Can Cold Weather Make You Ill?

Can Cold Weather Make You Ill?

Many people associate cold weather with the common cold but while it can be tough on your health, the weather is not directly responsible for making one sick.

Rhinoviruses, the viruses that cause more than half of all colds, spread more easily in lower temperatures, and exposure to cold and dry air may adversely impact your body’s immune system. Rhinoviruses can also cause more severe illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, in people with weakened immune systems. Research suggests that temperatures below 37oC may allow rhinoviruses to replicate more efficiently.

Rhinoviruses typically spread:

  • Through direct person-to-person contact
  • As small droplets in the air, or aerosols, which are inhaled

Once inhaled, the rhinovirus attaches itself to the cells inside the nasal passages. It then begins to replicate itself, spreading more virus particles throughout the upper respiratory tract.

Effect of cold weather on viruses

As mentioned earlier, some research suggests that rhinoviruses may replicate more efficiently at temperatures lower than 37°C, which is the average core body temperature in humans. The temperature inside the nasal cavity is approximately 33°C, making it an ideal breeding ground for rhinoviruses.

Environmental factors like decreases in both temperature and humidity over a 3-day period increase the risk of rhinovirus infections and the human rhinovirus can live up to 3 hours outside a human host. Once a virus is contracted, a person is most contagious within the first 3 days.

Effect of cold weather on the immune system

Many researchers believe that exposure to cold weather can adversely affect a person’s immune response, making it harder for the body to fight off infections. Reasons for this may include:

Reduced vitamin D levels: Vitamin D plays an essential role in maintaining the immune system. Most of the time during cold weather, many people get less vitamin D due to reduced sun exposure.

Spending more time indoors:  People tend to spend more time indoors especially in countries that experience winter. This causes viruses to spread more when people are in close contact with each other.

Narrowing of the blood vessels: Breathing in cold and dry air causes the blood vessels in the upper respiratory tract to narrow to conserve heat. This may prevent white blood cells from reaching them, making it harder for the body to fight off germs.


Some ways to avoid getting sick during the cold weather include:

  • Eat foods that are high in vitamin D, such as fatty fish, eggs etc. Read more on whether supplements are good for you here.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Put your phone down.
  • Drink a lot of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Sneeze or cough into clean disposable tissues; if none is available, use your elbow rather than your palms to cover your nose and mouth
  • Not sharing foods, drinks, and utensils with people who have a cold or the flu

Tweet this: Viruses, not the weather, cause colds. However, exposure to cold weather can increase your risk of contracting a virus. So do stay dry and keep warm out there! @HygeiaHMO_

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