By Jason Bessey, DO
Growing up, how often did an adult tell you, “Oh, you’d better bundle up if you’re going outside in this weather! You don’t want to catch a cold!” If your childhood was anything like mine, you heard that no fewer than 45 times a day all winter long. But did you know “cold weather makes you sick” is actually a myth? Here’s the scoop on that and a couple of other common wintertime health misconceptions:
Myth #1: Cold weather can make you sick
Despite being called “the common cold,” these viruses actually have nothing to do with cold temperatures. It’s true that we do tend to get more colds in the winter, but that’s actually due to people being indoors more frequently, in close proximity to one another, sharing germs. In fact, a great way to avoid winter colds is to spend more time outside. Time spent outdoors gives your body a break from indoor germs, helps reduce stress and increases oxygen and vitamin D levels in our bodies. My prescription for staying healthier through the winter: step out of your warm, cozy home every once in a while! (And I do recommend wearing a coat.)
Myth #2: Taking antibiotics will help treat a cold
Sure, having a winter cold is annoying. We tend to get sick at the worst possible times: right before a fun holiday party or during an important work project or the day we’re supposed to leave for the big family ski trip. So we head to the doctor hoping for a quick fix. In our clinic, we see a lot of patients who have heard that early antibiotics will help prevent a cold from getting worse or help shorten symptoms to last only, say, 3 days instead of 7 days. Not true, unfortunately. The fact is that most winter cold symptoms usually last 5-10 days regardless of treatment. Because colds are caused by viruses instead of by bacterial infections, antibiotics are not effective to treat them. The good news is there are some things you can do to help your body recover faster: get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids and, when needed, take over-the-counter meds to help treat bothersome symptoms like body aches, nasal congestion or cough.
Myth #3: Allergy symptoms go away in the winter
Some people think that once all of the leaves have fallen and the first hard freeze has come and gone, all allergy problems magically disappear during cold months. Sadly, no. Actually, many studies have shown that indoor allergy symptoms actually increase during the winter. During cold weather, indoor air quality can worsen because pets spend more time inside, windows stay shut and mold thrives in lower temperatures. When I see patients who have a cough or stuffy nose that lingers beyond 10-14 days, I usually recommend an over-the-counter antihistamine. If this sounds like you, it could be time to talk with a primary care physician.
Stay tuned for next week’s post, when I’ll give you tips on how to tell when you have more than just “the common cold” and when to stay home from work or school.
This weekly sponsored column is written by Jason Bessey, DO, a physician at Shawnee Mission Primary Care – Blue Valley. Dr. Bessey and his wife, Lauren Bessey, DO, are passionate about overall wellness and they treat patients of all ages at their south Johnson County office. SMPC-Blue Valley is temporarily located inside Centra Care Shawnee Mission Urgent Care near 135th & Antioch; in March, the practice will move to Shawnee Mission Health’s new Overland Park campus near 159th & 69 Highway. To make an appointment with either Dr. Jason or Dr. Lauren, visit SMPC-Blue Valley’s website or call the office at 913-373-2230.