We’ve all come down with the sniffles when the weather changes drastically. And the timing isn’t exactly a coincidence or an old wive’s tale; you’re getting sick for a reason—and here’s why.
1. Major drops in temperature
“The main weather changes that can set you up for illness would include severe changes in temperature,” says Mark Sherwood, ND, author of Fork Your Diet and co-founder of the Functional Medical Institute in Tulsa, OK. The main culprit: temperatures that go from warm to cold.
Not only does frigid weather restrict blood flow and narrow blood vessels, but in colder conditions, our immune systems may actually be less capable of fighting off the common cold (also referred to as rhinovirus), according to a 2014 study out of Yale University, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that at body temperature, antiviral proteins could keep rhinoviruses at bay. When temperatures were lowered to just 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit, however, the researchers saw that cells’ defense was far weaker, making it easier for the rhinovirus to take hold.
2. Environmental pollutants
If the wind has picked up, you might also be at risk of respiratory symptoms. That’s because winds bringing in dust and other pollutants can affect your lungs and sinuses, notes Dr. Sherwood.
A variety of issues—from respiratory illness to heightened trouble for asthmatics—may stem from winds. Research published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research notes that climate change and climatic factors (think: temperature, wind speed, humidity, thunderstorms) can trigger respiratory allergies and asthma.
3. A change in barometric pressure
If you feel a headache come on suddenly, it may be due to the weather—specifically, the barometric pressure, or an increase in air pressure. “The theory behind higher barometric pressure or changing weather as it relates to headaches is the belief that the headaches are a protective mechanism against adverse environmental stressors,” explains Dr. Sherwood. And, according to Internal Medicine, there’s a direct correlation between barometric pressure and migraines.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these kinds of weather changes may cause imbalances in brain chemicals like serotonin—which can also set off a migraine. For some migraine sufferers, weather changes may be enough to warrant staying inside or changing plans around in order to avoid the potential of a debilitating headache or migraine.
But It’s Not Just Colds That Weather changes Can Cause…
Ever had a little extra knee pain, say, when it rains? According to a study in Proceedings of the Western Pharmacology Society, plenty of people attribute joint pain to weather conditions. In a study including 92 patients with rheumatic disorders (80 with osteoarthritis and 12 with rheumatoid arthritis) compared to a control group of 42 subjects, it was found that weather variables (like temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure) caused increased joint pain.
Specifically, less barometric pressure and lower temperature equal more joint pain. Thus, if possible, you may want to modulate your response to pain (for example, taking meds) when the weather changes.
Keeping your immune system strong can help
Ultimately, no matter what kind of climate you live in, you’re bound to encounter weather shifts that may affect your wellness. Thankfully, keeping your immune system firing on all cylinders can make you less likely to suffer the consequences of a changing weather pattern.
“The absolute best [way] to boost your immune system is to consume six to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables during the day,” says Dr. Sherwood. Why? Antioxidant-packed produce can boost your ability to keep viruses and other health issues at bay. If that many servings of fruits and veggies sounds unrealistic, there are many dietary supplements that can help support immune health.
Also useful: Getting a good night’s sleep, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, will bolster your body’s ability to produce infection-fighting antibodies and cells.