(Arizona's Weather Authority) -- The cold and flu viruses have hit Arizona hard this year. Did you know that colder weather means you're more likely to get sick? There are two main reasons for this.
First, while being cold does not actually make you sick, exposure to cold and dry air can weaken your immune system. At the same time, viruses like influenza tend to spread more easily in a dry and cold air mass. People also tend to spend more time inside and in closer proximity to each other during the winter months, leading to the quicker spread of these viruses. However, this probably applies more to other, much colder and snowier states than Arizona.
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Colder air can also be responsible for more asthma attacks this time of year, thanks to air pollution. In the Valley, we get wintertime pollution that creates that visible "brown cloud." Colder air often gets trapped near the surface by a layer of warmer air aloft during the morning hours, and that traps pollutants like dust and smoke near the surface, as well. Historically, this has been especially bad on Christmas Day, after many people light fires for Christmas Eve, and on New Year's Day, when firework smoke often lingers and gets trapped near the surface. Doctors often report a spike in breathing troubles and asthma attacks during poor air quality episodes like these.
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For many, allergies aren't as bad during the wintertime season, but for those who do battle allergies to things like cedar and certain grasses, winter allergies can lead to other health issues like sinus infections in adults and ear infections in children. Left untreated, allergies can weaken your overall immune system, making you more susceptible to picking up other illnesses. Sleep deprivation -- whether that's due to allergies or holiday stress -- can put you at higher risk for illness.
"If you're not sleeping well, you're not getting that restful sleep, and there's not time for the body to regenerate," Dr. Joseph Mittel of Arizona Asthma and Allergy Institute told me. "You are going to get more sick, and we do see that a lot with kids. They cough all night, and then the parents want to know why the kids keep getting sick."
Did you know that a drop in barometric pressure can also affect your health? When areas of low pressure arrive in Arizona, Dr. Kerry Knievel at Barrow Neurological Institute tells me that her migraine patients can tell. "When the weather changes, when the barometric pressure changes, our phones start ringing off the hook," she says. Pressure changes in our atmosphere can also make your joints aches. It's why some people say they can feel it in their bones when a storm is coming.
So, how can we stay well this winter? I recently went down to Tucson to interview Dr. Charles Gerba, better known as "Dr. Germ." I learned SO much from the stories I put together with him for GMAZ.
Gerba says cold and flu viruses can live for up to two days on surfaces like your fridge handle. In fact, he says once someone brings that virus home, it will likely be on 90% of the surfaces in your house within four hours! He highly recommends wiping your surfaces, especially fridge handles and microwave handles/panels, daily with a disinfectant wipes. I've been pretty adamant about doing that in our house this winter, and yet we've still passed around a stomach bug and strep! Sometimes those winter viruses are just impossible to avoid with kids in school and holiday travel.
Fingers crossed for healthier days ahead as we get closer to spring!