"Zip up your coat or you'll catch a cold!" You know how the popular expression goes: "If you had a dollar for each time you heard that ..." As a kid, it's likely you were scolded by your grandma for heading out the doors without five layers, or your mother covered your head with a hat in an effort to thwart the common cold. They have the best of intentions, of course, but you can't help but wonder: "Does cold weather really make you sick?" These doctors say the popular tale is far from true.
"It's a long-believed myth that cold weather can actually make you sick," Dr. Elizabeth Meade, national spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and chief of pediatrics at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, tells Romper. "In reality, most viruses and bacteria actually survive best around body temperature, not in cold temps."
Like, Meade, Dr. Eric Morley, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Medical Group, in Aliso Viejo, California, tells Romper in an email interview that the short answer to the popular question is simple — no.
"Germs make you sick, not the weather," Morley says. He notes that the real reason people seem to get sick more often when it’s cold outside is that two of the most common families of viruses, influenza and rhinovirus infections, happen to peak during that time of year. "Additionally, when it’s cold outside we tend to stay indoors," he says. "More people together in a confined environment means more sharing of germs, and ultimately more illness."
Dr. Anthony Wong, an internal medicine physician at Saddleback Medical Center, Laguna Hills, California, agrees, telling Romper that cold weather also occurs during the busy holiday season, leading to more susceptibility to illness.
"This is when people are often running around doing so many things in order to prepare for the holidays," he says. "They often compromise their immune system because they don’t get enough sleep, aren’t exercising regularly, and are not eating properly. During this time, people are also in close contact with friends and family who can pass the germs around."
Germs, germs everywhere is what Dr. Marnie Baker, a pediatrician at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Romper truly leads to sickness. "This is an 'old wives tale' that I continue to hear about in my office," she says. "Germs make you sick and, during the cold months, children spend more time indoors, allowing germs to spread. Many of the viruses that cause cold symptoms are highly contagious, and these contagious droplets — spread from coughing and sneezing — can live on surfaces such as desks and doorknobs for several hours."
Also a culprit? Baker points out that kids who attend school while sick because they do not want to get behind or adults who go to work while feeling under the weather further increases exposure to contagious germs.
Dr. Linh H. Nguyen, a pediatrician at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Long Beach, California, points out that in addition to an increased prevalence of viruses like influenza, in the cold weather months, plummeting temperatures also cause an increase in mucous production for some people. "[This causes] sneezing, congestion, postnasal drip, throat irritation, and cough."
And in case you weren't clear on the situation, Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, puts the kibosh on any of your doubts with a simple, "Cold weather does not make you sick — germs do."
So it seems like one thing you can bet on during the winter months is a higher incidence of all the grossness. Because of that, Meade says frequent hand washing — especially after being with other people or in crowded areas — is vital. Be sure to also get regular shut-eye, keep up with your exercise routine, and eat a varied diet full of healthful foods, Meade says. In other words, try to balance the cozy time on the couch and influx of holiday comfort foods with some healthy activities, mmkay?
By the way, that's not to say that you shouldn't cover up your little one's head or wear extra layers to keep from shivering all day or getting dreaded cold hands. Why do they last forever? Just keep in mind that your efforts to bundle won't keep you from getting sick because of those d*mn germs.
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