There are many things to look forward to in winter: the crisp, bracing air; sitting indoors with a hot drink; warm clothes (winter fashions can be exciting); snuggling up under a quilt at night. But there are some things that are certainly not welcome in this season –those inevitable coughs and colds.
So, why do people have coughs and colds in winter? There are several theories. One is that while in summer people are more likely to be out and about, in winter the tendency is to get away from the cold weather into confined spaces with air heating systems which re-circulate the air and this makes it easier to catch the virus from people who have already got a cough and cold.
Another explanation is the decrease in ultra-violet light during the winter due to shortened daylight. Viruses are very sensitive to UV light as it destroys their DNA. So less UV in winter, more viruses. Decreased ventilation effectively increases the amount of viruses in the air. Also, since viruses causing respiratory diseases are passed in winter vapour, it is easy to breathe them in again. These are ideal conditions to produce billions of virus particles.
Research suggests that cough and cold viruses are transmitted by hand to the mucous membrane. You wipe your nose, shake someone’s hand and then they rub their eyes and are infected. Winter sees larger groups of people gathered together in close proximity, leading to much higher infection rates. Reduction of sunlight also causes a depression of the immune system.
What can you do about the winter misery of coughs and colds? Here are some suggestions:
Clean living Cough and cold germs are spread by contact and it’s thought that in eight out of ten cases, this can be prevented by simply washing your hands regularly – and for at least 15 seconds – with soap and hot water. Be responsible – try not to spread the condition further. Use tissues rather than handkerchiefs for runny noses and dispose them off in a bin after use.
Keeping warm Take grandma’s advice and keep warm. Button up to keep your chest covered. We lose up to 30% of our body heat through our heads – so wear a hat or cap or make sure your head is covered with a warm shawl, specially when you go out.
Avoid huddling and extra heating Because people are much closer together physically during winter, this makes it easier for infections to pass between people. Crowded trains and metros with little ventilation, department stores bustling with shoppers and people gathering at parties …all make catching a cough or cold more likely.
Central heating reduces our defenses and affects the respiratory system by drying out the protective mucous in our nasal passages. The dry, stuffy air of central heating can also lead to sore throats and can aggravate chest complaints. Try to cut down on excessive heating and get out in the fresh air whenever possible.
Herbal care To withstand the winter onslaught of germs, use herbal medicines that boost the immune system in fighting coughs, colds and flu, and can also act as agents to help heal viral and bacterial infections. Get the right advice for your condition from your doctor.
A good night’s sleep can cure many problems, specially winter coughs and colds. Sleeping soundly doesn’t just mean sleeping for seven or eight hours a night. You should be free of worry and anxiety. Try to start the new day on a positive note.
Winter can be fun if you take some simple precautions to keep those coughs and colds away.