Does Being Cold Give You a Cold?
Feeling cold is frequently equated to catching a cold, but is there any science to show these sniffles, sneezes and runny noses actually cause the illness we commonly call a “cold”? We went to Dr. Atul Ahuja, consultant ENT specialist with the Indraprastha Apollo hospital in New Delhi, and asked: Does being cold give you a cold? He says definitively: “No.” What really happens when you catch a cold, below.
What causes a cold?
Colds are caused by a virus, most commonly the rhinovirus. And while certain conditions facilitate the contagiousness of this virus, feeling cold or coming into contact with cold things are not among them.
Does being cold give you a cold?
No. Whether it’s because A/Cs are on at full blast or because Winter Is Coming (sorry, we couldn’t resist), colds are often associated with cold temperatures. But it’s not the cold temperatures, per se, that encourage the spread of the viruses. In either scenario, it’s actually the close proximity with others and little air circulation (whether to keep the cold air out or in) that’s to blame.
These conditions raise the risk of catching an infection, which spreads through tiny air droplets released in the ambient air when a cold sufferer sneezes, coughs or does other nasty things with his nose, without using a handkerchief or tissue. Though even that precaution isn’t foolproof; a cold sufferer could still spread the virus by touching others or shared surfaces.
Also, when temps are overly cold indoors and out, the mucus lining in the nose – a coating that helps repel germs – dries out. This is caused by a couple of factors: First, dehydration; people tend to drink less water when they are not hot. And second, heating or air conditioning units, which reduce ambient air’s moisture content.
Less mucus in your nose means when you breathe in a virus, it tends to stick around directly on the skin – especially if the skin inside the nose has dried out to the point of forming tiny cracks, which allows the virus directly into the bloodstream.
This may seem counterintuitive – mucus is sticky, so wouldn’t the virus be more likely to stick around with a nose full of snot? But the mucus lining of our noses allows us to catch and then either attack or expel the virus: Mucus contains antibodies that can fight off infections.
But should I avoid cold foods? Can’t they cause colds?
No, they can’t. In fact, what cold foods and drinks like ice cream and iced water do is draw your attention to an already brewing throat trouble. Eating something cold increases blood flow to the pharyngeal (throat) region, which may cause pain. So, the discomfort is the result of a sore (infected) throat, not the cause. Let’s put it this way: there’s nothing about eating or drinking cold foods that’s going to make you catch a cold or get sicker if you’re already unwell.
So is there no way to protect myself against a cold?
There is! But bundling up isn’t one of them. Instead, be sure to wash your hands properly and often and avoid touching your face unnecessarily. Also, keep yourself hydrated, even if you’re not thirsty. (Your minimum requirement for liquids is consistent, but you may need to increase your intake depending on your climate or level of physical activity.)
I did all of this and still caught a cold.
It happens; you have our sympathy. Despite these measures, the cold virus is, by its very definition, common. At this point, all you can do is take plenty of rest and sip warm water or tea. Over-the-counter medication can make you feel better, but it won’t drive away the infection any faster.
Whatever you do, don’t take antibiotics to treat a cold. Not only because antibiotics only work on bacteria (colds are caused by viruses) but also because popping them unnecessarily leads to antibiotic resistance – which can leave you even more vulnerable to infection in the long run.
But take heart the next time you’re feeling a little chilly in the AC draft: it is NOT making you sick.