
Iowa Specialty Hospital in Clarion and Belmond, IA is committed to keeping your family healthy, no matter the season. Contact us today to learn how we can serve you.
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Citations: https://childrensmd.org/browse-by-age-group/newborn-infants/winters-dreaded-identify-avoid-six-common-childhood-illnesses/ http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-why-we-get-sick-in-winter-20170314-story.html https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/nine-worst-winter-illnesses-175654084.html https://ricoaviation.com/2017/12/20/5-common-winter-illnesses-treat/ https://www.lmh.org/news/2016-news/common-illnesses-during-cold-weather-and-how-to-avoid-them/ https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/symptoms-causes/syc-20351605 https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/croup/symptoms-causes/syc-20350348