Merry Christmyths #4: Does Cold Weather Really Lead to Colds?

To celebrate the holiday season, ASO is bringing you a science-filled 12 Days of ASO Christmas! This will be a series of ‘mini-blogs’, by Rosemary Wills, centered on the science of some of our most cherished traditions. This is the eleventh in the series. 

The Myth:

Cold weather causes colds.

The Reality:

While frosty air itself won’t give you the sniffles, you should still bundle up.

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Image credit: Barb via Flickr.

It’s called flu season for a reason- the holidays are a prime time to get sick. But why? The discovery of viruses as the true culprit behind your runny nose disproved the generations-old belief that “catching cold” involved exposure to icy winds alone. Instead, the uptick in cold and flu cases during the winter probably has more to do with the increased tendency for people to find themselves huddled in close quarters, cooped up inside to escape the chill or crammed into planes and trains returning home for the holidays.

That said, there may be a more direct cold-to-viral-cold relationship once a virus has already invaded your body. Rhinoviruses (usually to blame for your “common cold”) are better able to infect chilly nasal cells than warm ones, and recent research may have turned up why: cooler temperatures seem to impair nasal cells’ ability to release interferons, molecules that trigger the immune response.

So, you should probably take your mom’s advice and bundle up.

About the Author

Rosemary WillisRosemary Wills is an undergraduate at UGA majoring in Plant Biology and Science Education. When she’s not writing, coding, or spending time with family, she enjoys growing plants in her windowsill and crocheting science-related things. More from Rosemary Wills.