Staying Healthy in the Dry Air of Winter

Health Minute

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Those nagging winter health issues, perhaps even the flu can be blamed on the state of the air you breathe.

Conditions like sore throat, dry skin, and sinusitis can all be caused, or aggravated by, the low humidity that’s associated with winter, according to the American Academy of Family PhysiciansOff Site Icon (AAFP).  

The fall and winter months are the time that illnesses such as flu commonly occur, according to the AAFP. Cold, dry air can cause the skin to dry and crack, and the lack of moisture can irritate or inflame the membranes of the throat and nose.

Research Suggests Connection Between Dry Air and Flu

Winter months are peak times for the spread of influenza, a phenomenon that health care professionals believe is related to cool air temperatures in which the virus can thrive, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). Another belief is that the virus spreads faster in cooler weather because more people spend greater amounts of time indoors, facilitating the spread of the flu bug.

However, a recent study may connect flu outbreaks to dry air, according to the NIH. The study, conducted by Oregon State University in collaboration with the NIH’s Fogarty International Center, set out to test the theory that drops in humidity could be connected to flu outbreaks.

For the study, researchers analyzed influenza deaths over a period of 31 years and compared the absolute humidity measurements taken during the surrounding time periods. The study found that absolute humidity, the amount of water vapor in the air, dropped significantly in the weeks preceding each flu outbreak, according to the NIH.

While the drop in humidity was not needed for the flu outbreak to occur, researchers believe that the relationship may be used to help predict when future outbreaks may happen, according to the NIH.  

Prevention and Treatment of Dry-Weather Health Conditions

Other factors, such as bacteria and virus, bring on conditions like sore throat, dry skin, sinusitis or flu, according to the AAFP. Still, preventive methods like controlling air conditions may lower the chances of contracting some maladies, or treating their symptoms.

According to the AAFP, these are some ways to stave off certain illnesses, or manage them once they occur:

Dry skin

  • Stay covered in the outdoors; wear gloves, scarves, and long sleeves to cover exposed skin
  • Use humidifiers in the home to increase moisture in the air
  • Use hypoallergenic moisturizers to treat dry, itchy skin
  • Take shorter baths and showers with lukewarm water and mild soap; apply lotions or creams after you bathe to lock the moisture into your skin

Sinusitis

  • Drink plenty of fluids, including hot liquids
  • Use a warm, wet towel on your face to apply moist heat to relieve sinus pressure and open your passages

Sore throat and dry cough

  • Gargle with warm salt water (one teaspoon of salt per eight ounces of water)
  • Drink plenty of liquids to keep your body hydrated
  • Lubricate your throat by eating lozenges, hard candy, or frozen desserts
  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom or other rooms of the house where you spend a lot of time

Find more information about health issues related to winter conditions and low humidity, or find a physician.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.