Did your mom tell you to dress warmly when you go outside to avoid catching a cold? These words of wisdom have been kept alive down through the ages; and many people still bundle up in extra warm clothing for fear of catching a cold or flu virus in the wintertime. But, is it necessary? Can you catch a cold from being cold or chilled?
As it turns out, Mom may have been right – at least partially. Although the idea that you can catch a cold from being cold was disputed for many years, new research from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom shows that this notion isn’t so far fetched after all. To prove this, a group of ninety students had their feet placed in very cold water for twenty minutes. Another ninety person control group was allowed to keep their feet warm. After following the students for five days, researchers found that the group with the “icy feet” developed more colds than the control group did. In fact, they were twice as likely to develop cold symptoms. It does, indeed, appear from this study that you can catch a cold from being cold – at least from having cold feet.
Why would a person be more likely to catch a cold from being chilled? The researchers believe that exposure to cold causes blood flow to the lining of the nasal passages to decrease which can reduce the immune response to cold bugs and viruses. This allows the virus to replicate unchecked in the nose and eventually lead to symptoms of a cold. From this study, it would also seem that wearing a scarf around the face and nose in chilly weather could reduce the risk of catching a cold.
Of course, to catch a cold you still need to be exposed to the flu virus. Even if your feet get chilled, if there’s no virus present in the lining of the nose, no cold symptoms will develop. So, avoiding the virus is another way to keep cold symptoms at bay. The best way to do this is to practice frequent hand washing and avoid close contact with people who are coughing or sneezing. Avoid putting fingers around your nose or mouth since hands commonly are a source of cold and flu viruses that can attach to the lining of the nose. Keeping the immune system primed by eating a good diet and drinking lots of fluids to keep the mucous membranes of the nose moist is also a good prevention tactic.
The bottom line? Stay warm and avoid getting chilled when you head out into the cold air. There does seem to be some truth to the idea that you can catch a cold from being cold.
Muscle and Fitness Magazine. March 2009. page 46.