How Cold Weather Makes It Easier to Catch a Cold or Flu

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While we know that viruses cause colds and flu, you shouldn’t completely ignore advice to bundle up in winter as an old wives’ tale. Although getting cold doesn’t cause colds, cold weather makes it easier to catch one.

Bundling up in winter may lessen your chance of catching a cold

Old wives’ tales used to tell us things like: “Don’t go outside without a coat in winter, you’ll catch a cold.”

However, as we learned through science that viruses were responsible for colds and the flu, not being cold, we simply laughed off such advice as outdated.

But not so fast! There is some wisdom in this ancient advice. Even if those from the past didn’t know exactly how it worked, they knew keeping themselves warm in cold weather made a difference. And now, science can explain why.

Why cold air makes it easier to catch a cold or flu

It turns out that the cold, dry air of winter has an effect on both viruses and how the human immune system response during cold weather, CNN reports.

Dry winter air seems to help the influenza virus remain infectious longer, a study by the National Institutes of Health study suggests.

Research also found that cold weather changes the outer membrane of the influenza virus. During cold weather, the membrane becomes more solid and rubbery. Scientists believe that when the covering of the virus becomes more rubbery, it makes person-to-person transmission easier.

How winter weather affects your immune system

Bundling up against the cold, especially keeping your respiratory tract warm, can help your immune system.

Dry winter air helps the influenza virus remain infectious longer, a National Institutes of Health study suggests. Inhaling cold air may have an effect on decreasing the immune response of our respiratory tracts, which in turn, makes it easier for viruses to gain a foothold. However, you can warm the air you inhale by wearing a scarf, bandanna or knit beanie that keeps your nose and mouth covered. In turn, this can help your immune system fight off infection.

Cold weather helps viruses “stick”

Cold weather also has an effect on mucous membranes, causing those in our eyes, nose and throat to dry out. As these passages become impaired, the virus can attach more easily. The viruses that cause colds and the flu are typically inhaled, our impacted, dried-out passages help them stick to us and we become infected.

However, by keeping these passages warm, they remain moist and make it harder for the viruses to take hold.

Preventative measures

Now, you know that keeping your mouth and nose covered when you are outside in cold weather can go a long way in preventing your body and your immune system from becoming a friendly environment for cold and flu viruses. Many people focus on pain relief medicines when they are suffering from a cold or the flu, but your best bet could be dietary supplements such as vitamins C and D, as well as minerals such as zinc, the latter of which seems to interfere with replication of rhinoviruses.

But another major problem that weakens the immune system in winter is a lack of vitamin D. This occurs because people get less sunlight in the winter, and sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D. We need about 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected (no sunscreen) sun exposure per day. After that, you can apply sunscreens. If you can’t get enough exposure to natural sunlight, a supplement that provides 800 IUs of vitamin D daily is recommended, according to the latest 2015-2020 dietary guidelines for Americans.