Scientists Finally Know Why People Get More Colds and Flu in Winter

When it comes to defending the body against viruses and other germs, our noses are equipped with a complex network of natural defense mechanisms. According to a study by rhinologist Dr. Benjamin Bleier, the nose produces billions upon billions of extracellular vesicles (EVs), which act like tiny warriors that swarm marauding germs and viruses before they can enter our bodies.

When under attack, the nose increases production of EVs by as much as 160%. Moreover, these EVs have many more receptors on their surface than normal cells do, making them more adept at capturing incoming viruses.

The EVs also contain micro RNA sequences which help to fight off invading germs in addition to their sticky receptors. This basically gives the nose a set of superpowers when it comes to keep us safe from potentially harmful airborne particles. However, this innate protection is vulnerable to a drop in temperature. For instance, if we were to breathe cold air for 15 minutes or longer, the intranasal environment could drop by up to 9°F (4°C). This is enough to render nearly 42% of the EVs inactive, as well as significantly reducing the effectiveness of micro RNA and receptor activity by around 50-70%.

Fortunately, masks can provide an additional layer of protection against cold air as well as direct inhalation of viruses and other particles. By wearing a mask over our face we essentially create a ‘sweater for our noses’ that helps warm up our intranasal environment and boosts its ability to repel respiratory infections.

In the future, we may even see topical nasal medications developed that help further improve this natural immune defense mechanism. By having such exposure, users can benefit from extra ‘hornets’ flying around in their mucous—ready and waiting to ward off any potential threat.

So, wearing masks seems to be a double-edged sword. In some ways it could be detrimental to our health, but in other ways it could be beneficial, at least in the wintertime.


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