Can You Catch A Cold Or Flu From Cold Air?

You probably heard your grandmother saying you will catch a cold or flu if you go outside without a warm coat or a hat. It is an old saying, and it’s still popular. But is this true? Let’s look at the evidence. 

The link between cold and flu viruses and weather 

There are hundreds of different viruses responsible for the common cold.  There are many influenza viruses as well. The  A and B influenza strains cause large seasonal outbreaks. What do all these viruses have in common? They multiply best when the weather gets cooler- fall, winter, and early spring. For these reasons cold and flu season are between late October and March, which peak in December and February. 

Does this mean that you will catch a cold or flu from cold air? No, you catch these viruses when you come in contact with someone infected. However, you are more likely to catch the infection when the air is cold than during the summer. 

These viruses circulate all year round, but they are weaker during summer- while our immune system is stronger. There is some stress on the body when the season changes, and it takes a few weeks for the body to adjust to cooler temperatures. The immune system is weaker when outside is cold. During the winter there is also an increased risk for heart diseases, depression (so called seasonal affective disorder), blood sugar imbalances (particularly in those with diabetes). All these conditions increase the risk of catching a cold or the flu, with elderly and pregnant women being at higher risk.  

In conclusion, there is an increased risk of catching a cold or the flu during the cold seasons. But you need cold air plus an infected person or surface to be exposed to – in order to get the infection. 

Even if you are exposed to the virus, and to cold air, you can have milder infections if you keep your immune system strong, and use some of the tips below. 

How to avoid catching a cold  during the cold seasons

There is no vaccine to prevent the common cold. You already know the most commonly used strategies:  wash the hands often or use hand sanitizer, cover your cough, and stay home if you experience any symptoms. It is also important to stay as healthy as possible by eating a balanced diet, sleeping well, and staying active. Also, consider the following tips:

  • Keep your throat and nose warm. Wear turtlenecks and cover your nose with a winter scarf. Drink a few hot teas throughout the day. Do you know why? Cold viruses thrive at temperatures  around   91-95° F. However,  their ability to infect bodilys cells drops by 90% at  98.2-98.6° F, – which is the core temperature. That’s why cold viruses replicate best in the nose and throat. However, they can’t  replicate as efficiently when these areas of the body are kept warm. Try to wear  warm clothes, socks, and cover your head  when you spend time outdoors during the entire cold season. 
  • Avoid vitamin D deficiency. Many people have vitamin deficiency, which gets worse in the winter. A shortage of this nutrient correlates with a weakened immune system, and specifically increased risk or respiratory infections like colds and flu. The  typical adult dose is 1000-3000 IU daily, and pediatricians are increasingly recommending supplementation for children as well. Ideally, the supplementation should be based on vitamin D blood levels, as many people may require higher doses. 
  • Consume more probiotic foods like kefir, yougurt and sauerkraut, or take supplements. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that support a healthy immune system. According to  a review of research studies from Mayo Clinic, probiotics may help reduce the risk of catching a cold. In case you already get the infections, probiotics help decrease the severity of symptoms and shorthern the duration of the ilness. 
  • Make sure the temperature in the home is comfortable, and the air is not too dry. The combination of cold and dry air is what cold viruses prefer and this is when they multiply the best. Ideally, the humidity indoors should be around 45%.  If it goes  below 30%,  the air is too dry, and when it goes up above 50%,  you may start to feel uncomfortable. There are whole house or portable humidifiers you can buy, and the price varies greatly by brand.  Alternatively, the moisture in the air can be increased by placing a bowl of water on top or close to a radiator or heating system.  This bowel has to be refilled frequently, as it evaporates quickly. Another option is to allow wet clothes and towels out to dry. 

Preventing the cold is always better than treating it. You don’t need to avoid cold air or spend time outdoors in the winter, but make sure you are well prepared. Wear winter clothes, keep your neck, head, and feet warm. Increase humidity at home, and take vitamin D and probiotics. 

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