This myth was officially debunked in 1968, when a study was conducted to see if colder people were more susceptible to the rhinovirus (one cause of the common cold). The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, and found that regardless of whether people were sat in a frigid room or an icy bath, they were no more likely to get sick than those sat in more comfortable temperatures.
Despite such research, we can’t deny that more colds are caught over the winter months than during the summer. So if being cold makes no difference, what does cause this correlation?
What Causes Colds?
A cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, and is caused by viruses. The common cold is spread when you take in virus particles from someone suffering from a cold. This can be from a cough, sneeze, or by touching a contaminated surface – rhinovirus, for instance, can live on your hands and hard surfaces for up to three hours. There are four main types of virus linked with having a cold, which are as follows:
- Parainfluenza viruses
These four groups are made up of more than 200 separate virus strains that we know of. Scientists believe that there are plenty more viruses that have yet to be identified by modern science.
● Colds are caused by viruses, not temperature
● There are hundreds of different types of cold virus, and more may yet to be discovered
● You can try to prevent spreading or catching a cold by doing things such as washing your hands, not sharing items, and by avoiding touching your nose and mouth too often
● Colds can be spread before and after symptoms show, and can stay in the body for up to two weeks
● There are a few theories as to why colds are more common in winter, for instance people staying in enclosed spaces, and cold temperatures helping viruses to thrive
Preventing a Cold
Unfortunately someone with a cold can spread it before their symptoms even start to show. They can also pass on the cold up to a few days after their symptoms have finished. It’s therefore difficult to prevent spreading and catching a cold, but there are several tips the NHS recommend that will help:
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water
- If you have a cold, trap germs with tissues when you sneeze or cough, and dispose of them as quickly as possible
- Keep fit and healthy, to strengthen your immune system
- Don’t share household items such as hand towels or drinking glasses with someone who has a cold
- Try to avoid touching your eyes and nose too much, as if you’ve come into contact with the virus, it can infect the body this way
It can take between one and two weeks for a cold virus to completely leave your body. So it’s important to maintain the practices listed above for as long as possible, as you won’t always be able to tell whether you’re still infectious or not.
Why Do People Get Colds in Winter?
As discussed, cold air does not make a difference in terms of catching a cold, and studies have shown that it doesn’t affect a person’s recovery time either. So why are colds much more common in colder weather? There are a number of factors that can be attributed to this phenomenon. We’ve listed the main reasons below:
- Colds may be caught in the autumn due to the start of the new school year – children commonly spread viruses as they are usually much more tactile than adults
- People generally stay indoors more over the winter months, where air tends to be drier. Dry air can dry up the nasal passages, which may lead to infection. Being in an enclosed space can also help viruses to spread
- The viruses themselves could be impacted by the weather – some cold viruses, including types of rhinovirus and coronavirus, are believed to thrive in colder temperatures
- Colder weather often means lower humidity levels. Cold viruses can survive longer in low humidity conditions
Overall, viruses can be spread regardless of the weather. But cold temperatures can cause viruses to be more aggressive and survive longer, so we should be more vigilant in winter and take any necessary precautions if we want to avoid catching a cold.