Can sudden changes in temperature really make us sick?
Everyone has received that classic maternal warning that says: Take a jacket, because it will get cold. Likewise, everyone has ignored the warning at least once and regretted it later, luckily not getting a toast cold from the situation.
Unsurprisingly, even for experts, falling temperatures make us more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu. The fact is that change itself does not cause disease, but the conditions it creates make contagion much easier.
Anything is possible until proven otherwise, right? Therefore, a meta-analysis was carried out in 2002, in which researchers came to the conclusion that simply being exposed to a cold environment does not make one more susceptible to a cold. The major problem lies in low air humidity, which is almost always associated with lower temperatures.
In an interview with The Atlantic, pulmonologist Ray Casciari said that at these times "the eyes and mucous membranes in the nose dry out, and your lungs also feel the difference, so you are much more susceptible to bacteria and viruses." Dry air's influence was confirmed by Jeffrey Shaman and his Columbia University team, who conducted a study in 2010.
At work, they compared weather and health records over a 30-year period, concluding that outbreaks of influenza were almost always accompanied by considerable drops in air humidity. The researchers themselves justify the fact by explaining that in an environment with higher air humidity particles expelled by a sick person are large, settling faster on surfaces. Dry air, on the other hand, causes these particles to break into smaller parts, which can remain suspended in the air for weeks, creating a highly contagious environment.
An effective way to try to avoid creating such favorable conditions would be through the use of humidifiers. The solution was analyzed in a study conducted in 2013 that said there was a 30% reduction in contamination risks in a controlled humidity environment. On the other hand, excess moisture can also be harmful, as in these cases mold develops more intensely.
In general, infected people begin to show symptoms of the disease only the day after the infection, but by this time they are potential transmitters, a condition that lasts approximately 1 week. However, this time may increase if the infected person is a child or a person with lower than normal immunity.
Small attitudes, such as washing your hands often and avoiding scratching your eyes and mouth, combined with vaccination, are still the best ways to prevent that annoying flu. Knowing that low humidity has a lot of influence on contagion is unlikely to make you spend an entire winter unharmed, but it can help you take more effective action in high-risk situations.
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