Can you get a cold from cold weather? Our experts debunk the myth

Cold weather. (Getty Images)
Shivering in miserable weather doesn't directly cause the common cold. (Getty Images)

The temperatures finally feel like they've plummeted, the rain has arrived and, well, we're cold.

Age-old advice like 'don't leave the house with wet hair' and 'wrap up warm' has no doubt entered your mind on autopilot, with you keen not to fall sick this winter.

But while both are sensible to do, how much of a correlation actually is there between being cold and catching a cold?

Read more: Differences between flu and COVID-19 symptoms ahead of so-called 'twindemic'

Can you get a cold from cold weather?

Man breathing on his hands to keep them warm in outdoors snowy setting. (Getty Images)
Cold weather doesn't make you more prone to colds, but the virus could thrive in low temperatures. (Getty Images)

When autumn and winter hits, many of us seem to also be struck by colds. But is the chilly weather the cause of our symptoms?

“This is one of the most persistent myths about catching colds, but the answer is nuanced," says GP, Dr Nisa Aslam from Puressentiel. "The only way you get a cold is when you come into contact with the cold virus. Exposure to cold weather does not make people more prone to getting colds."

We catch the common cold either by breathing in droplets of fluid containing the virus (when someone coughs or sneezes), or by touching something that's been infected, and absent-mindedly putting our hands on our face (mouth and nose being worst).

However, Dr Aslam explains, "Some research suggests that rhinoviruses – the viruses that most commonly cause the common cold – may replicate more efficiently at temperatures below 37 degrees Centigrade (average body temperature).

"The temperature inside the nasal cavity [inside the nose] is 33 degrees Centigrade, which may make it an ideal site for replication of rhinoviruses, but this research does not confirm that lower outside temperatures increase the risk of rhinovirus infection."

So, while the chilly air doesn't give us a cold itself, it could help the virus survive, thrive, and infect us, in theory.

"One study showed that decreases in temperature and humidity – albeit in sub-Acrtic temperatures of minus 9 degrees Centigrade – increased risk of rhinovirus infection," adds Dr Aslam. "In this study, infections occurred more commonly at temperatures of zero degrees Centigrade and below.

"But this study is only of relevance to people living in very cold environments."

Separately, it's also thought that constantly being in low temperatures can mess with our immunity, making it harder for our body to fight off any contact with the cold virus.

Read more: 23 ways to stay warm without turning on the heating this winter

Does cold weather make you sick?

Shot of a woman suffering from chest pain while sitting on the sofa at home. (Getty Images)
Staying warm in winter is still important for our overall health. (Getty Images)

Just as we can't catch a cold (or the flu or COVID-19) from the weather, we also can't catch any other diseases from poor weather – but it can impact and exacerbate any existing health conditions.

"For anyone with cardiovascular disease, exposure to the cold increases risk of heart attacks, strokes, and pneumonia," says Dr Aslam. "Cold weather can also worsen depression, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, muscular pain, and respiratory conditions like asthma."

With regards to heart problems, for example, cold air might constrict blood vessels and reduce the oxygen supply to the heart, meaning it has to work harder to maintain body heat.

So, shiver-inducing temperatures can cause your heart to pump faster, your blood pressure to rise, and your blood to thicken, with the worst case scenario leading to clotting. This is what increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

"In older people, cold can also result in increased accidents at home (associated with loss of strength and dexterity in the hands)," adds Dr Aslam.

Read more: Flu jab: Who's eligible for the NHS vaccine rollout and how to book

Evidently, 'wrapping up warm' is still important, but it doesn't guarantee you're protected from being exposed to the cold virus. Measures like washing your hands often, using tissue to trap germs and binning them as quickly as possible are more effective at reducing the risk of spread.

If you're someone who's sniffle-prone, see our useful guide on why you keep getting colds and how to prevent catching them.

See a GP if your symptoms don't improve after three weeks, they get suddenly worse, your temperature is very high or you feel hot and shivery, you're concerned about your child's symptoms, you're feeling short of breath or have chest pain, you have a long-term medical condition, or you have a weakened immune system.

Watch: Three ways to prevent colds from spreading at home