Winter's Effects on the Ear, Nose and Throat

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December has arrived, and in most places, that means cold weather is also here to stay. When temperatures drop, many people experience ear, nose and throat pain. However, it's important to know if the symptoms we experience are associated with winter-time or are illnesses and infections. 

 Common Misconceptions:

  • Cold weather causes ear infections
    • It turns out that bacteria are actually the root of the problem--they travel up the Eustachian Tube (the connection between the ears and the upper respiratory system) and infect the middle ear. 
  • You shouldn't exercise outside when it's cold
    • A 2006 paper from the ACSM reported that "cold weather is not a barrier to performing physical activity." In fact, exercising in cold weather poses no health risk to a generally healthy person.  
  • If my nose is runny in the winter, this means I have a cold or am sick
    • Not necessarily, your nose becomes runny as a natural process of warming cold air. Your nose warms and humidifies the air entering your body as a process to prepare it for the lungs. Breathing out also produces moisture (think about how you can see your breath when it's cold) but when you breathe out of your nose, the warm air also condenses and turns into liquid in your nose. 

What causes the common cold, and why is it more prevalent in the winter?

Instead of there being one "cold" bacteria or virus, there is actually a multitude of viruses that cause cold-like symptoms. Rhinovirus is the most common source.

Interestingly, it is not the temperature that causes your cold. It is our behavior when the temperature drops. We stay indoors with recycled air and in close quarters with each other, sneezing, or coughing which all spread germs. 

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