VERIFY: Does cold, wet weather make you sick?

The temperature is starting to drop, so what do we do? Bundle up. After all, it’s common sense. But, is it really true that cold weather causes colds? We verify the common perception.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - It’s that old wives tale we always hear when the weather turns, “You’ll catch your death of cold!”

In other words, if you go outside when it's cold or wet, you'll get sick. True or false?

We spoke to a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences doctor, along with several studies as our sources.

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"I try not to let them go out without their ears covered, try to bundle them up a little bit more," said Sarah Duke. Duke is extra protective of her two young sons when the temperature drops. "To err on the side of caution, especially this time of year, when the flu is going around and everything. Have an extra layer on to make sure they're comfortable outside because they do spend time running around before it's too, too cold."

It’s what we all do, after all, it’s common sense. But, is it really true that cold weather causes colds?

"There's a bit of controversy in the scientific literature about that issue, Dawn," said Dr. Robert Hopkins, physician of internal medicine at UAMS.

"Do you have a greater susceptibility to catching a cold when it's cold, say 40 degrees versus 80 degrees outside?" asked Dawn Scott.

"There are a number of studies that show that when the weather is cold and dry, the air is dry, that we may get more respiratory infections including colds and even influenza than when the weather is warmer or there's higher humidity," said Dr. Hopkins.

Dr. Hopkins said while the cold weather doesn’t make you sick and germs do, research suggested that cold weather does create a condition that helps those germs survive. He pointed to a study after study to verify. Publications include Smithsonian Magazine, Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal among other medical studies that all come to the same conclusion. That conclusion is cold temperatures and low relative humidity are favorable to the spread of the flu. And rhinoviruses, which are the most common cause of colds.

“What is the science behind your immune system dropping when it is so cold?” said Dawn.

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Dr. Hopkins replied, "There are multiple different barriers our body puts up to infections. One is that we have linings in our moist parts of our body, our nose and our mouth, when it gets cold and dry the cells shrink. You may open up the gaps a little bit more between the cells and you may be able to get more of these viruses through those barriers."

This is why everything Sarah Duke is doing is right! One taste of winter and everyone bundles up! "Yeah, we try to keep them in sweaters and jackets at least for, you know, as long as we can,” she said jokingly.

“It is flu season, wash your hands, if you've got a cough or sneeze, as my daughter would say, dab! And get your flu shot,” Hopkins added. One more question we wanted to verify is about wet hair. If you walk out into the cold with wet hair, will you get sick? Dr. Hopkins said there is no medical truth to that claim, it is nothing but a myth.


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