Cold Weather and Common Cold Correlation


The name of the illness most common in the winter appears to implicate itself.

Does Cold Weather Cause Common Colds?


How many times have you heard the popular warning: “Bundle up or you’ll catch a cold”? I hate to be the bearer of bad news but somebody was not entirely truthful with you. Is that too blunt. Let me rephrase by saying that the well-intentioned advice may be dressed with inaccuracies.

Let’s be clear: people do catch more colds during cold weather. And, it may appear that “cold” is implicated within the name of the illness. Before you rest your case, consider expert conclusions from clinical studies.

First, recognize that correlation does not always equal causation. It is popular to wear long dark coats in the winter. But we would not assume that this attire causes winter colds. There are other correlations.

What Causes Colds

During cold weather, more people remain indoors. Whether it is a household, office, or classroom, the chances of passing viruses within closed quarters exponentially increases. Lack of sunlight also reduces immune-building vitamin D.

Within the field of otolaryngology, rhinitis is irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose—the upper­most part of the respiratory tract. It is commonly correlated with a viral or bacterial infection, including the common cold.

The most frequent type of rhinitis is allergic rhinitis, usually triggered by airborne allergens such as pollen and dander. Allergic rhinitis may cause additional symptoms, such as sneezing and nasal itching, coughing, headache, fatigue, malaise, and cognitive impairment.

Pollen from a variety of common plants, magnified x500: sunflower (Helianthus annuus), morning glory Ipomoea purpurea, hollyhock (Sildalcea malviflora), lily (Lilium auratum), primrose (Oenothera fruticosa) and castor bean (Ricinus communis). The bean shaped grain in the bottom left corner is about 50 μm long.

Does Cold Weather Cause Common Colds?

Rhinoviruses—spread through person-to-person contact or inhaled aerosolized droplets—are responsible for more than half of cold symptoms. Rhinovirus infection can lead to bronchitis and pneumonia.

Pathology research suggests that human rhinoviruses may replicate more efficiently at temperatures below average internal body temperature. Researchers found that decreases in both temperature and humidity over a 3-day period increased the risk of rhinovirus infections in participants.

“When you’re sick, the micro­scopic droplets of moisture that you exhale contain virus particles,” explains William Schaffner, MD, of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “When the air is dry, the individual droplets evaporate but the tiny virus particles remain suspended in the air longer and can be breathed in by someone else.”

Breathing in cold and dry air causes the blood vessels in the upper respiratory tract to narrow in order to conserve heat. This may prevent white blood cells from reaching the mucous membrane, making it harder for the body to fight off germs.

How to Prevent Colds

From what research tells us, there is a connection between cold temperatures and the common cold. However, behavioral and nutritional factors play a larger role. So consume more immune-building nutrients like vitamins C and D.

Drink plenty of fluids—particularly water. Get the rest you require. If practical, air out your home so there is less concentra­tion of airborne germs. Try to get out­doors for some fresh air and exercise when possible.

Shake less hands (that people have sneezed into) and do not share eating utensils or beverage containers. Finally, dress warmly. It may not prevent the common cold, but it will make you feel A Bit More Comfy.

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