Can I “Catch a Cold” if I am Cold?

When my daughter was recently at her grand-parents house, her granny said to her “Put your coat on. You don’t want to get cold and catch a cold now do you?” Shortly after arriving home my daughter told me about this and asked me “Can I really catch a cold?”

We have all heard this saying – but is there any truth in it?

Well the short answer is no.

The association between being cold and catching a cold probably came about for many reasons over the decades – especially during a time when modern medicine was in its infancy and we didn’t really understand what caused a cold in the first place.

Firstly, the viruses that cause colds and flu spread a lot easier in the winter months when the temperature is colder. This is not necessarily because it is colder, but more likely because we all spend more time in doors together and subsequently we are all closer together. Like at Christmas time, as we all gather round the fireplace and watch those Christmas movies together… This makes it easier for the viruses to spread in the air around us…

RaStudio/istockphotoFamily celebrating Christmas by the fireplace

In the winter we often close all the windows – we don’t want that cold air getting in right? But at the same time that is fresh air, and it helps to dilute the air in the house. If the air contains a few cold viruses then this fresh air can help to dilute the virus contaminated air particles.  Conversely though, if this air is not being diluted it can make it easier for the virus to spread. Thinking about it, if we let a bit of the cold fresh air in it could help us in fact not “catch a cold”.

Another theory for why we say “catch a cold” is because the first signs of actually being infected can see you become all shivery exhibiting symptoms of being cold. This usually comes before other symptoms and signs of being infected, such as a high temperature, feeling tired, unwell and so on. You can see why, before we understood more about what makes us ill, people would think therefore that you had “caught a cold”. Actually by the time you feel cold and shivery we know that you would already be infected.

A little random fact is that the term influenza (which is the long name for what we call the flu) comes from the belief at the time that it was caused by influence of the elements. At one point it was even called influenza del froddo meaning “influence of the cold”. [*link]

And here is a final thought on this subject – the virus that causes the common cold actually can’t survive in cold temperatures. It prefers a lovely warm environment to thrive, such us up inside your nose! I am not saying you shouldn’t put your coat on when going out into the cold – you don’t want hypothermia either – but next time you hear someone tell you “you will catch a cold” – remember what you read here and perhaps enlighten them a little…

primo-piano/istockphotoCartoon viruses characters isolated vector
cover image – RaStudio/istockphoto