For years, many people believed that cold and flu season happened during the cooler weather months because we spend more time inside together in poorly ventilated spaces. However, recent research suggests that in fact, the cooler weather inhibits the immune system.
One in five people carry the rhinovirus – the most frequent cause of the common cold – in their nasal passages at any one time. Usually, our immune system is strong enough to stop the virus in its tracks. However, scientists have found that when the core body temperature inside the nose falls by five degrees, the immune system struggles to fight back against the intruder.
So, your mother was right when she told you to bundle up when you go outside. Wearing a scarf over your nose may not stop the virus from entering your body, but it could increase your immune system’s ability to put up a good fight. In general, the lower the temperature, it seems the lower the immune response to viruses.
In the past, researchers were convinced that the rhinovirus replicates more readily in the slightly cooler environment of the nasal cavity than in the warmer lungs. However, those studies focused on how body temperature influenced the virus itself as opposed to the immune system.
The current research suggests that varying temperatures influenced the immune response rather than the virus itself. Scientists found that with immune deficiencies, the virus was able to replicate more efficiently at a lower temperature. Researchers hope that these findings could also help explain how temperature affects immune response to other conditions, such as asthma. Although the common cold is usually nothing more than some congestion and a runny nose for many people, it can cause severe breathing problems for those with asthma.
So, as the temperatures begin to drop this fall, remember to bundle up and keep yourself warm. It may just help you ward off that next cold.