By: Dr. Lisa Metzgar:
I remember my grandmother telling me to bundle up in the winter so I wouldn’t catch a cold. So why did I get a cold when the weather was hot? I have also heard people say that they got a cold because they left their window open at night or the air conditioner was blowing on their neck. So, is this true? Does being in the cold lead to getting a cold?
Let’s first explore how people get colds. There are over 200 viruses that cause symptoms of the cold with Rhinoviruses being the biggest culprit1. The virus is mostly spread in the air through sneezing or coughing where it lands on surfaces like hands, door knobs, keyboards and more. When you touch surfaces that have been contaminated and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes, the virus can then enter your body. It can also be spread through saliva by kissing or sharing drinks or eating utensils with a contagious person2. Once you are exposed to the virus, your body starts to fight the virus immediately by sending white blood cells out to defend the body. If your immune system hasn’t seen that strain of the virus, then you will most likely get sick3. Depending on how healthy your immune system is your sickness can range from just feeling rundown for a day to weeks of coughing and sneezing.
Can you get a cold from being in the cold? Well, being physically cold isn’t going to cause you to get sick, only a cold virus can, but there are things that can make you more vulnerable to getting sick like physical or mental stress, not getting enough sleep, or having a weakened or very young immune system.
So, if being physically cold doesn’t actually get you sick, why do people get colds more often during the fall and winter when it’s cold outside? Here might be some reasons why:
- Low humidity. Cold weather decreases the amount water in the air causing the humidity to drop. The common cold viruses can survive better when humidity is low3,4. Also, low humidity can dry out the mucosal lining in your nose and throat leaving you more susceptible to getting a cold. Your mucosal lining is an essential first line of defense for your immune system by trapping pathogens before they enter the body.
- Being trapped indoors with a lot of people. The winter and fall seasons line up with the school year where kids are packed together in small classrooms and then come home to share those germs with their family. Also, when it’s cold outside people tend to stay inside more often and for longer periods of time where they are in close contact with people who may be contagious.
- Stressing your immune system. Being out in the cold could can definitely lead to some physical stress on your body especially if you have prolonged exposure. Stress on your body can weaken your immune system, which can make it easier to catch a cold virus from someone else. It can’t hurt to follow grandma’s advise and bundle up when you go out into the cold.
So, it is true – cold weather may help cause colds but not in the way that most people think. Now that you know how colds are caused, here are a few things you can do to help you keep you healthy especially during the winter:
- Eat a healthy, nutritious diet. Soups are great for the winter season because they pack a ton of nutrition into a comforting warm meal. Also, eating foods that are both prebiotic and probiotic will also help with your gut and immune system.
- Get plenty of rest. When your body is well rested your immune system is stronger and can better help you fight off challenges.
- Be more mindful of what you touch and wash your hands more often. Also, remind your kids about the benefits of hand washing and make sure they wash them just as often.
- Try to manage your stress. Stress is probably the number one reason people get sick. Your body doesn’t perform well in any area when you are under stress. Studies have shown that when our cortisol levels are chronically high due to stress, our bodies don’t respond as well to the anti-inflammatory properties that cortisol has and therefore when the cold virus comes along and illicits an inflammatory response you will feel much worse5.
Comment below and let us know what else you’re doing to stay healthy this winter.