Health Care

It’s Not Your Imagination — Here’s Why Colder Weather Brings Illness

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There are a couple of factors at play, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes it's because we spend more time inside around other people when it's cold outside.

It makes sense that you'll be exposed to more viruses when the weather is chilly, which is why the winter months are known as "cold and flu season."

Unfortunately, it's not always easy to know what type of bug you've caught because many of the common ones have similar symptoms.

In this helpful breakdown, our experts explain the differences between the main types of winter illnesses, what to do if you catch one, and when it's time to head to your doctor for help.


If you have a dry cough that progresses into one that's full of mucus along with wheezing, fatigue, tightness in your chest, and a mild fever, you may have bronchitis.

It occurs when the air passages in your lungs become inflamed, and it's contagious.

Wash your hands frequently and avoid coughing into them and then touching things to keep it from spreading.


One of the most common winter ailments is the flu.  It's contagious and generally makes you feel awful because it affects your lungs, throat, and sinuses.

If you get it, you could experience symptoms like a high fever, body aches, chills, a cough, and a lack of energy. Influenza lasts for a week or two in most people, but severe cases could land you in the hospital if you don't rest and recover. In extreme cases, it can be fatal.

You can prevent the flu by getting a seasonal flu shot. If you get sick, speak your doctor right away. There is an antiviral treatment that can shorten your symptoms, but it needs to be taken in the 12 to 48-hour window after you first show symptoms. Only your doctor can determine if the prescription is right for you.

Otitis Media

If you have an earache that just won't stop, and are also experiencing a fever, chills, a stuffy nose, nausea, muffled hearing and drainage, then you might have Otitis Media.

This condition happens when the lining of your ear swells and builds up fluid, which causes an infection.

The treatment will vary depending on what caused the problem.  If it's bacterial, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Speak to your primary care physician if you suspect this illness so you can get started with treatment and avoid any complications. 


Pharyngitis, also known as a sore throat, happens when your pharynx gets inflamed. It's often the result of an upper respiratory infection but could have many different causes.

You could have caught a virus, or you might have a bacterial infection like strep throat.

Visit your doctor, and they will swab your throat to determine if an antibiotic will give you some relief. 


If you have a stuffy nose due to inflammation, then you might have sinusitis. The symptoms mimic a common cold, and many people actually develop sinusitis as the result of catching a cold.

The main difference is how long the symptoms will last. A cold is usually gone in about a week, but sinusitis can last for weeks or even months if you don't get it treated. 

If you have a persistent stuffy nose, visit your doctor to see if it's a bacterial infection that you can cure with a round of antibiotics.  

Upper Respiratory Infection

A URI, which is the same as a common cold, is any infection that you get in your chest and head that's caused by a virus.  It could show up in your nose, throat, head, sinuses, and ears.

It's contagious, and you can catch one if you are around someone who is sneezing, coughing, or touches you with the virus on their hands.

There isn't an antibiotic that can cure a cold but washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with others who are sick and reduce your risk from catching one.

When to See a Doctor

If you’re feeling under the weather, it’s always best to consult with your doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment plan. Some common symptoms of illnesses that require medical attention include:

  • Blue or gray lips, skin or nails

  • Chest pain

  • Cough that gets worse or becomes painful

  • Difficulty breathing/wheezing

  • Mental confusion

  • Severe headache

  • Shaking/chills

  • Skin rash

  • Temperature reaches 102F° or higher

  • Worsening earache

  • Worsening sore throat

Find a primary care physician or AdventHealth Centra Care Urgent Care location near you.

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