General Health  

Seasonal Sickness: Is it real? 

Written by Mary McDonnell - Nutritionist

Updated March 28, 2023

Seasonal changes can be both beautiful and stressful. With the arrival of Autumn, we get to enjoy the beauty of falling leaves, the crisp air, and the excitement of pumpkin-spiced everything. However, we are also faced with the not-so-pleasant side effects of the season, such as the common cold and flu. This raises the question: why do we tend to get sick as the seasons change? 

The ‘Wanaka Tree’ in its Autumn Form

What have doctors said about it?

Doctors have noted that while colds and upper respiratory infections can occur at any time of the year, there are small upticks in contagions during the autumn, winter, and spring months. According to Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and hospital epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York, “Seasonal changes affect us all in different ways, and the changes in temperature, humidity, and daylight can trigger a host of health issues.” 

Causes:

One reason why we may be more susceptible to illness during seasonal changes is the presence of different pollens and allergens in the air. As we transition from summer to autumn, mouldering leaves and dusty offices provide new allergy challenges. Similarly, as spring melts into summer, flower pollen can cause allergic reactions. Allergies can irritate our lungs and nasal passages, making us more susceptible to colds and the flu. In fact, recurrent allergies can even lead to secondary bacterial infections in our sinuses, making it feel like we are battling the same cold for weeks or months. 

Another reason why we may be more susceptible to illness during seasonal changes is the drop in temperature. Cold, dry air can cut down on the healthy mucus that is supposed to coat areas of our respiratory system, leaving airways more susceptible to unpleasant microbial visitors. Additionally, colder temperatures force us indoors, where there tends to be dry heat and poor ventilation. Both factors can increase disease transmission and susceptibility. 

According to Dr. 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.” 

In addition to poor ventilation and dry heat, close quarters also mean more physical contact with others, making it more likely for germs to spread. As we spend more time inside, it is important to practice good hand-washing practices and avoid too much contact with sniffling co-workers. 

While cold weather cannot directly make us sick, some animal studies suggest that exposure to colder temperatures might make our bodies more susceptible to certain illnesses. However, it is important to note that it is not the weather that makes us sick, but the germs. 

How to support yourself:

So, what can we do to protect ourselves from seasonal illnesses?  

  • Staying warm might not be the worst thing for our immune system.  
  • Keeping our airways moist with a humidifier at night can help our mucus stay in virus-blocking shape and help alleviate cold symptoms if a virus does come our way.  
  • Additionally, treating seasonal allergies as they arise, instead of assuming we have an annoyingly persistent cold, can help us feel better faster.  
  • It is also crucial to get our flu shots, as the flu can be particularly severe and even deadly. 
  • Consider supplementing with vitamins and minerals that are known to support immune health such as vitamins C, D, E, and Zinc. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, seasonal changes can affect our health in many ways, including making us more susceptible to colds, the flu, and allergies. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent illness, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves, such as staying warm, keeping our airways moist, practicing good hand-washing practices, and getting our flu shots. By being mindful of our health during seasonal transitions, we can enjoy the beauty of the changing seasons without worrying about getting sick. 


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