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  • Dr. Sarah Penney, ND, MSc

Can I Really Catch A Cold From The Cold?

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

Do you have fond childhood memories of being bundled up so tight that you could barley to go outside in the winter? Or maybe of being chased with a scarf and jacket as you were running out the door as a trendy teenager? The notion that exposure to cold weather can cause us to develop symptoms of a cold or respiratory infection has been passed down through generations, and perhaps with good reason.

You might think that from a medical perspective, knowing that viruses and bacteria cause colds and respiratory infections, linking an exposure to cold weather with the onset of symptoms seems like an old wives tale. According to a review of the medical literature there may actually be something to this idea! Although research is conflicting, data does suggest an increased risk of chest infection is associated with a lower body temperature. The reason for this may be a slowing or weakening of our immune response when our core temperature drops in addition to a constriction of our airways in response to cold air, both of which can increase our risk for contracting an infection. (1) Additional animal research has also suggested that cold viruses can also replicate at a higher rate in cooler nasal mucosa due to lower activity of the immune system. (2)

Another approach to analyzing this idea is using Traditional Chinese medicine, in which a type of energy called defensive Qi is responsible for our resilience to cold like symptoms. According to this theory, any exposure to cold can cause well known symptoms like chills, a runny nose or low energy. The two places that cold and wind are thought most affect the body are the neck and lower back, so keeping these areas covered may help prevent these symptoms. Nurturing yourself with warm drinks and foods can help combat this effect.

So there may be some worth to favouring function over fashion when you are surrounded by sneezes and sniffles! Try bundling up this winter if you are usually the one who always has a cold. There are lots of other causes to frequent infections that can be addressed through diet, lifestyle and immune support by a Naturopathic Doctor. Be sure to visit me for more info at!


1. Mourtzoukou EG1, Falagas ME. Exposure to cold and respiratory tract infections. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2007 Sep;11(9):938-43.

2. Foxman E.F. et al. Temperature-dependent innate defense against the common cold virus limits viral replication at warm temperature in mouse airway cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jan 20; 112(3): 827–832.

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