Cold Weather Does Not Effect Health
By John Coury
With the change in weather and various viruses passing through the air, winter is upon us. Often, as soon as you get over one kind of cold, you end up catching something else. It’s a vicious cycle. Every mom, grandmother, teacher, and Old Wives’ tale blames one infamous element of nature: cold weather.
“My mom would never let me leave the house without a scarf , gloves, and hat because she didn’t want me to get sick,” said Christina Pagano, 19, and a sophomore at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. Stories like this are extremely common among the teenagers of today.
“I would intentionally leave my gloves in the car, and my mom would literally get out and track me down. She’d embarrass me in front of all my friends. She was that serious about it,” Pagano said in a phone conversation.
But does exposure to the cold really cause people to get sick? Doctors and scientists emphatically say no. Research has shown that viruses, not exposure to cold temperatures, cause colds. This common misconception is due to factors including lower humidity, schools are in session, and people spend more time indoors and in closer quarters.
Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a division of the National Institutes of Health, said if a person is exposed to a cold virus but isn't showing symptoms, exposure to cold temperature doesn't make a difference whether a person gets sick or how sick a person will become.
Still, most colds occur during the fall and winter months. While cold temperatures do not cause colds, the colder months of the year, usually beginning in September, seem to be more favorable to an infection.
According to the Health Services at Columbia University, the cold season contains lower humidity. This absence of moisture may affect the number of infections because most cold-causing viruses thrive in lower humidity. “The dry air can dry the mucous lining of the nasal passages, making it more open to viral infection,” said Frederick G. Hayden, MD. “Almost everybody becomes infected whether they are chilled or not.”
According to Linda Lambert, Ph.D., who is in charge of cold and flu viruses at the NIAID, one of the ways the body protects us is by a mucus layer that lines the respiratory tract. This mucus layer traps particles that we inhale, including viruses, bacteria, and pollen, so they can't attach to the cells that line the respiratory tract and cause infection. Keeping hydrated keeps that mucus layer functioning at its best as well as the immune system.
Another major factor in catching colds is that Schools are in session. Because students are in constant contact with other children all day long, it increases students' likelihood of exposure to the viruses that cause colds. In addition, as the temperature drops, many people find shelter indoors, again increasing the chances that the virus will spread from person to person.
Stepping straight from the shower into a blizzard, while a great way to get frost bitten, is not actually enough to make you sick.
“Changes in weather and dampness may affect someone's arthritis but will not cause a cold. Going outside with a wet head or getting wet in the rain cannot cause any infection at all,” said Jim Mitterando, M.D. “Bundling up will not prevent a cold nor will it help the cold to go away.”
People are always looking for the magic cure for a cold but, unfortunately, there is none. Cold medications can relieve certain symptoms, such as aches, congestion, and coughs, but do not cure or even shorten a cold.
“The best treatment is to drink lots of fluids and rest. Stress and sleep deprivation can depress the immune system, making people more vulnerable to illness and prolong recovery,” claims Mitterando, a family doctor at Health Care South/Cohasset Family Practice.
Simply keeping the throat moist with frequent sips of liquid or sucking candies will provide some comfort for a sore throat. Medicated lozenges or sprays sometimes can temporarily numb a painful throat but do nothing to help recovery. “I prefer Lifesavers or mints over any medicated lozenge,” stated Mitterando.
© John Coury