A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Can you catch a cold from being cold?

You may have heard your mother tell you as a kid to wear a coat in the cold or else you’ll get sick. While many kids have shirked off this advice for generations, many have wondered if you can catch a cold from being cold. Well, there is some validity to the old wives’ tale.
old wives tales suggests you can catch a cold from being cold

New research on colds and respiratory infections

We’ve long known that viruses like the common cold are spread through droplet particles in the air. They’re transmitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If someone else inhales the droplet or comes into contact with an affected surface and then touches their face, eyes, mouth or nose, they could become infected.

The nose is a major line of defense when it comes to sickness. A 2022 study found out just how important it is.

“This study found that there are cells in your nose that recognize viruses and bacteria,” said MacKenzie Derrett, Marshfield Clinic Health System infectious disease nurse practitioner. “Those cells can fight them off before they further affect your body. In colder temperatures, these defense cells are less active, which may be why more people get sick in colder temperatures.”

So while you cannot catch a cold from being cold, you are more susceptible to respiratory infections living in cold temperatures.

Don’t fear the fresh air

Even though being outside may weaken your defenses a bit, it can also give you a boost.

“It is always beneficial to go outside and be active to get exercise,” said Derrett. “Daily activity and exercise can improve your immune system as well as prevent many other diseases.”

Furthermore, it can offer a break from busy indoor gatherings. That’s often when people are in close contact and can more easily spread germs to one another.

At the end of the day, it might be best to remember the strongest advice from experts.

“The most important way to prevent sickness is to wash your hands with soap and water for 15-20 seconds,” said Derrett. “If there is no soap and water, hand sanitizer with 70-percent alcohol is a good option.”

For more on respiratory infections, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

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