The winter months are often associated with rising cases of the common cold and flu, but is it possible to get a cold at any time of the year? It may be hard to imagine yourself sitting on the beach while sneezing and coughing, but it’s certainly possible. Does cold weather make you sick? Can you get ill from going outside with wet hair, or without a jacket? There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the common cold, and scientific evidence to debunk them once and for all.
Seasonality of Colds
The common cold is caused by a virus, most commonly a strain of rhinovirus - although over 200 different viruses can cause what we know as a ‘cold’. If you have not been exposed to a virus, you can’t get ill.
However, there is some scientific basis in the thought that cold weather causes illness. While it isn’t the cold weather itself that makes you ill, the viruses that cause the common cold thrive better in cooler temperatures. In a 2015 study focused on this phenomenon, cells were taken from mice at core body temperature (37 degrees celsius) and the temperature just inside the nasal cavities (33 degrees celsius). The results showed that the virus that entered the cells at 33 degrees celsius replicated faster and showed a lower immune response. 1
In a study conducted in 2007, it was found that guinea pigs infected with the flu virus were more likely to get other guinea pigs sick in cold temperatures. A study conducted in 2008 attempted to uncover the reason why this is the case. They found that in colder temperatures, the virus has a hard outer covering that can help shield the virus as it passes between people. When the weather becomes warmer, this hard outer shell melts into a liquid, which is less able to protect the virus. The virus is weakened by the elements, then loses its ability to spread between people. However, when a virus with a hard outer shell enters the body of a person in winter, the temperature of the body melts the outer shell and allows the virus to infect cells. 2
Even though viruses that cause the common cold thrive more in colder temperatures, simply walking outside in winter won’t cause you to become ill. Neither will going outside without a jacket, or walking through a snowstorm with wet hair. You’re more likely to get sick at a holiday party than by building a snowman! If there’s no virus around, you won’t contract one.
Although, there are certain changes that come with a drop in temperature that can make you more susceptible to contracting a virus when you do come in contact with one. A drop in temperature is often accompanied by a drop in humidity. When you’re in a climate with low humidity, the mucous membranes in your nose can dry out. These mucous membranes help protect your body from unwanted bacterial and viral infections, and when they dry out you are much more susceptible to illness. 3
Other than the ability for viruses to thrive at lower temperatures, the simple act of staying confined with others during the winter months is the real culprit. When it is warmer, we often aren’t cooped up with dozens of other people for days at a time. When we’re all huddled together during the winter months - and holiday parties are common - if one person is ill it is extremely likely that others around will become ill as well. A simple sneeze or cough laden with a virus can travel up to six feet!
Staying Healthy Year Round
It’s important to be vigilant at all times of the year, not just during the cooler months. Be sure to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, try to stay clear of people who are exhibiting cold or flu symptoms, and catch up on your beauty sleep. Be sure to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, try switching to herbal tea every once in a while instead of coffee, and sneak some exercise into your daily routine.
Naturally, disinfect your home with essential oils such as lemon and tea tree, or diffuse them to cleanse and purify the air. Ridding your home of harmful germs and living a healthy lifestyle can do wonders for your health, whether it’s during the long, cold months of winter or the balmy days of summer.
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