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New Study Explains Sickness in the Winter

There’s a reason you get colds when it’s cold out.

For decades, it’s been a generally accepted and understood notion that people get sicker when it gets colder out. Around the holidays is when cases of the flu and common cold (not to mention COVID) start ramping up, which is why medical experts usually recommend getting your yearly vaccines at the start of fall. But why exactly does this happen?

According to a new study penned by Dr. Benjamin Bleier, director of otolaryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, the cause is simple, yet unexpected. The reason you get sicker in the winter is that cold air damages the virus-busting cell response that lives in your nose. Even a slight drop in temperature kills off your vital immune cells in your nostrils, allowing disease-spreading virus and bacteria to slip right in.

“Cold air is associated with increased viral infection because you’ve essentially lost half of your immunity just by that small drop in temperature,” writes Dr. Bleier.

Normally, when your body’s immune response is triggered around your nose, your cells create extracellular vesicles, simple duplicates of themselves for viruses to latch onto, trapping them. This is why your nose gets all snotty in the winter; that snot is made up of virus-locked EVs being expelled from your body.

“EV’s can’t divide like cells can, but they are like little mini versions of cells specifically designed to go and kill these viruses,” Dr. Bleier explains. “EV’s act as decoys, so now when you inhale a virus, the virus sticks to these decoys instead of sticking to the cells.”

This landmark study is being praised by various virologists as the next big step in preventing respiratory diseases. While they’re developing new medicine, though, the best way you can prevent disease in the winter is to wear a mask. Not only do masks prevent harmful pathogens from entering your nose, they also help to keep it warm and healthy!

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