Can Being Cold Make You Sick?

In the winter months, people miss valuable time at school and work due to the unbearable sniffles and itchy throats caused by the common cold. The thought that there is a correlation between cold weather and sickness is so prevalent that many people question if cooler weather can really leave people feeling under the weather. Dr. Stan Spinner, chief medical officer for Texas Children’s Pediatrics, says cold weather does not make people sick; however, the environmental changes that come along with the change in temperature have the ability to leave people feeling ill.

About 200 different viruses can cause the common cold, most of which thrive in the winter, so it is no surprise that adults can get up to four colds every year. The excessive amount of viruses that cause colds weaken the immune system, which results in difficulty in preventing a virus from spreading. The most common virus people catch is called rhinovirus. It typically causes a runny nose and sore throat, but people with weaker immune systems are more susceptible to illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

The rhinovirus, when inhaled, attaches itself to cells in the nasal passage and begins reproducing. In warmer and more humid months, this would not be a major issue. However, in the cold months, due to low indoor humidity and dryer nasal cavities, you are less likely to sneeze out the virus before it attacks the immune system. Rhinovirus along with other viruses, reproduce rather efficiently at about 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit. During winter, this tends to be the average core temperature of humans. This makes the human body the ideal breeding ground for the viruses.

Aside from inhalation, viruses can also spread through contact. When it is cold outside, people tend to stay indoors allowing for the rapid spread of a virus due to closer proximity with people who are already infected. This is in addition to the fact that the viruses themselves tend to thrive in the colder weather. “These viruses that cause us to catch a cold predominate in the winter months in this part of the world,” says Dr. Spinner.

The cold weather doesn't only affect the viruses, but it affects the immune system as well. During winter, the body suffers from lack of vitamin D, narrowed blood vessels and a slowed down response of the human body to the virus. These variables add up making it more difficult for your body to fight infections.

Over the years, many techniques have been created to care for this common cold. Some of the highlights are taking vitamin supplements, making sure to get plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, washing your hands, and sneezing and coughing into tissues rather than your hands. Even though parents seem to use illness as a way to get kids into coats, there is very little scientific proof to say that cold weather actually makes people sick.

[Source: The New York Times]