Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi — the larger, upper air passages to the lungs — which causes excessive production of mucus. Bronchitis is a winter hazard because it is usually brought on by a cold or flu, with symptoms similar to the flu but distinguished by wheezing, troubled breathing, and coughing, which can continue for weeks after the disease has run its two-week course. Unlike acute bronchitis, some 9 million Americans have chronic bronchitis — defined as having mucus-producing cough for at least three months of the year for two years in a row.
Most common in infants and children, bronchiolitis differs from bronchitis in that it affects the smallest airways in the lungs, called bronchioles, though the symptoms are similar, particularly the difficulty breathing. Bronchiolitis is usually caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which like cold and flu viruses, circulates more easily in the winter. Bronchioloitis can be dangerous for young children, with newborns the most vulnerable because of their underdeveloped lungs and immune systems.
Winter’s low humidity can make skin dry and itchy, and the long, hot showers that relieve the chill of winter cold only make dry skin problems worse. Though dry skin is a relatively mild irritant, it can cause painful cracking or lead to dermatitis, eczema, or infection.
Dry mucous membranes
The sinuses — hollow cavities in the skull — suffer when mucus membranes dry out in the winter, sometimes causing sinus discomfort, dry mouth, sore throat, headache, and nosebleeds. Allergies, triggered by irritants found indoors like mold, can make symptoms worse by inflaming dry membranes and causing mucus to become thick and sticky.
People suffering from a cold, seasonal allergies, or a weakened immune system, are candidates for sinus infection. Sinuses become infected when fluids build up, allowing viruses or bacteria to grow. These infections can cause headaches, stuffy or runny nose, post-nasal drip, coughing, and bad breath.
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