Can you get a cold from cold weather?

I often hear older folks saying this, “don’t go outside without a jacket or you’ll get a cold.” Now can cold temperatures give you a cold? If so, is it because the air is denser and there’s more particles in the air, leaving me prone to more bacteria, virus and such? In my own opinion, I don’t think it matters either way. You get a cold, you get a cold. No matter what the temperatures are.

Not essentially accurate but cold weather can contribute to you getting the cold.

I used to argue about this with my ex all the time because I like it warm and a bit 'stuffy" during the winter and she likes to breathe cold air while sleeping.

Here is what happens, the reduced body temperature lowers the effectiveness of your bodies immune system and makes you more qualified as a host for most cold bugs.

There are a lot of things you can do to balance this out and if you are generally healthy and have a good respiratory system avoiding a cold is a lot more science than luck. If you smoke you should at least double your vitamin C intake and of course never share cigarettes or elevators with sick people. Avoid being around noticeably sick people as well at work. Mos adults who get sick either get it from their kids or from co-workers. When my daughter was in daycare I made sure they had a policy regading sick kids and keeping them home because I owned a small business and me being sick was the difference between profit and loss for my store.

The primary cause of increased colds in colder weather is that people tend to stay inside more with poorer ventilation. Colds spread better between people in confined conditions.

Cecil discussed cold weather and colds here:

I think it’s the opposite, the warmer temps that people set their thermostat to provides a more suitable enviroment for ‘bugs’ both in and out of the body.

I think you body will let you know what the temp should be. If it is cold out but you don’t feel cold - your body is dealing with it fine and you should not be suppressing your immune system by being there w/o your jacket.

I would guess that kids who are forced to wear their coats when actively playing are depressing their immune systems, via this path:

1 kid starts playing in the cold - expending energy and heating up their body.
2 parents say put on you jacket - kid heats up
3 kid starts sweating.
4 when kid starts winding down, his is damp from sweat.
5 kid now gets (and feels) cold due to being damp.
6 kids immune system depresses
7 kid gets sick and parents blame it on the 10 minutes in the begining when the kid had no jacket
8 the cycle starts over again

But that’s just what I think.

Short answer–No, with a but.

You get colds from a virus, just like any other disease. However, cold weather can cause conditions that make it more likely you’ll catch the virus. For example, the cold can tire you out and lower your resistance. Also, cold weather makes people stay indoors more, which increases your chances of coming in contact with someone who’s infected with cold viruses.

This question has come up a number of times, and there’s always a chorus of “cold weather lowers resistance.” Maybe so, but I have yet to see any credible documentation illustrating that.


I think the correlation is that cold weather causes cold-like symptoms, like sneezing, runny nose, etc.

" “cold weather lowers resistance.”

I would guess the body has to use more energy to stay warm, thus less energy for the immune system.

I know of no research that supports this conjecture, and a fair amount of studies (poorly controlled, I admit) which either fail to support it or actually refute it.

Qadgop, MD

I am not a doctor, but extrapolating from my experience with fish:

Changes in ambient temperature stresses the fishes’ “metabolic system” (to coin a vague but self-explanatory phrase). Part of this system, of course, is the immune system, which is why fish in a tropical aquarium are often very likely to develop problems with a parasitic protozoan–colloquially known as ich, which is short for something longer than ich. Yes, that’s right: a chill can cause fish to be susceptible to parasites.

Now, obviously, you can’t directly compare the effects of temperature changes on fish and mammals: ecto- versus endo-, etc. There are differences in the mechanisms, but stress on the system is stress on the system: if you and your mammally system expends more energy on maintaining a constant body temperature at a time of the year when–and in a climate where–the ambient temperature fluctuates more widely than it does in, say, August or Ecuador, then strain on your system’s–and its subsystems, like immune–equilibrium is inevitable.

Add the probably minor stress of temperature fluctuations to other sources of stress (an individual’s diet or sleep or emotional stress, etc.), and your immune system may well be compromised enough to allow an opportunistic virus to gain a foothold.

In other words, cold doesn’t cause you to get a cold–any more than it cause a fish to get ichy–but it can certainly be one of many contributing factors.

First, zen101 said:

There’s no evidence that Vitamin C helps to prevent colds. There is some weak evidence that it may reduce their severity, but it’s far from established fact.

One reason that cold weather could be associated with more colds and flu that I haven’t seen described is that cold temperatures cause runny noses, and a population with runny noses makes it much easier for a virus to transfer to others.

From Cecil’s column:

Reading this, I immediately came to the obvious (to me anyway) conclusion. When do people (in the US) get together most often, have parties & family reunions, and bring the kids? Right around Thankgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, correct? Once the virus has been throughly mixed up among the population in December, people go back to their jobs and expose everyone they are going to expose in January, and it only makes sense the peak would come in late January or early February.

What do you guys think? (Not that I’m expecting to hear from the Nobel committee any time soon…)

recent scientific studies have shown that air temperature has no effect on the body’s resistance to colds. they tested subjects in extremely cold environments, hot environments, and in-between environments. they administered cold germs through the air, and by direct contact. the results of the experiment showed that the only thing that determined who got a cold and who didn’t was who came into direct physical contact with cold germs by touch. airborn germs and temperature had no effect. people in warm climates were no less likely to catch cold than those in cold climates. sorry, i don’t have a link. i think i read about it in newsweek or at

Coming back and reading my post again, I noticed something I left out. (Besides the ‘s’ in Thanksgiving and the ‘o’ in thoroughly.) Increased holiday travel might play a factor as well. Air travel increases the number of individuals people become exposed to (who was the last person to touch that magazine or tray table?), and it spreads the variants of germs around the world more easily.

I’m still thinking the generally increased interaction among people during November and December is main cause of “cold & flu season”, just that modern air travel might be one more thing that helps exacerbate the situation in America. One way to substantiate or disprove this little theory would be to examine other countries that have most of their holidays at different times of the year than their winter (if they even have one) and compare the incidence of infectious diseases spread by casual contact. Anybody care to do some statisical studies?

I know personally that vitamin C has been a godsend when I feel a cold coming on. Linus Pauling advocated megadoses at the first hint of a cold: at least a couple of grams every couple hours. If you take too much, you’ll get diarrhea, but then you just back off. (No pun intended.)

At first the establishment said that Pauling was full of shit. Slowly, but surely, their opinion has changed. Below is a cite that has more uptodate info. Berkeley U. Wellness Letter editors recommend taking 200 - 500 mg a day, and Consumers Report in a recent issue of their Health Letter recommends the same.

“I know of no research that supports this conjecture, and a fair amount of studies (poorly
controlled, I admit) which either fail to support it or actually refute it.”

Yeah, but the OP wanted us to take a stab at it…

You & I know that you can’t get a cold virus unless said virus is also present already.

As I spend 10 to 15 hours a week in the ocean which is 52.5 deg you’d think that I would be the one to get a cold? Nope, haven’t had one for about 18 months.

:eek: I’ll get a cold just thinking about that. I bet, however, you wear a wetsuit.

Sure I wear a wetsuit…its still pretty cold though. At least there are no cold viruses in the ocean.

There is a good article on the “common” cold in the current Readers’s Digest (I know, I know…). The article centered on Jack Gwaltney, M.D., of the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center in Charlottesville. He has, through a lifetime of studying the 200 or so “common” cold virii, become known as “Dr. Common Cold”.

He states that temperature has no effect on cold virus transmission. Further, he has run controlled studies which indicate that the vast majority of colds are transmitted by direct contact with the eyes or nose. Very few cases are transmitted via airborne particles. In other words - wash your hands often, don’t touch your mouth or nose, and you will contact far less colds.

I wonder if it’s real at all. Anyone have actual data? Maybe “cold and flu season” is a construction of the cold and flu medicine companies, and illness is sort of a self fulfilling prophecy. We think it’s a cold, so it must be. Couldn’t just be allergies, or a sniffle or a sneeze. Anyway, I’ve heard that it also could be that in the dryer winter air the nasal mucosa dry up and make it easier for viruses to get from outside us to inside.