Every season has its unique weather, festivals, dressing styles, and food, along with all these positive changes we encounter different winter diseases that are common to a particular season.
Winter is just around the corner, and along with the chilly winds and silent nights, it has brought along some of its common winter illnesses too – which we come across every year.
In today’s blog, we will be discussing some of the most common winter illnesses that over the years have become a constant part of this winter season – affecting anyone who does not take the cold seriously, or suffer from a weak immune system.
What Causes Winter Illnesses?
Winter diseases are more common due to increased viral transmission in close indoor spaces, weakened immune responses from reduced sunlight and cold stress, and the prevalence of seasonal viruses like influenza and cold viruses. Poor indoor air quality and dry winter air also contribute to the spread of infections, which eventually leads to the most commonly occurring cold weather sickness.
Common Winter Illnesses
Here, Manhattan Medical Arts has tried to shed light on the most common winter illnesses that we tend to meet every year.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, vital air passages connecting the windpipe to the lungs. Typically caused by viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, winter’s cold and dry air can exacerbate bronchitis symptoms. The inflammation results in increased production of mucus, leading to a persistent winter cough, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, and sometimes mild fever.
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort
- Mild fever
2. The Flu:
Flu is one of the most common and highly contagious of winter illnesses. It is a viral winter sickness caused by the influenza virus, and has three types: Type 1 can be seen affecting the animals too, like ducks, chicken, horses, pigs, etc. – whereas type 2 is restricted to humans only. Type 1 and 2 cause infections on a large scale, while type 3 has a mild outbreak of symptoms. It has similar symptoms as the common cold but much more severe in intensity.
It can be transmitted by in-person contact and respiratory droplets. This virus can transfer from a person through cough or sneezing. The virus enters your body when you touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with virus-infected hands. Hence, washing your hands is recommended, at regular intervals.
A survey shows that in the United States about 5 to 20% of individuals get affected by the infection, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized, and 36,000 deaths have been reported annually. Infants, young children, older people, and immunocompromised patients are at a greater risk.
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- High-grade fever
- Sore throat
- Pain in the body
Whooping Cough (Pertussis):
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Winter’s close quarters and increased indoor activities contribute to its transmission. The infection is characterized by severe and prolonged coughing fits, often accompanied by a distinctive “whooping” sound during inhalation. Other symptoms include vomiting and exhaustion.
- Intense coughing fits
- A “whooping” sound during inhalation
RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus):
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common respiratory pathogen that can cause infections ranging from mild cold-like symptoms to more severe respiratory distress, particularly in infants and older adults. Winter’s dry and cold air can create favorable conditions for RSV transmission. Symptoms include winter cough, runny nose, fever, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing (especially in infants and older adults)
Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis):
Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva—the thin, clear tissue covering the white part of the eye. Winter’s dry air, coupled with increased indoor activities, facilitates the spread of this highly contagious winter sickness. Symptoms encompass redness, itching, tearing, and a discharge from the eyes.
- Discharge from the eyes
Sinus Infection (Sinusitis):
Sinusitis is the inflammation of the sinus cavities, often triggered by respiratory infections, such as the common cold. Winter’s dry air can irritate the nasal passages, contributing to sinus problems. Symptoms include facial pain or pressure, nasal congestion, headache, and thick nasal discharge.
- Facial pain/pressure
- Nasal congestion
- Thick nasal discharge
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by the Group A Streptococcus bacteria. Winter’s colder temperatures and crowded indoor environments enhance the likelihood of its transmission. The infection manifests with a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, red and swollen tonsils, fever, and headache.
- Sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Red and swollen tonsils
Common cold is a highly contagious upper respiratory tract infection. Unlike flu, it can be caused by 200 different viruses. The most common of them are rhinovirus, parainfluenza virus, coronavirus, and respiratory syncytial virus. Among them, 50% of common cold outbreaks are caused by rhinovirus only, and the body is unable to protect itself from this virus because it has 100 different forms.
The virus enters the body through the nose, eyes, and mouth. It resides in the mucous lining of the nasal and throat cavities, and can be cured within 10 days although it doesn’t have any vaccinations. Maintaining personal hygiene and clean surroundings are advised during the winter to avoid the common cold. Children, older people, and immune-depressed people are prone to it.
It has similar symptoms to the the flu but is not as severe as the flu. It can have complications like otitis media and sinusitis.
Stomach flu is one of the commone viral winter diseases. Norovirus is the causative agent for stomach flu. Norovirus is the most recurrent cause of food-borne gastroenteritis and severe diarrheal disease in children and adults. It causes inflammation of the mucous lining of the stomach, affecting epithelial cells and lymphocytes. It is estimated that norovirus is the reason for 200,000 deaths in children annually. Before norovirus, rotavirus was common for gastroenteritis but its vaccine has suppressed its occurrence in the United States.
Norovirus is transmitted by fecal-oral route; you can get infected by the virus if you ingest food or water contaminated by norovirus. Since it is one of the food-borne winter diseases, people in restaurants are more prone to it. People who take care of infected people can also get infected. Outbreaks usually occur at public gatherings, since the transmission also takes place directly from person to person. The virus appears in the stool of an infected person even before the appearance of symptoms.
Some patients might also manifest signs such as:
- Meningeal irritation
- Lack of interest in the environment
Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. During winter, viral pneumonia is often more prevalent. Cold temperatures and the flu season contribute to its spread. Pneumonia occurs when the air sacs in the lungs become filled with pus and other liquid, making it harder to breathe.
According to a study, Pneumonia is responsible for 15% of all deaths of children under 5 years of age, killing nearly 808,694 children. It can be transmitted by inspiring the infected air or via body fluids, especially from mother to fetus during delivery. Pneumonia can be caused by several different organisms, including, bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Streptococcus pneumonia is a bacterium that is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia can develop itself after infection to streptococcus pneumonia or progress after viral cold or flu. Other bacteria responsible for pneumonia are Mycoplasma pneumonia, Chlamydophila pneumonia, and Legionella pneumophila.
The influenza virus is the key factor for viral pneumonia in adults, whereas, the respiratory syncytial virus is responsible for pneumonia in children.
Pneumocystis pneumonia is a grave fungal infection that prevails among patients who have an impaired immune system. In the United States, Coccidioidomycosis, Histoplasmosis, and Cryptococcus are also the reason for fungal pneumonia.
- Cough with mucus
- Pain in the chest when you breathe or cough
- High-grade fever
- Rigor and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Obtundation in older patients
Winter diseases can spread easily because we stay indoors more and the air gets dry. Understanding these winter illnesses and their symptoms allows us to adopt proactive measures in a timely manner. By practicing good hygiene, maintaining indoor air quality, and prioritizing our overall health, we can navigate the winter season without getting affected by cold weather sickness.
If you experience symptoms of any of the above-mentioned winter sicknesses, make sure to get in touch with your healthcare provider right away, or schedule an appointment with our board-certified experts at Manhattan Medical Arts.
– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.
About The AuthorDr. Syra Hanif M.D.
Board Certified Primary Care Physician
Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.Read More