Cold snap: symptoms, causes and treatment

“I caught cold !” Does this expression speak to you? Cold snap is the term commonly used to designate minor winter illnesses. Symptoms, causes, contagiousness and treatment… The point with Dr Karim Bessalem, general practitioner practicing in Vincennes.

Covid, flu, colds, coughs… winter illnesses threaten your health. How to avoid these viral infections and boost your immune defences? Can the famous “cold snap” be avoided by favoring warm clothes or the use of essential oils? Discover our tips for spending a top winter for you and your children.

Cold snap, what is it?

Sore throat, runny nose, sure, you caught a cold last night from bad weather when you had nothing on your skin. Think again ! The “cold snap” that we often talk about in winter, does not exist as such in medicine, despite the popular expression.

While it is true that we fall ill more easily in winter, it is not the cold temperatures that make us sick, even if the latter weaken our organism which, in fact, is more vulnerable to the viral diseases that circulate in winter according to a recent American study1. “That is, infections such as flu, colds, angina, nasopharyngitis, laryngitis, tracheitis, bronchitis or covid. There is also gastroenteritis”lists Dr. Karim Bessalem.

Hypothermia, cold snap: not to be confused

Did you know ? In medical language, a cold snap does not indicate a winter virus, but a situation of hypothermia, when the body temperature drops below 35° due to prolonged exposure to cold. A troubling cooling phenomenon that can lead to chills, hypotension, tachycardia, decreased heart rate, loss of consciousness, and which should be clearly distinguished from a simple cold snap !

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What are the symptoms ?

Viral diseases associated with cold snap are manifested by flu-like conditions that impact the ENT system and mucous membranes : a feeling of cold, a runny nose, a cough, a sore throat, a change in your voice or a fever. Sometimes aches throughout the body can occur. “In the case of a digestive infection such as gastroenteritis, these symptoms may be accompanied by abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.adds the practitioner.

What are the causes of cold snap?

Viruses spread more in cold period only in spring or summer. This is not directly linked to lower temperatures, although it is true that the cold weakens the immune defenses and therefore makes the body more susceptible to contracting a virus.

But then, how do you catch a cold snap? According to the general practitioner, the cold snap is explained rather by the context of promiscuity in winter. “The germ that we catch is on the spot and does not come from outside, except for hand-carried viruses. In the cold season, we are closer to each other, locked in a closed and poorly ventilated place, which increases the risk of contamination.” Let’s add that excessively dry air linked to heating can make our ENT mucosa more fragile and susceptible to viruses.

Protect your nose from the cold

American researchers have discovered that the cold would be able to neutralize the first line of defense of our body against a virus, located at the level of the nose. They analyzed how the cells in the front of the nose behave in the presence of a virus.

At this point, the cells lining the nose immediately begin to make billions of copies of themselves called extracellular vesicles. The researchers estimate this increase in production at a level of 160%.

But what happens in cold weather? To find out, scientists exposed four study participants to a temperature of 4.4 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes (40 degrees Fahrenheit), then took measurements inside their nasal cavities. Results: “What we found is that when you’re exposed to cold air, the temperature in your nose can drop by as much as 9 degrees. And that’s enough to (…) nearly eliminate 42% of extracellular vesicles” specify the authors.

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Cold air is therefore associated with a great loss of immune defences. Hence the importance of keeping this part of our body warm! More information on “Colds, flu… why and how do you catch cold?

How long does a cold snap last?

A cold snap or at least a winter virus lasts until the immune system fights it off and allows it to heal, which is between 2 and 10 days. “Generally, a viral illness lasts about a week”indicates the health professional.

Respiratory complications in particular, or infections can also occur. In this case, if the flu-like state continues and the sick person does not feel any improvement, it is recommended to consult their doctor to decide on an appropriate treatment.

Is cold snap contagious?

Since cold snaps are not, and are, in fact, winter viruses, the question of contagion is central. “Respiratory viruses are very contagious and are transmitted by aerosols or by hand-borne transmission..” That is to say, they contaminate via droplets in the air or through the hands. And benign viruses in adults – such as rhinoviruses – can have serious consequences on the most fragile Hence the importance of properly carrying out the barrier gestures: “Regular hand washing, wearing a mask, but also ventilating your interior frequently to renew the air” recommend the doctor. Even if (and especially if) the weather observes a cooling.

What treatment should be adopted in the event of a cold snap?

A cold snap of viral origin does not require any particular treatment, except for rest. “We will rather treat the symptoms and not the cause.says Dr. Bessalem.

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The panoply against the cold snap? “An analgesic for headaches and an antitussive or mucolytic syrup to lessen the cough and prevent bronchial secretions; you can also prescribe antibiotics to lower the fever, and nose washes with saline or a seawater-based spray.”

In case of gastroenteritis, an adapted diet, good hydration, as well as digestive dressings or antidiarrheals can help to better live this cold snap.

Otherwise, you can always resort to a natural remedy, such as essential oils inhaled, effective for clear the airways. 2 drops of ravinstara or tea tree essential oil in a bowl of warm water should relieve ENT infections.

That said, these answers to fight against winter viruses should not prevent you from covering yourself and your children with warm clothes during the winter season!

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