Does Cold Weather Make You Sick?

Does the cold weather make people sick? The simple answer is actually no.

It’s a commonly believed myth that cold weather makes people sick.
The truth is that cold weather does not directly cause illness. The flu, colds and other common sicknesses are caused by viruses.

Why do more people seem to get sick in the winter?
During the cold season, people tend to spend more time indoors. This means more time close to others, making the spread of germs and viruses easier. As for children, when it gets colder, they are also more likely to spend more time playing indoors in close proximity to others.

Using heat can make the spread of illness easier.
Dry air makes the transmission of germs easier. When it’s cold, putting on the heat raises the temperature, but also causes air to become drier. As people spend more time in artificially heated environments, they are exposed to drier air. This can also help spread illness.

Simply put, cold air does not produce illness.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968 was one of the first of its kind to test if cold air made people sick. Subjects were exposed to germs of the common cold under various conditions. Those who were exposed to cold water or chilly air were not more likely to get sick than those who were kept in room temperature conditions. Other studies have had similar results.

“…this study demonstrated no effect of exposure to cold on host resistance to rhinovirus infection and illness that could account for the commonly held belief that exposure to cold influences or causes common colds.” Click here for more on the study.

What about the immune system?
The human body reacts to very cold temperatures by using the bulk of its energy to warm the body. The result is that the immune system may not be as effective at fighting illness away when a person is exposed to excessively cold air. Once someone gets sick, it may take them longer to fight off the illness if they were to stay under very cold conditions.

How to stay healthy during the winter.
Keep in mind that being closer to people indoors during the winter could increase the possibility of transmitting sickness. Take necessary precautions to avoid the spread of germs. If dry air is a concern, considering running a humidifier when the heat is on. This can help add moisture to the air and also reduce the threat of getting a dry, scratchy throat. The final moral of the “story” is to dress appropriately for the weather. If it’s very cold, wear layers and try to avoid exposing skin to the elements. The flip side is that although a person might not get sick from stepping outside in the cold, they could develop hypothermia under those conditions.

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Quincy is a meteorologist and storm chaser who travels around the country documenting and researching severe weather. He has on-air experience with stations such as WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. He was most recently a digital meteorologist for After achieving his B.S. degree in Meteorology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in 2009, he returned as a University Assistant to help produce weather broadcasts. He also gave guest lectures and worked on website design. He has over nine years of professional weather forecasting experience and his forecasts have been featured in newspapers and on radio stations in multiple states.

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