Winter is coming. And nope, we’re not referring to Game of Thrones
for once. We’re talking about that actual winter season when the temperature plummets outside, but inside the heaters keep everyone nice and toasty. Which means you bundle up in order to get wherever you’re going, only to be sweating once you get there. (There’s a reason we carry deodorant on us or stash it in our desk.)
So why do we layer up? Well, ever since we were kids we were told to bundle up when it’s cold outside, or risk catching a cold. But is there any truth to that old adage, or is it simply an old wives’ tale? We decided to get to the bottom (layer) of the matter with some sound medical wisdom.
The cold virus replicates better in colder temperatures
Salmonella might stop growing in colder temperatures, but it’s the opposite for the common cold. Researchers at Yale University took a look at what goes on in your nose during normal temperatures vs. what happens when it’s cold out. Turns out the rhinovirus — or “common cold,” as we know it — replicates faster.
Your body doesn’t respond as well in the cold
Sure, the virus itself is more likely to replicate in colder temperatures, but that could have everything to do with your weakened immune system, which doesn’t function as well when the temperature drops. Therefore, the sad truth is that we are all more susceptible to catching a cold in the cold. “In general, the lower the temperature, it seems the lower the innate immune response to viruses,” says Yale professor of immunobiology Akiko Iwasaki.
It could all be in the nose
OK, so we know that the cold virus is more likely to replicate in the cold, but the study only looked at what was happening in the nasal cavity. The research is still out, but it could be that making sure to cover up your nose and lower face with a handy scarf could be enough to keep that cold at bay. (Oh, no wonder people wear those masks on the subway, no matter what season it is!)
From hot to cold
Going from one extreme weather condition (the tropical heater box) to another (that long, cold walk to the car) could also come into play. When you shock your body from hot to cold regularly and for an extended period of time, your body throws everything it’s got at stabilizing your core temperature. When you’re cold, blood flows to your core organs — heart, lungs, and other vital parts — in order to make sure they’re warm, leaving your body’s overall defenses down. That leaves less available resources to fight the virus.
Pay attention to other factors
Being cold isn’t the only way to catch a cold. As important as it is to remember to protect yourself from the dropping temperature during the fall season, it’s equally important to make sure you wash your hands consistently. Also important? Try not to touch your face. It’s scary how quickly germs can jump from your hands to your mouth, nose, ears and eyes.
The bottom line
Colds suck, it’s a fact. During the fall and winter months, we’re all bound to catch one at some point. So cover up, wash those hands, and be sure to get plenty of rest if you’re sick. After all, no one likes that sicky who still comes into work when they’re hacking up a lung. Keep those infections to yourself, thank you very much.