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Fact or Fiction:  Do you Catch a Cold from Cold Weather?

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How often have you heard someone say “dress warm or you’ll catch a cold!” While of course, it’s good advice to dress warm when the weather is cold, is it true that you can catch a cold from the cold? The answer is a simple No. 

While the IDEA of catching a cold from the cold is correct, there is a little bit more to the whole story. Simply put, the only way to catch a cold is to come in contact with a virus.   If you are exposed to cold weather and get a chill you may be more receptive to a cold virus, also known as rhinovirus, but the cold weather will not be the cause of your cold nor will it give you a cold.

Rhinovirus loves the cooler weather. In colder temperatures, the virus replicates faster.  At the same time, your body’s immune system antiviral defense doesn’t fight off the virus very well if the temperature in your nose and upper air way and lungs are cooled off when you breathe in cold air.  As a result, the rhinovirus has the perfect conditions to grow and make you sick.

Fact: There are more than 200 different viruses that can cause the ‘common cold’.

Risk factors that can lead to contracting a cold virus.

Time of year

During colder months people tend to spend more time indoors, which puts them in contact with more people. This, in turn, puts them at higher risk to contract a cold virus passed on from person to person.

To reduce your risk of catching a cold wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face with your hands while out in public after touching shared surfaces such as doorknobs and keyboards.

Fatigue and Stress

Poor sleep and stress both have negative effects on your body, including reducing your immune system.  While it is important to get a good sleep year round, it is even more important during the cold and flu season.   Basic lifestyle changes such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, avoiding screen time (computers, cell phones, iPads) before bed, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, and keeping your bedroom comfortable and dark are all ways to help improve your sleep habits.

Smoking and/or reduced lung function

Smokers will often have worse cold symptoms than non-smokers, because tobacco smoke not only disrupts the immune system it also dries out and irritates the throat lining.   Non-smokers such as children and others who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also at higher risk for developing a cold, bronchitis and pneumonia.

What to do if you Catch a Cold

Unfortunately, there is still no cure for the common cold.  Not even grandma’s chicken soup.  But what there IS are things you can do to help you feel better while you recover from your cold.

  • Rest.  This is the top tip for helping you feel better. When you rest your body has a chance to focus on healing and fighting the cold virus.
  • Stay hydrated.  Drink plenty of water, broth, grandma’s chicken soup (or any broth rich soup ), or juice. Avoid alcohol, soda, and coffee. Sipping warm liquids like broth can help ease a sore throat, reduce congestion and increase mucus flow so it’s easier to blow your nose.
  • Take something for your stuffy nose.  Saline drops and other cold medicines can be a big help. Always check with your pharmacist to see if the medication you are choosing is compatible with medications you are already on. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes or other medical conditions consult with your doctor and pharmacist to see what cold medications may be safe for you to take.  Cough medicines and most cold medicines should never be given to younger children without consulting your doctor first.
  • Use a humidifier.  During the cold months, the air is usually very dry. Adding a cool-mist vaporizer to your bedroom at night can help moisten the air, making it easier to breathe in and help loosen chest congestion.  Always change your filter on a regular basis, clean the unit often, and change the water daily.

Should I Take Antibiotics for a Cold?

Remember, a cold is brought on by a virus.   Antibiotics do not work against cold viruses, they only work on bacteria.   

When to Seek Emergency Medical Attention

If you have a cold and feel you are having severe breathing problems, see your doctor or seek emergency medical help immediately.

This article contains medical information provided to help you better understand this particular medical condition or process, and may contain information about medication often used as part of a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor.  It is not intended to be used as either a diagnoses or recommendation for treatment of your particular medical situation.  If you are unwell, concerned about your physical or mental state, or are experiencing symptoms you should speak with your doctor or primary health care provider. If you are in medical distress please contact emergency services (such as 911).

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