Can you catch a cold by getting wet?

By Emily Grenfell

Will you really "catch your death of cold"?

The only thing that can cause you to get a cold or flu, is a cold or flu virus. Viruses can be picked up from infected surfaces, or from breathing infected particles coughed or sneezed into the air. 

But there is some truth to the saying. If you are already carrying the virus in your nose, getting cold or wet can allow symptoms to develop. A study at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff found that test subjects who sat with their feet in cold water for 20 minutes were twice as likely to develop symptoms, as those whose feet were kept warm and dry.

It is possible to carry the cold virus without developing symptoms.
Getting cold causes blood vessels in the nose to constrict, lowering your nasal defences, making it easier for the virus to take hold.

So while it’s not true that going out in cold weather will cause a cold, it may trigger symptoms. Keep your defences up by drying your hair thoroughly and wrapping up warm.


Trench Foot

Also known as Immersion Foot, you can get it if your feet are wet for long periods of time. Symptoms include tingling or itching, pain, cold and blotchy skin, swelling, and numbness. When your foot warms up blisters may form, followed by skin dying and falling off.

To prevent it, remove wet socks and shoes when possible, air dry and lift your feet. Cases of Trench Foot are common after wet festival weekends and any long period of time where your feet have been wet and cold. Make sure you have sensible footwear for the winter months and wear clean, dry socks everyday.



You can get hypothermia if your body temperature drops to between 28-35C. Common causes are exposure to cold weather and/or cold water. Symptoms can include:

  • Constant shivering
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Cold or pale skin
  • Fast breathing
  • Confusion
  • Loss of judgement and/or co-ordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow, shallow breathing

If you have a body temperature of 28-32C, you will usually have stopped shivering completely. This is a sign that your condition is worsening and you need emergency medical treatment.

To avoid hypothermia, always make sure you’re wrapped up warm and dressed appropriately for cold and/or wet weather. Older adults and small children are particularly vulnerable. Older adults may be unable to regulate their body temperature effectively, and may not be able to move to get warm. Children commonly lose heat faster than adults, and if the weather’s snowy they’re likely to ignore the cold because they’re having fun.
If you’ve been drinking alcohol your body is likely to feel warm, but alcohol causes your blood vessels to expand and lose heat rapidly. If you know you will be drinking, always make sure you have appropriate clothing for your journey home.