Does cold air make you sick? Here’s what the experts say

Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 4:27 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2022 at 4:30 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Old wives’ tales warn leaving a window open in the cold will lead to a cold in the morning. So does cold air actually make you sick?

Doctor Barbe is the Department Chair of Primary Care at Mercy Hospitals. He explained how our bodies respond to a steep decline in temperatures and moisture in the air.

“First of all, it does actually influence how the T cells or some of the lymphocytes in our body that are infection-fighting cells can respond to infections. Also, in the nose itself, the response of the cells in the nose is different because the temperature inside the nose is much lower in cold weather,” Dr. Barbe said.

Dr. Barbe said the lack of moisture in the air is a big culprit in our suppressed immune systems, but simply being outside will not give you a virus.

“The drier the air is, the more susceptible we are to contracting infections. Just being outdoors doesn’t cause you to get sick, except when you’re exposed to viruses. Your chance of being exposed to viruses is actually greater indoors when you’re around other individuals. If you’re out just walking or jogging, your likelihood of exposure is really very low,” Dr. Barbe explained.

He added, however, there are several ways to fight against the common cold and flu, and most are common sense.

“Stay away from people who are sick, or if you’re sick yourself, stay away from other people. Good hand washing and sanitizing are very important. Masking does actually help. I know that’s not popular right now, but it does help, and keeping the humidity adequate indoors and keeping your mucus membranes healthy can help,” Dr. Barbe stated.

He went on to say masking keeps moisture and warmth in your nose, therefore reinforcing your body’s natural ability to ward off unwanted germs through mucus. Wearing a mask or scarf can especially aid in cold-related illnesses like hypothermia.

“Heat loss is especially great from your head, face, and hands. So keeping your head covered, keeping your face covered to the extent you can, and wearing gloves are very important during the colder weather if you’re going to be outside for any prolonged period of time. Which is the other angle, try to make your time outside when it’s very cold shorter,” Dr. Barbe said.

Besides the obvious threats of exposure in the wintertime, like hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot, viruses are not transferred through the air without contact with another sick person. That being said, immune systems have a hard time recuperating sufficient moisture to fight off viruses and bacteria. The best you can do is practice good personal hygiene and social distance from those who are ill.

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