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Serving the Susquehanna Region

Can the Cold Give You a Cold?

by Carrie Timko, MD

You may associate the cold weather with being sick or catching a cold. The truth is, the weather is not directly responsible for making you sick, but it can affect your body.

The Common Cold

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), millions of people in the U.S. develop the common cold each year. On average, most adults get two or three colds a year. Colds are typically caused by rhinovirus or one of 200 other viruses and strains of influenza. You are exposed to these viruses your whole life and year-round, but your body may respond in different ways during different times of the year.

During the winter months, outdoor temperatures drop, and humidity is low making the air dry. Add to this the increased time spent inside your heated house, exposing you to more dry air as well as environmental allergens, and you increase the chances of experiencing cold-like symptoms, allergies, or other respiratory issues. Additionally, the dry air, allergens, and cold temperatures can decrease blood flow to the nose and ears and may aggravate the symptoms of a cold.

Symptoms of a cold vary, but may include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Sneezing
  • Low-grade fever

If you do get a cold, the best treatment is to rest and drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Most colds go away on their own. Viral infections will typically clear up within seven to 14 days. If your symptoms get worse or do not go away in 14 days, you should call your doctor. 

You should also follow these simple tips when you have a cold:

  • Wash your hands often and cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing to prevent sharing your cold with others.
  • Use humidifiers and vaporizers, especially at night, to help ease respiratory symptoms.
  • Use over the counter medications for symptom relief such as Tylenol, decongestants, and cough suppressants.

Preventing a Cold

There are ways you can protect yourself from common cold viruses and boost your immune system in the cold months to avoid getting sick, including:

  • Avoid touching faucet handles and doorknobs in public spaces.
  • Always practice good hygiene and handwashing – scrub with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, alcohol sanitizers are acceptable. It’s the 20 seconds of abrasion between the hands that matters, not the solvent.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Take a vitamin D supplement or eat foods that are high in immune system boosting nutrients, such as fatty fish, mushrooms, milk, and eggs. 
  • Quit smoking as nicotine decreases the ability of the tiny hairs in our nose and elsewhere to filter air and clear infection causing colds.

Not feeling well? Learn more about primary care at UPMC in the Susquehanna region.