17:10 PM

Cold weather makes you sick. And other health myths.



We’re here to dispel five common winter health myths to help you stay healthy this season.

Forecasters say the La Niña weather pattern could return this winter, and that could mean a replay of last year’s above average temperatures. But before storing those parkas for the season, remember that February 2021 was also the snowiest on record in North New Jersey.

Weather is unpredictable, but it’s safe to say we may once again be looking at big shifts from warm and sunny to cold and snowy. Will this topsy-turvy season also wreak havoc on our health? It’s true many of us tend to get sick during the winter months, but it’s not always for the reasons people think.

Here are five winter health myths that deserve to be put on ice: 

1. Cold weather makes you sick.

As the temperatures plummet, bundling up will make you feel comfortably warm, but it won’t protect you from the viruses and germs that cause illnesses like the common cold.

In fact, many experts believe that more people get sick during cold weather because the low temperatures force people indoors where it’s easier to exchange germs. Plus, cold weather can also dry out nasal passages, limiting the body’s ability to filter out infections.

One interesting point: While the cold itself can’t make you sick, fluctuations in weather can make some health conditions worse. Research has shown that rapid shifts between warmer and colder weather can trigger migraines, exacerbate asthma symptoms, and worsen sleep apnea or arthritis.

2. Be wary of exercising outside.

Unless you have significant health issues, there’s no reason to let a cold day put a damper on your physical activity. But it’s a good idea to do some warm-up exercises inside for a few minutes and dress properly.

This leads us to another myth: that your body heat escapes mainly through your head. Just like any other body part, your head will make you feel colder if it’s left exposed. So make sure your workout routine includes a hat – and warm clothes for the rest of your body, too.

3. The flu shot can give you the flu.

The quick answer: not true. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), flu shots are either made with an inactive form of the virus or no flu virus at all. Both shots could cause minor side effects that can be mistaken for the flu, but you won’t get the actual flu.

The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months should get the flu shot every year with rare exceptions. Why? In recent years, there have been tens of thousands of flu cases annually in the state. While last year saw a sharp decrease in cases, there are indications this season could return to normal.

4. Sunscreen isn’t needed in the winter.

The sky may be overcast, but the sun is still there. Up to 80 percent of the sun's rays can penetrate clouds. Besides, UVA rays are still present in winter, possibly damaging the outer layers of skin and increasing the risk of skin cancer.

And if there’s snow on the ground, there’s even more reason to apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30. The snow reflects and intensifies the sunlight.

5. Don’t worry about allergies until the spring.

Scratchy throat, runny nose, watery eyes? It may not be a cold, but winter allergies. Spending more time indoors means more exposure to indoor allergens, such as airborne dust particles, pet dander and mold.

During winter, people with allergies may be more likely to have sinus symptoms. Otherwise, many winter allergy symptoms are the same as those from other seasonal allergies. And so are the ways to prevent or treat them, such as taking allergy medicines, using a humidifier, and keeping your household as dust-free as possible.


Finding the right care

When Horizon members do feel crummy this winter, consider contacting your primary care physician (PCP). Your PCP likely knows your health history the best and can help treat many winter-related conditions, such as colds and allergies, or provide the flu or COVID-19 vaccine. PCPs can also coordinate any type of specialized care for members, including mental health support. Find a Horizon in-network PCP here.

One more option for minor illnesses is telemedicine. Eligible members can use Horizon CareOnline℠*to talk with a U.S. board-certified, licensed doctor via video, chat or phone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no appointment needed. Find out more here.

If you have an injury that requires immediate care – perhaps a sled that went a bit too fast – then consider visiting an urgent care center (UCC). Many times, this option is closer than an ER and can provide timely, cost-effective care. To find out if a UCC makes more sense than visiting an ER, check out this article.

Whatever winter has in store for New Jersey this year, Horizon members can count on us to be with them, come snow or shine.

*Horizon CareOnline℠ is a service mark of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.