Does Cold Weather Make You Sick?

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

You have probably heard it since you were a child: cold weather can make you sick. Although it may be a popular belief that illnesses, such as the common cold and seasonal flu, are caused by getting a chill, it is a misconception. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), going out in cold weather does not make you sick. While certain illnesses occur more commonly in the colder months of the year, it is due to other factors. 

Myths About Cold Weather and Winter Illness

In addition to the myth cold weather can make you sick, there are many other popular myths regarding common winter illnesses. Differentiating between myths and the facts can help you stay healthier this winter. Some common winter illness myths include the following:

Myth: Taking a lot of vitamin C will prevent a cold.

Although vitamin C is important for wound healing, tissue repair and maintaining healthy bones and teeth, it does not prevent colds or the flu, according to the National Institute of Health.

Myth: Most of your body heat is lost through your head.

Another common myth you have probably heard since you were a kid is how much body heat is lost through your head. The reality is only a small percentage of body heat is lost through your head. You will lose heat through any part of the body which is uncovered including your arms or legs.

Myth: The flu shot can give you the flu.

The flu shot does not contain the live flu virus and cannot cause the flu. Getting a flu shot is one of the best ways to prevent getting the flu.

Myth: Going outside with a wet head will make you sick.

Going out with a wet head may give you a little chill depending how cold it is out, but getting a chill alone does not make you sick.

What Cold Weather Can Do

While being out in cold weather will not cause you to catch a cold, winter weather may have some effects on your health. In the winter months humidity is usually lower, making the air dry. The low humidity can dry out and thin mucus lining in the nose and lungs, which may allow viruses to penetrate easier.

The way a virus reacts to cold weather may also play a part in why certain illnesses are more common during the colder months. For example, the influenza virus, which causes the season flu, survives longer in cold weather, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Cold, dry weather during the winter also can cause an increase in asthma symptoms. Asthma triggers vary, but for some people with asthma the cold air irritates their airways. Asthma symptoms may include wheezing, difficulty breathing, increased mucus production and coughing.

Is Illness More Common in Colder Months?

Certain illnesses occur more commonly in the winter, such as the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and strep throat, according to Duke Medicine. One of the main reasons why more people get sick in the winter is because they spend more time indoors and in close contact with others.

Many types of common winter illnesses, such as a cold, are caused by a virus. Viruses are often spread from person to person through contact or droplets. The more time you spend in close quarters with others the more likely you are to pick up germs and get sick.

How to Prevent Common Winter Illnesses

Two of the main ways you can prevent winter illnesses is by reducing contact with germs and boosting your immune system. Although germs are everywhere, a few simple things help reduce your chances of getting sick. Avoiding close contact with other people who are sick will reduce your risk of catching something. Also, one of the main things you can do to decrease your chances of getting sick during the winter is wash your hands frequently.

Along with decreasing your exposure to germs, strengthening your immune system can help prevent you from getting sick. If you smoke, consider quitting. According to Harvard Medical School, living a healthy lifestyle, such as not smoking, gives your immune system a boost. Also, eating a diet high in vegetables and whole grains, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise also helps make your immune system stronger. Getting enough sleep each night is also essential to keep your immune system functioning as well as possible.

Although the myth has been around for generations, being exposed to cold weather will not make you sick. The bottom line is viruses cause illness in the winter, not the temperature outside. As the weather gets colder and you spend more time in close contact with others, your chances of catching a virus do go up. Living a healthy lifestyle to keep your immune system functioning optimally can help keep you well through the winter months and all year long.


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