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Dr. Christopher S. Baird

Why do cold temperatures give you a cold?

Category: Health      Published: December 16, 2012

person pushing through cold wind
Cold temperatures do not directly cause infections, but they certainly have an effect. Public Domain Image, source: NOAA.

Cold temperatures can affect your health, but they don't directly give you an infection like the common cold. Infections are caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Rhinoviruses are the usual cause of the common cold, as laid out by Ronald Eccles in his book "Common Cold". In order to make you feel sick, an infectious agent must get inside your body, and then get the upper hand on your immune system. While cold temperatures do not directly make you sick, the effect of cold on health is often under-emphasized my media reports anxious to debunk a myth. Dr. E. G. Mourtzoukou found that cold temperatures have significant effects on infection rates, as published in the journal article titled "Exposure to cold and respiratory tract infections." Cold air inhaled causes your respiratory tract to underperform. Additionally, cold temperatures force your body to divert more energy to staying warm, leaving less energy available to fighting germs. You may already have been exposed to an infection but not know it. Upon spending too much time in the cold, your body typically responds to the acute stress by signaling to your immune system to downgrade its activity, which may give the infection the chance to flourish. As a result, you start feeling sick. While the cold did not directly cause the sickness, it can make things worse. The bottom line? Don't roll around in the snow with your coat off if you're starting to feel sick. And don't spend a long time outdoors in very cold weather if your respiratory system feels irritated.

Topics: cold, cold exposure, disease, exposure, head cold, infection, low temperature, temperature, weather