Myths surrounding the common cold are almost as common as the cold itself. Time for some mythbusting!
Autum's here. That means the common cold is doing its rounds again, along with stubborn old wives' tales that explain that being cold gives you a cold. What's the actual reason people get colds? Can wrapping up warm prevent a cold? How about stocking up on Vitamin C? Do only people with a weakened immune system get a cold?
The common cold is one of the most frequent ailments out there, and it's a prime reason for school children and workers alike to take time off sick. No wonder that it's talked about so much. There's an awful lot of myth-busting to do, however.
How Do You Catch A Cold?
First off, where did the common cold catch its name? Colds most commonly turn up during the cold, rainy and windy seasons of autumn and winter. This is probably how they got their name in English, but also in at least three other languages I'm personally familiar with. If you want to use medical terminology, you'd instead call it asopharyngitis, rhinopharyngitis or acute coryza, though. It's most commonly caused by the rhinovirus, though over 200 other viruses can also lead to colds.
We all know the symptoms — a runny nose, sore throat, and constant sneezing. You catch a cold from another person who's infected with one of the numerous viruses that cause a cold, when they sneeze into the air and the virus comes your way, or when you touch a surface they previously contaminated, like a door knob, a keyboard, a handle on the train, or anything, really.
Does Being Cold Give You A Cold?
The idea that being exposed to cold temperatures gives you a cold is a very stubborn one indeed. Just being out in the cold, even without a jacket, or a scarf, or a hat, will not give you a cold. It's important to note that being out in the cold, especially without a jacket on, actually seems to stimulate the immune system, rather than destroying it. Enjoying some fresh air in the winter gets the hormone norepinephrine going, and this hormone acts as a decongestant.
People are, in fact, most likely to catch a cold in crowded — but usually not cold, because we do like to heat our homes, offices, and public spaces — place, where your proximity to lots of other people is more likely to expose you to one of the many cold-causing viruses.
Back when the old wives' tale that being cold gives you a cold appeared, germ theory hadn't yet developed and people sought to come up with seemingly logical explanations without having the full scientific picture. Recent research, however, does suggest there is more to this idea that you may think, so don't dismiss the idea that being cold gives you a cold quite yet.
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Not everyone who is exposed to a cold virus gets symptoms. What differentiates those who get ill after exposure from those who don't? A study conducted on mice and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at the beginning of 2015 showed that having a cold nose is, indeed, more likely to make you ill if you are exposed to a cold virus. This doesn't mean that cold temperatures supress the immune system as a whole. It does mean that cold temperatures may suppress the localized immune system inside the nose. The researchers' advice? Keep your nose warm. (They have no advice about what to do with the rest of your body.)