The “common cold” is a poorly named illness.
The name has provoked a lot of confusion and misinformation over the years. It’s led people to believe that cold illness is related to cold weather.
What Causes The Common Cold?
The common cold is not directly caused by cold weather. Viruses cause it.
There are many different types of viruses that can cause the common cold. The most common type is the rhinovirus.
These viruses are spread from person to person, and they can also live on surfaces, such as doorknobs and countertops.
You catch a cold by being near someone who is infected with the virus.
You can also catch a cold by touching your face after you’ve touched a contaminated surface.
Does Cold Weaken Your Immune System?
Most common colds occur in the cold winter months, which may be another reason the name “common cold” is so misleading.
It is sometimes suggested that cold weather makes you more susceptible to colds because it weakens your immune system.
However, that might not be the whole story.
Acute or short-term exposure to cold weather may stimulate your immune system. The stress from the cold exposure may trigger a response that makes your immune system temporarily more active.
However, chronic, severe, or long-lasting stress can have the opposite effect. Your immune system can become suppressed and depleted of resources. This would make you more susceptible to infection.
But as you acclimate to the cold weather, your immune system will likely adjust and become more resilient. This effect is commonly seen in cold-water swimmers, who tend to experience greater resistance to respiratory illnesses.
Why Are Colds More Common in Cold Weather?
The most likely reason why common colds are more common in cold weather is not the weather itself but rather our tendency to avoid the cold weather outdoors.
When it’s cold outside, we tend to spend more time indoors where it’s warm. We are brought close together in smaller spaces, increasing the virus spread.
We also tend to have less exposure to sunlight in the winter months, which can lead to inadequate vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is an important nutrient for the immune system, and deficiency has been linked to increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.
What Can You Do To Prevent Colds?
Avoiding cold temperatures will not prevent you from getting a cold.
But there are some things you can do to lower your risk of catching a cold, such as:
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water
- Avoid touching your face
- Disinfect common surfaces that may be contaminated
- Get adequate sleep and exercise
- Manage stress
- Eat a healthy diet
- Avoid close contact with sick people or when you are sick
- Wear a mask around sick people or when you are sick
- Stay up to date on your vaccinations
If you do get sick with the common cold, your symptoms will likely be mild and go away on their own within a week or two.
If your symptoms are more severe, you may have a more serious infection that requires medical attention.