Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Does cold weather cause colds?

By Chris C. Anderson, upwave.com
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Spending more time indoors in cold weather can foster the spread of viruses
  • Dry and cold conditions may make it easier for the cold virus to invade
  • A cold could actually be one of many bugs

(upwave.com) -- Winter is the season to come down with colds. Awful, sniffling, sneezing, muscle-achy colds. We know cold weather has something to do with this. Or do we?

We spoke with two experts -- Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, chief of the Dr. James J. Rahal Jr. Division of Infectious Disease at New York Hospital Queens, and Dr. Brian P. Currie, vice president and senior medical director of the Montefiore Medical Center in New York -- to find out the truth once and for all.

The rumor: Cold weather causes colds

Why is winter the common-cold season? It's a common perception that when the weather gets colder, we tend to get sick more. This is why we bundle up in warm clothes before facing the elements: We want to protect ourselves against frigid weather because we don't want to catch colds.

The verdict: Cold weather does not cause colds

According to Segal-Maurer, it isn't actually the cold weather that causes the common cold, it's what we do when it gets cold out.

"When the weather turns cold," she says, "we all run indoors, where air is recycled and we're often in close quarters with other people and viruses. We all sneeze on top of each other."

This is why the cold season is the same -- though maybe not as severe -- in warmer climates like Los Angeles as it is in colder ones like New York or Chicago.

"Dry and cold conditions are probably more high-risk situations for viruses because of dry mucosa," adds Segal-Maurer. The mucosa, she says, is what lines your trachea, the back of your throat and your sinuses. Viruses invade the mucosa and start growing, causing your cold.

And that's viruses -- as in, plural. The common cold isn't just one type of virus: When you say "I've got a cold," that could mean you have one of many bugs.

"There are a variety of different cold viruses," says Currie, "... so it makes sense that there is no one therapy to treat a cold."

The strength of our own immune system also plays a big part in how susceptible we are to colds, and how severe they might be.

"The extremes are the young babies, the older adults, those with underlying medical conditions," explains Segal-Maurer. "But even those who take low-dose steroids -- those people don't make as many antibodies, and the cells that are supposed to fight infection are not as well equipped to do that. So when they do get a cold, it's more severe. We're all susceptible, but what may be a 24-hour cold for me may be a week (of illness] for somebody else."

© 2013 upwave, All Rights Reserved.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Cold & Flu Season
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
A respiratory virus called Enterovirus D68 has sent hundreds of children to the hospital. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen explains.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Parents are concerned about sending their children to school amid fears of enterovirus D68.
updated 10:28 PM EDT, Mon October 6, 2014
Eli -- a sweet, active, blonde-haired preschooler -- had gone to sleep feeling fine.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Health officials are looking for the cause of a neurologic illness that's affected children in Colorado.
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
It sends children to the hospital -- where they often end up in the intensive care unit, struggling to breathe.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
This type of enterovirus is uncommon but not new. We've seen less than 100 cases in the United States since it was identified.
updated 4:50 PM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
What are the symptoms of Enterovirus D68? When should you take your child to the doctor?
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Thu September 5, 2013
Many parents don't realize that the worst asthma day of the year actually occurs in September.
updated 10:41 AM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
As a first-grade teacher, Julie Miller is exposed to a horrifying number of germs on a daily basis.
updated 2:36 PM EST, Fri January 11, 2013
Flu vaccine myths can confuse people trying to decide whether to get a shot. Here are five common myths.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Mon October 14, 2013
Your joints ache, your head feels heavy, you can't stop coughing, you're freezing even as your temperature keeps climbing. What now?
updated 5:59 PM EST, Wed January 9, 2013
What do you need to know when it comes to flu germs? CNN's Lisa Sylvester reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT