Health Blog

Most Common Winter Illnesses

Most Common Winter Illnesses

Winter might be best known for holidays, snow, and fun-filled activities, but it is also known for being cold and flu season. Contagious viruses are active all year, but some say we may be more vunlerable in the winter because we spend more time together indoors, and the viruses can spread easily from person to person.  The best way to protect ourselves from them is to make sure we follow proper hygiene, such as washing your hands regularly and covering our mouths and noses when we cough and sneeze. The more you know about winter illnesses, the better you can protect yourself and family members from them. Here are the top 4 common winter illnesses and what you should know about them. 

Common Cold

Everyone’s had a cold before. It’s called the common cold for a reason! The common cold is a respiratory virus that spreads from person to person through the air or close personal contact, and unfortunately has no known cure. Several respiratory viruses can trigger the common cold, but the most common one is called rhinoviruses, which translates to virus of the nose (rhino means nose). 

How you catch it

Close personal contact and through the air are the most likely ways to catch the common cold. Other ways include contact with stool or respiratory secretions from someone with the cold, such as shaking hands with someone infected, or touching something they’ve touched, like a doorknob or phone and then touching your face. 

Signs and Symptoms

The common cold usually shows its first signs with a sore throat and runny nose, followed by coughing and sneezing. Other symptoms include headaches, body aches, post-nasal drip, a low-grade fever, and watery eyes. 

Who it mostly affects

Because the common cold is easy to spread, everyone can be affected. However, if you have asthma or respiratory issues, the common cold might be more of an issue for you, because it can lead to more serious illnesses. Each year in the US, millions of cases of the common cold appear – adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more.

Medications and recovery 

Although there isn’t a cure for the cold, there are things you can take and do to help relieve symptoms, including getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids. There are several over-the-counter medications you can take, but none are designed to help you recover quicker. They only help to relieve symptoms. Make sure to always read the labels on any medications you buy and take as directed. You should also speak with your doctor to ensure you are taking the correct medications. You can also try gargling warm salt water to relieve a sore throat, or taking cough drops or throat sprays. 

Usually, most recover from the common cold within 7-10 days. If you are still experiencing a cold after that time, speak with your doctor. You may have a weakened immune system which can lead to further illnesses, such as bronchitis or pneumonia. If you suffer from asthma or respiratory conditions, it’s important to monitor your cold more closely so it doesn’t lead to more serious illnesses. 

RSV/ Bronchiolitis

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV is a respiratory virus. Bronchiolitis is lung infection common in infants and younger children and is usually caused by viruses such as RSV, but can also be caused by the flu or the common cold.

How you catch it

RSV, like the common cold, is very common. RSV is the most common germ to infect infants and young children, though RSV infection of the lungs and airways can occur in people of all ages. The virus is spread easily, through tiny droplets in the air when someone infected blows their nose, coughs, or sneezes. Bronchiolitis is caught the same way as RSV. Additionally, you can become infected with Bronchiolitis by touching shared items with another sick person and then touching your face. The virus can actually live for hours on countertops, crib rails, toys, and other hard objects. When infected, a person is most contagious for the first few days, but the virus can continue to spread for up to several weeks. 

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of RSV come in stages instead of all at once and includes, runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. Symptoms for Bronchiolitis are similar to the common cold at first and include, runny nose, stuffy nose, coughing, and a slight fever which might not always be present. Children might also have trouble breathing and some infants will experience ear infections. 

Who it affects

RSV is common, but can be very serious for infants and older adults. If your child is younger than a year, and you believe they have RSV, take them to the doctor. RSV in older adults can cause respiratory illnesses. Young children and infants who have congenital heart or lung disease, premature infants, children with weakened immune systems, older adults, adults with asthma, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are at a higher risk of sever or sometimes life-threatening RSV infection.

Medications and recovery time

Bronchiolitis has no vaccine, but it is recommended children older than 6 months are given an annual flu shot. If you are experiencing a fever from your RSV, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken to reduce it. Always speak with your doctor about recommended medications. The best way to prevent RSV and bronchiolitis is to practice good hygiene. Make sure to wash your hands frequently, avoid exposure from those infected, keep things clean in the house, don’t share dishware with others, avoiding smoking if possible, and wash your children’s toys regularly. 

RSV should clear up within a week or two for most. Bronchiolitis typically last a little longer at two to three weeks. If you or your child is still suffering after these time periods, speak with your primary care doctor.


Influenza, or the flu, similarly to the common cold, is a respiratory illness, but the flu is caused by different viruses. Strains of the flu are constantly changing, with new strains appearing regularly. 

How you catch it

The flu can be caught similarly to these other common winter illnesses, by droplets from sneezing or coughing going into the air and landing on someone else. 

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of the flu can include a fever, feeling feverish or chills, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Those who have the virus are likely contagious from the day or so before symptoms even appear, until about 5 days after symptoms begin. Children with weakened immune systems may be contagious for slightly longer. 

Who it affects

The flu can affect anyone of any age, but those at a higher risk for complications and further illness are people 65 and older, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and children younger than 5. Individuals who live or work in facilities with other residents – nursing homes, military barracks – are at higher risk of developing influenza. People with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or higher are also at an increased risk of flu-related complications like Pneumonia, ear infections, heart problems, and Bronchitis. 

Medications and recovery

The first and best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu shot. It is strongly encouraged to have the vaccine before the winter months to best prevent catching the flu. If you have had your flu shot and you still catch the flu, medications can be taken, but it is important to see your doctor to determine if you have the flu or not. Most medications for treating the flu are influenza antiviral drugs, which must be prescribed by your doctor. To prevent catching the flu, it’s best to wash your hands regularly, disinfect your belongings, use tissues and throw them away after use, don’t share dishware with others, try and avoid others who are infected, and make sure to take care of yourself to help yourself be as healthy as you can. Making sure you eat well, manage stress, and exercise regularly can go a long way in preventing illnesses from occurring.

The flu can take up to several weeks to recover from and you may still be contagious up to 24 hours after your fever has broken. Seek medical help if your flu symptoms haven’t cleared up within a week.


Croup is an infection in the upper airway, which can lead to coughing. The coughing is a result of a swollen larynx (voice box), wind pipe, and bronchial tubes. The coughing will sometimes sound like barking or a seal barking, this is caused when the cough forces air through the narrow passageway, causing the swollen vocal cords to produce the noise. 

How you catch it

Croup is usually cause by a viral infection. Like many of the other common winter illnesses, croup is caught through air droplets sprayed from coughing or sneezing and then someone touching those droplets, causing infection. 

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of Croup will often begin similarly to the common cold. However, if inflammation and coughing are more serious, symptoms will include loud coughing that sounds like barking, fever, hoarse voice, and noisy breathing that may be labored. Croup symptoms are usually worse at night and can last 3-5 days. 

Who it affects

Croup is most common in young children and infants between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old. This is because they have smaller airways that make them the most susceptible to croup symptoms. 

Medications and recovery

Usually, croup can be treated at home. However, if it persists for more than 5 days, medications may be prescribed by your child’s doctor. Glucocorticoid, a steroid, may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and it usually helps within a few hours. Dexamethasone will be recommended for its long-lasting effects. To help ensure your child doesn’t catch Croup, teach them the importance of washing hands. Avoid infected individuals and encourage your child to cough or sneeze into their elbow. Because croup affects mostly younger children, it’s better to teach them good hygiene practices when they’re young. 

Croup usually lasts for up to three to five days. If it worsens or continues after this time, get in touch with your doctor.

Community Care Physicians

Primary Care

If you think you or your child has one or more of these common winter illnesses, it is important to see your primary care doctor. Your doctor will know how to best treat you for any of these illnesses. If you are in need of a primary doctor, our Concierge Care Coordinator would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have and direct you to the best primary care doctor for you. Call (518) 782-3800.

Urgent Care

Community Care Physicians has several convenient Urgent Care locations in the Capital Region for urgent, non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries.  Visit their website here to learn more about our urgent care locations.




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