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When Fall Brings More Than Just Cooler Air

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Temperatures are starting to drop, leaves are changing and pumpkin spice is everywhere you look. For many, fall is the best time of year, a time that brings football, hoodies and Halloween. But for those with chronic illnesses, or those who are immunocompromised, fall can mean something entirely different. Fall means that the cold and flu season is upon us, and we have to be more vigilant than ever to make sure we protect ourselves from illness. It almost seems unfair that we have to say goodbye to the wonderful summer temperatures and longer days, and also welcome the cooler temperatures that often bring increased pain and illness.

As we welcome the fall, we also have to be prepared for all the germs that come with the change in seasons. We have to be proactive and do all we can to stay healthy. Some will argue that people and their germs make people sick, and not the change in temperatures, while others disagree and say it is the change in temperatures that cause the illness. This age-old argument will continue until the end of time, but the nerd in me finds it interesting to see what science has to say. Research shows the viruses that cause people to get sick with things like the rhinovirus (the common cold) or influenza are spread more easily when air conditions are more cool and dry. The cold air also causes your nasal passages to dry out more quickly, so the viruses are able to more easily adhere to the dry nasal passages and multiply. They quickly spread all through your body and make you feel sick. So technically it’s not the air temperature that makes you sick. But that cooler or colder air sure plays a big part in you getting sick.

As it gets cooler, people are more apt to stay inside, thus putting them in closer contact with other people. Close proximity is never a good idea as it gets colder because of the higher rates of infections in colder months. When there are more people in closer spaces, you are more likely to get sick and get sick more often. That’s once reason why if you have kiddos in daycare or school you will see a rise in illnesses during periods of colder temperatures. This is also partially due to the fact that they aren’t able to go outside. And of course because everything goes into little ones’ mouths, as well as the fact that they don’t have the best hand hygiene.

Rates of contagious illnesses are going to be found in higher rates in areas where people live or play in higher proximity to one another. So places like college dorms, nursing homes, prisons, daycares, schools or even hospitals, simply because people are in close contact with a large number of others. Germs spread more easily when it’s colder, even when it seems like every precaution is taken to prevent the spread from happening. In fact, this is the main reason why you may see hospitals or nursing homes put visitor restrictions in place during cold and flu season, preventing anyone under fourteen or anyone who has symptoms of a cold or flu-like illness from visiting patients in the facility. Those individuals are more likely to spread the colds and flu bugs to those in the hospital or nursing homes, which could be deadly for some.

People who have any chronic conditions like fibromyalgia, lupus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma can be affected by changes in seasons and temperatures. Significant changes in the air temperature can cause asthma flares, as well as flares in pain. A person with underlying asthma or COPD may not be actually sick, but as the seasons change and the temperatures drop, their symptoms may actually look like they have an infection due to inflammation. Those with chronic pain may often be impacted by changes in temperature and/or barometric pressure. If you have any kind of pain-causing conditions like arthritis, lupus or fibromyalgia, chances are you will have increased pain when the weather starts getting cold. The more you pay attention to the weather and your health, the more you will be be prepared and be able to effectively handle your health properly.

No matter the cause of your symptoms, whether they are from a cold, the flu or even seasonal allergies, there are ways you can prevent those germs from spreading and to keep you and your family as healthy as completely possible:

  • Hand washing. This is the simplest way to prevent the spread of germs. One key point to remember is that you need to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds under hot water. Also, the other thing people often don’t think about is that you should never touch the handle to turn off the sink, or open any public bathroom door with your bare hand. Doing so negates washing your hands completely. So always use a paper towel to turn off the sink and open the bathroom door. Make sure you are washing your hands before and after preparing food, as well as before eating, after using the bathroom and changing a diaper. Also, if your skin gets dry due to the colder temps and frequent washing, use a moisturizing lotion to avoid cracks in the skin.
  • Avoid touching your face. Do your best to try to avoid touching your face. It is hard, but it is also the main way that we become ill, as germs enter our body through our eyes, mouth or nose. When you have germs on your hands, you can easily infect yourself when you touch your face with your hands. Teach your kids to try to avoid touching their faces when you are out in public or around those that you know are sick.
  • Use hand sanitizer. If you can’t actually wash your hands with soap and water, the next best option is hand sanitizer. If you are out to eat, shopping  (or anywhere really), you are always coming in contact with germs. Using hand sanitizer is a good quick option until you can get to a sink and wash with soap and water!
  • Get your flu shot. This is controversial, but getting the shot will not give you the flu. While it’s not always 100 percent effective, it will lessen the effects of the flu should you get it. To me, it’s worth getting it if it will lessen the impact it will have on me if I should get it.

Doing these things will not guarantee that you won’t get sick, but they will lessen your chances of catching something. What can you do about your chronic Illness to prevent your condition from getting any worse, or from having a flare during the fall? Well, there are several things. First, you should continue with whatever you do as maintenance for your condition. Continuing that plan of care will help minimize the effects you experience when the weather changes do happen. Next, as mentioned above, you should get a flu shot. I realize that is controversial and not all people will agree with me on that. Research shows that the vaccine won’t protect a person from every respiratory illness, but it will protect you and those around you from getting the flu. Even if you aren’t in a high-risk group, the flu is still very highly contagious and you could potentially pass it on before you even feel like or know you are sick. Those around you, as well as those who are around high risk groups should also get their shots to help protect their loved ones.

While I love fall and just about all things it brings, the colder weather is not really something I enjoy. Isn’t it nice to know there is an actual link between the colder weather and your increased pain and cold symptoms? While the colder weather may not directly cause the increase in symptoms, it is nice to know there is a reason. While fall brings a lot of good things like all things pumpkin, football and the ability to wear sweatshirts, it also is the beginning of cold and flu season. So remember to always wash your hands, carry your hand sanitizer and get the flu shot! Do your best to keep you and your family healthy through the fall so you can enjoy all the good things.

With Love,


Getty image via Everste.

Originally published: October 11, 2019
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