Health Watch

Does Cold Weather Make Colds – Well, Colds?

The short answer is: No. Cold weather does not cause colds.

The long answer is more complex, and probably deals more in semantics than anything else.

First, the science: Colds are caused by a number of viruses, with more than half of all colds are caused by rhinoviruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, millions of people in the U.S. get the common cold each year, and on average adults get two to three colds a year.

Colds are associated with cold weather because the viruses that cause the common cold spread more easily in cold weather. It’s technically cold weather’s fault, because we tend to group closer together in cold weather. Cold viruses spread through infected airborne droplets or direct contact with infected secretions (a fancy way of saying, what comes out when you sneeze or cough).

Person is sick from a common cold

Then, the social aspect: Think about it: in the summer, when it’s nice out, we go outside more, and we can get enough separation that viruses have a more difficult time spreading. Of course, you hear about catching “a summer cold,” and usually the person who says the words “summer cold” sounds confused or thunderstruck, when in reality the viruses that cause colds don’t hibernate in the summer. Instead, colds are associated with winter, because we congregate indoors a lot more – we send kids to school, we spend time doing indoor activities when we would have gone outdoors in the summer, we stay closer together for warmth.

Ok maybe those first two points mixed the science and the social aspects of catching a cold.

Finally, the physics of it (ok really, more science): Cold air itself allows viruses to spread farther in cold air. Warm, humid air pulls virus particles to the ground, slowing the spread of viruses. Then, there’s our anatomy: according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, colder weather causes our immune responses to be lower than in warmer weather, making it easier for a virus to replicate inside our respiratory systems.

So to bring it all together, cold weather does not cause colds. Cold weather is simply more conducive to the spread of colds. Because it’s cold.

The best way you can reduce your risk of catching a cold is not to touch your mouth, nose and ears, and to wash your hands.

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