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Woman bundled up with scarf and cold winter gear while standing outside

Does being cold make you sick?

It gets cold in the winter, and we get colds in the winter — It’s no surprise that being cold has been linked with getting sick for as long as parents have stopped kids from running out into the snow with wet hair, or without a hat and jacket. But is there any connection between the two? We talk with OhioHealth primary care doctor Matthew Kunar, DO, to find out.

Woman blowing nose with blanket around her shoulders
Viruses are the villains

“Colds and flu are caused by viral infections,” says Dr. Kunar. “These are viruses like rhinovirus and adenovirus that cause the common cold, influenza that causes flu, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which causes respiratory illness in young children. You don’t get sick simply by being cold. It’s because of contact with these viruses.”


Child sneezing while standing outside with cold winter gear on
The connection to cold

Why does it seem like we get colds more often when it’s cold? Dr. Kunar says dryer air is a big reason. “Viruses tend to travel farther and stay in the air longer when the air is cold and dry, like it is during the winter. That means we have a better chance of picking up a virus from someone’s cold or sneeze,” he says. “We also spend more time indoors during the winter months, in our houses and in warm public spaces, where dry, recirculated air can easily spread a virus. Our nasal passages are dryer in the winter, too, and that lack of moisture in our sinuses allows viruses to pass more easily into our bodies, so keep your nose covered with a scarf or mask when you head out.”


Woman bundled up with scarf and cold winter gear while standing outside
Better reasons to bundle up

So were our mothers wrong this whole time? We can head out into the cold dressed however we like, wet hair and all? “Our moms weren’t completely off-base,” says Dr. Kunar. “Staying warm is still important for a lot of reasons, even if it has nothing to do with getting sick. Our bodies lose a lot of heat, especially through our heads, and keeping your core body temperature at a normal level is important for preventing things like exposure, hypothermia and frostbite. If you’re heading out into the cold, it’s best to be prepared. Cars break down, weather changes, plans get interrupted. If you have a warm hat, coat and gloves, you’ll be ready for the unexpected.”

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