Winter is the perfect time to stay inside and cozy up next to the heater with a good book. It’s also the time of year you’re most likely to catch the flu or a cold. Shopping malls, restaurants, and other people’s homes—all the entertaining places people frequent when the weather is terrible—can expose you to germs that recirculate through heating systems. Here are several common cold weather illnesses to be aware of this season.
The number one illness people think of when the temperatures start to drop is the dreaded common cold, a viral infection that affects your nose and throat. While the infection itself is usually harmless, it can be quite annoying. Typically, these symptoms start to emerge within one to three days of exposure to a cold virus:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Low-grade fever
Because the infection is viral and not bacterial, antibiotics won’t do any good when treating a cold. Instead, drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of sleep, and use over-the-counter pain and cough medicines to manage your symptoms. Make an appointment to see your doctor if your symptoms persist or worsen.
Influenza is another common viral infection that attacks your respiratory system. Like the common cold, this infection typically resolves itself within a couple of weeks. But for higher-risk people, influenza can cause complications and develop into pneumonia, bronchitis, or lead to asthma flare-ups. Here are some common symptoms of the illness:
- Fever over 100.4
- Muscle aches
- Chills and sweats
- Fatigue and weakness
- Sore throat
If you can, get an influenza vaccine at the start of flu season in order to lessen the chances of contracting the infection. But if you do come down with it, be sure to get plenty of rest, use acetaminophen and ibuprofen to control fevers, wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading germs, and drink fluids.
Cold weather tends to exacerbate asthma. When a person has asthma, his or her airways swell up and become inflamed in response to certain triggers. In the winter, the air is drier, easily irritating your throat and airways and leaving them swollen. During this time of year, you also produce more mucus that is thicker and stickier than normal, making you more prone to catching a cold or other infection.
If you are someone who already suffers from asthma, take some precautions when winter rolls around. Stay inside when the weather dips below 10 degrees, drink extra fluids, make sure to get your flu vaccine, and keep up with preventative dusting and other cleaning to help keep asthma attacks to a minimum. If you’re planning to be outside for an extended period of time, keep your mouth covered to help keep the air you breathe warm.
Bronchitis—inflammation of the bronchial tubes—is another common winter ailment. Bronchitis is a viral illness that occurs when cold or flu viruses infect the lower respiratory track. Bronchitis causes a deep cough that is often productive of mucus and wheezing. Bronchitis is famous for causing a prolonged cough. The median duration of cough for a person with bronchitis is 18 days. Some people with prolonged or severe cough benefit from medications prescribed by a doctor. Keep an eye out for common signs of the illness:
- Production of mucus or phlegm
- Chest pain due to coughing
- Low fever or chills
Not all winter illnesses clear up on their own. Pneumonia is a serious infection of the lungs that causes them to fill up with fluid or pus and is caused by bacteria, a virus, or fungi. The most common of the three causes is bacteria, so the resulting infection is usually treated with an antibiotic. If you’ve come down with a cold or influenza and suspect you have developed pneumonia, head to the doctor right away to receive proper care. Symptoms of pneumonia can include:
- Coughing that might produce phlegm
- Fever, sweating, or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Last, but certainly not least during the winter months, be aware of hypothermia. The condition is caused by exposure to cold weather or cold water and can develop if you’re not properly dressed to be in the cold for prolonged periods of time. With temperatures sometimes dropping well below zero in Minnesota, it’s critical to take precautions if you need to go outside for any reason. Watch for signs of hypothermia in yourself and in friends when spending time outdoors this winter:
- Weak pulse
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Bright, red skin (in infants)
Seek medical care immediately if you suspect you or someone, you’re with has hypothermia. If you are unable to get to the emergency room or are waiting for an ambulance, keep the person warm with a blanket, provide warm non-alcoholic and caffeine-free drinks, and monitor their heartbeat and breathing. Don’t use direct heat to warm them up, as it can damage skin and cause irregular heartbeats.
Treat Your Illness at The Urgency Room
Whether you’re suffering from a common cold or a bad case of bronchitis, no one likes to be out of commission for too long. Head to your nearest Urgency Room to be treated by a board-certified emergency physician. Conveniently open 365 days a year, we boast locations in Eagan, Woodbury, and Vadnais Heights. Don’t spend hours in the waiting room—let us help you get back on your feet!