We’re not used to the cold in Houston. Given our perennially temperate climate, our bodies have to adapt when one of those blue northers come blowing through our city. We’ll pull out our bulky jackets, put on our tall boots, and—when the moment’s right—even don our 1 wool scarf. (Fine, if you’re a Newstonian from the North, you’ve been through lots of bad winters and have ton of scarves.)
Aside from adapting our clothing, our immune system has to adapt to the environmental switcheroo that comes with the wintertime cold. Since the comfortable room temperature range for the human body is between 68° and 72°F, anything below that range will form goosebumps or bring about muscle shivering. These physiological reactions are your body’s attempt to maintain warmth.
When you’re exposed to less-than-ideal temperatures, your body has to expend extra energy to continue its biological processes with the same efficiency as it does when warm. As a result, there’s strain on the body’s resources to keep everything going smoothly.
Seems simple enough: when you’re hot, cool off; when you’re cold, warm up. Issues arise, though, when we don’t immediately get sick from failing to keep certain important parts covered and warm.
As an example, you’ll probably wear a heavy coat but forget your earmuffs on a cold day. “Oh, they’re just ears! They’re always cold!”, you might say, but it is an issue when the cold wind is constantly making contact with your ear canal. And since—ahem—the ear, nose, & throat are all connected, it’s important to make sure that exposure to the elements doesn’t negatively affect your sinuses. So, make sure you’re wrapping up.
We doubt we’re going to have any pushback here, but it’s such a simple task that gets complicated living a life as fast-paced and active as Houstonians do. When temperatures drop, rhinoviruses can reproduce more effectively, which means there are more of them to fend off.
Given that people will probably not go outside as much during the wintertime, this close contact with your friends and colleagues creates more opportunities to transfer the virus. That’s why us doctors usually recommend more hand-washing during the winter. Sanitizing your desk at work or your door handles at home is one way to avoid receiving the germs that will be ready & willing to hop onto your skin to proliferate.
One last way in which you can avoid the keeping viruses and bacteria at bay is by avoiding rubbing your eyes or nose with your hands. Yes, this will be more difficult to accomplish since it’s a habit to rub what’s itchy or sniffly.
Get your rest
Sleep is important. We say this all the time, but when your body is having to expend so much energy to simply stay healthy, your nightly rest is even more important. Sleep is an important practice for identifying any develop[ing infection. Your body produces cytokines in your sleep, which are your body’s way of regulating immunity and inflammation. When you short yourself of your 7-8 hours of sleep, your body can’t recharge in the way it was designed to. So, it becomes more susceptible to getting sick.
Sleep apnea can also play a role in this immune system decline as it reduces your body’s ability to actually fight off infection as effectively since it inhibits fewer soldiering T-cells to be generated in your sleep.
In conclusion, the steps are simple, but the end-result means so much more during the cold weather season. Take care of your body so your body can take care of you.