why do we sweat when we are sick
Med student here. Sweating is what happens towards the end of a fever. I m going to try to explain the science behind what a fever is. Warning - it s not exactly ELI5, but there s no other way, really. Your body temperature is controlled by a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. Normally, the hypothalamus keeps your body temperature set at a specific temperature like a thermostat. There are molecules that get produced during inflammation and illness called prostaglandins and cytokines. They go to the hypothalamus and they tell the hypothalamus to raise the set temperature, so they raise the thermostat temperature.
When the thermostat temperature gets raised in your body to 101 degrees, but the actual temperature of your body hasn t caught up yet (98. 6 degrees), you feel cold, and start to shiver, right? This is because your body s set point has increased but your actual temperature is lower than the set point, so your body thinks its too cold. After a while, the prostaglandins stop working, and the hypothalamus can bring the set point temperature back down to the regular 98. 6 degrees. At this point, you feel too hot and start to sweat because the actual temperature of your body was brought up to 101 degrees earlier to meet the previous increase in set temperature, but now the set temperature is lower, and your body is higher.
You sweat it out to help cool your body off to bring it back down to the regular set temperature point. I never learned if it actually helps speed up the recovery process of an illness. It s just a normal phase that happens during a fever. Fever is actually supposed to be good IF IT S NOT TOO HIGH OF A FEVER. Fevers that are 105 degrees fahrenheit and higher can cause brain/organ damage, but if it s 100-102, fevers supposedly raise the body temperature so that viruses/bacteria can t survive at the higher body temperature.
Unfortunately, people feel pretty miserable with fevers so they take fever reducer medication in order to keep working throughout the day, etc. You may want to ask for a better answer.
You don t actually. Although your body will put a significant amount of energy into heating itself up, it s not as if any average westerner lacks the energy reserves to keep warm and run some basic innate immune responses simultaneously. Increases in cold and flu infections during periods of cold weather are more likely due to the fact that people will spend more time indoors, close to others who may have caught an infection.
The idea that cold causes sickness likely came from the fact that being cold will often cause a runny nose. However, this is just because little fibres in your nose called cilia, which are responsible for keeping mucus flow under control in your nostrils, relax when cold. As a consequence, mucus tends to run free when you ve spent a fair amount of time cold. Sweat cools you off via convective cooling, so you will be even colder if you were to go outside on a brisk day right after exercising, increasing the chance that your nose will run.
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