The colder winter months bring along higher rates of colds and flu.
This has led to some misunderstandings about the causes and risk factors for these illnesses.
One idea you may have heard is that going outside with wet hair will make you sick.
But is there any truth to this claim?
How Colds and Flus Spread
Colds are not caused by exposure to cold weather, and there is no evidence that wet hair would cause you to get sick.
Cold and flu cases are caused by viruses spread from person to person.
You can catch a cold or flu by:
- Being around someone who is sick
- Sharing food or drinks with anyone who is sick
- Touching something that a contagious person has touched, then touching your face
You will only catch a cold or flu if you somehow encounter the pathogenic virus.
Can Wet Hair Make You More Susceptible to Viruses?
Some may suggest that even though wet hair doesn’t cause you to get sick, it can make you feel colder, reducing your immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
But your immune system’s relationship with temperature may be a bit more complicated than that.
Cold exposure is a form of physiological stress. Severe and long-lasting stress is known to affect the immune system. It increases inflammation and suppresses the activity of certain immune cells.
However, acute or short-term cold stress may actually have the opposite effect and improve your immune response. Your immune system responds as if it is being threatened, meaning it rallies its resources to fight off the potential threat.
So if you walk outside with wet hair on a cold day but quickly return to a normal temperature, your immune system may actually receive a slight boost.
But if you stay outside for an extended period or are consistently cold day after day, your immune system may become suppressed, increasing your chances of becoming infected.
Why Do You Get Sick in the Winter?
The reason that the cold winter months see higher rates of colds and flu may not be due to the cold weather itself.
Instead, it is likely related to people spending more time indoors in close proximity to each other.
During the warmer months, people are more likely to spend time outdoors, which may help reduce the spread of infections. But people are more likely to congregate in small spaces, like offices, classrooms, and homes when it’s cold outside.
This close contact allows viruses to spread from person to person.
You can help reduce the spread of contagious illnesses by:
- Washing your hands regularly
- Avoiding touching your face
- Covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough
- Wearing a mask when you are sick or around someone who is sick
- Avoiding close contact with symptomatic people
- Staying up-to-date on your vaccinations
If you are sick, the best thing you can do is stay home and rest. Drink plenty of fluids and take over-the-counter medications to help relieve your symptoms.
See a doctor if your symptoms are severe, or if you have underlying health conditions that put you at risk for complications.