Winter is fast approaching. Along with it comes the dreaded cold and flu season. As temperatures drop in Des Moines, Iowa and other parts of the US, there is always a sharp rise in the number of visits to general physician’s offices, ERs and hospitals. According to a study by the CDC, or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu generally strikes most often between the months of December and March.
Why do we get colds and flu most often in the winter?
Flu and colds are often confused because of their similar symptoms. While both are both respiratory infections, a cold is milder but more prevalent than the flu. The flu, on the other hand, is really a less common but a much more severe illness than many people realize.
Nevertheless, the reason as to why cold and flu rates leap during the winter season is still not completely clear. One popular myth, now debunked, is that getting chilled makes people sick. A study once had researches place viruses into the noses of volunteers who were separated between two groups. One group was allowed to stay warm and dry. The other was made cold and wet. Both groups fell sick at the same time. The general conclusion? The viruses make people sick, not low temperatures.
Several other explanations probably apply. First, a research conducted by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York revealed that certain viruses thrive in cold and dry temperatures. That means they are more likely to affect more people given these conditions. In a similar context, another theory states that people tend to spend more time indoors during winter time. In this case, whatever respiratory viruses suspended in the air will be more likely inhaled by those who are within breathing range. What are the other common winter illnesses, aside from cold and influenza?
Even though freezing temperatures bring seasonal pollen allergies to an end, many people are still down with allergies. This time, with seasonal winter allergies. Three of the most common allergens – mold, animal dander, and house dust mites – are worse in winter when there is less ventilation.
Common symptoms of winter seasonal allergies include sneezing, coughing, stuffy or runny nose, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes and throat. Antihistamines and decongestants work well to treat these allergies. However, if these symptoms last for more than a week, it is best to see an allergist.
Approximately 90% of sore throat are caused by the common cold or flu viruses. It could also be caused by allergens and other environmental irritants. The remaining 10% are linked to streptococci, the bacteria that causes strep throat.
Strep throat is most often observed in school-aged children, and it does not cause coughing or any of the cold symptoms. The most common sign of strep is the presence of white patches or pus on the throat. Early intervention for patients is key to prevent the spread of the streptococci bacteria.
Acute bronchitis is one of the most common types of lung infection affecting more than 10 million Americans every year. It is most common in winter as it often develops three to four days following an untreated cold, sore throat or flu. Cough, phlegm and tiredness are typical symptoms of bronchitis. Other symptoms include wheezing sounds when breathing and tightness in the chest.
The weather outside might be frightful, but that doesn’t mean you are more protected from a bad flu indoors. Know the common winter illnesses, learn how to best avoid them and have a blast this winter time.