Quick—think about winter.
What comes to mind? Maybe it’s snow. Hot casseroles, skiing, crackling fires, and woolly sweaters. Or maybe you’re like the rest of us, and winter conjures up a much bleaker image in your mind: catching a cold.
But really, does cold weather cause illness? In this article we explore the factors that contribute to whether or not we fall prey to the common cold virus this year.
What Causes The Common Cold?
First up, there is only one way to catch a cold, and it’s not the weather. You need to come in contact with the rhinovirus.
Your chances of contracting it depends on several components coming together to form a perfect (oh, the irony) storm. So before we demonize icy temperatures, it’s important to consider the rest of the equation:
The 0-6 year age group is most at risk of contracting the cold virus. A kindergarten-aged child will catch up to twelve colds a year. Daycare centers are notorious breeding grounds for illnesses, which spread to parents and caregivers, and out into the community.
Those dealing with serious health issues have little control over this part of the equation and need to rely more on controlling their lifestyle, level of exposure, and environment. A healthy adult, however, can boost their immune system in several ways. We’ll go into more detail on this below.
Without exposure, cold can’t catch you—the virus spreads through contact with an infected person. And by contact, we mean the minuscule droplets of moisture that permeate the air when they sneeze or cough. Touching the same surface as someone infected with the virus also puts you at risk. If you make physical contact with someone who has a cold, even late in the incubation period where no symptoms are present, you’re likely to get sick.
Last, but not least, we have our scapegoat: cold weather.
Cold Weather and VirusesRhinovirus prefers to replicate at 89 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s at its best in a cold environment. Our immune system performs at its peak when our environment is close to our core body temperature (around 98 degrees Fahrenheit).
In simple terms, if our environment is colder than our core temperature, our immune system can’t fight the anti-viral battle in the way it should. Keeping that in mind, it makes sense to consider ways to help our immune system fight the good fight.
Keeping Healthy In Winter
Identifying the viral felon responsible for our misery is easy. Avoiding it takes work. There are two definitive steps we can take to reduce our risk of contracting the common cold.
Step 1. Boost your immunity.
How to boost your immune system will differ for everyone. Limiting stress, eating a balanced diet, practicing good sleep hygiene, and cutting out cigarettes and alcohol are some basic measures that create massive changes. Although there is little research-based evidence to back manufacturers’ claims, many people swear by supplements that contain effective doses of vitamins C, B6, and E.
Step 2. Limit your exposure.
A cold virus incubates in the nose, eyes, and mouth. So it makes sense that limiting the virus’s access to those areas limits your exposure. Using disposable medical masks is one option.
Not willing to go that far?
Take precautions when you’re out in public. Wash your hands thoroughly, avoid touching shared surfaces and objects, and try not to touch your face.
So, does cold weather cause illness?
Bottom line - No. Sure, winter weather isn’t on your side when it comes to fighting off a cold. Neither is a low immune system or being in enclosed spaces with sick people. But as an independent factor, winter is not the sickness-spreading evil many of us grew up believing it to be.