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Does cold weather make you sick?

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, 6 min read

Does cold weather make you sick?

We’ve all been told at some point to wrap up warm so that we don’t get a cold. Our parents and their parents before that all probably made references to the fact that you could catch a cold by being out in the cold weather. But is there any real truth to this? Does cold weather make you sick or is it just an old wives’ tale?

If you’ve found yourself wondering about this question from time to time, we’re here to put your mind at ease once and for all. So, without further ado, let’s dig in and explore everything you need to know about cold weather and sickness.

Can You Get Sick from Cold Weather?

The answer to this is yes and no. Despite popular belief, cold weather is not the cause of illnesses such as the common cold or flu.1 However, cold temperatures can cause or exacerbate certain health problems.

Why is it called ‘cold season’?

Cold season or flu season are so called because case numbers tend to be higher during the winter months and colder times of year. This doesn’t mean that the cold weather is the cause of these illnesses, but rather that the conditions created by the cold weather can make it easier for these kinds of viruses and infectious diseases to spread.

What actually causes the common cold or flu?

The common cold and flu are different illnesses but they share many similar symptoms (such as sore throat and runny nose) and are spread in similar ways. Like Coronavirus, the common cold and flu are caused by viruses. There are many different types of viruses that cause a cold but the most common one is Rhinovirus2. Meanwhile, the flu is caused by various types of the Influenza virus.3

How is cold or flu spread?

Although they differ in some ways, each of these viruses spread from person to person, usually via droplets in the air. These droplets spread when someone who is infected with a virus speaks, coughs or sneezes. If enough of these droplets enter our system through the nose or mouth, we become infected.

The flu virus or common cold virus can also sometimes be spread through hand-to-hand contact or if an infected person has touched an object or surface which is then touched by another person who then touches their mouth or face. This way of spreading the viruses is far less common, however, and frequent hand washing can lower the risk even further.

Why are respiratory viruses more common in colder months?

As we’ve already established, the cold weather doesn’t create the viruses that cause a cold, flu or COVID-19. However, society’s behavioral reactions to the cold weather can often create the perfect conditions for these viruses to spread.

Close contact is one of the key factors in the spreading of viruses and respiratory infections. During winter, people tend to stay indoors and are naturally in much closer proximity to each other. It’s also the time of year when most schools are open and so children are also in close proximity to each other. It’s also believed that low humidity can cause dry nasal passages which makes that part of the body more vulnerable to these types of viruses.4

So, while you won’t catch a cold because it’s cold outside, you may be more likely to catch a cold when it is cold outside.

What can I do to reduce my chances of getting or spreading a respiratory infection?

The best practices for reducing your risk of catching a cold or flu are similar to what we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • Make sure you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds
  • If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer which is at least 60% alcohol
  • Regularly wash and disinfect surfaces like kitchen countertops and bathroom sinks
  • Wash or clean children’s toys periodically (particularly if they are displaying cold-like symptoms)
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze (ideally with your arm, not your hand)
  • Wear a face mask if you are in a crowded indoor space
  • Open a window for ventilation if possible
  • Avoid close contact with people who are displaying symptoms
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes

If you have a weak immune system, are older, or have another health condition that would compromise your immune response, it’s worth considering a flu vaccine or flu shot.

It’s also important to take care of yourself day to day in order to give your immune system the best possible chance at fighting any potential infections. Basic health care and self care include getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and eating a balanced diet that provides all the essential nutrients (such as Vitamin C and Vitamin D).

What Health Problems are Caused by Cold Weather?

As we previously mentioned, although winter weather is not the root cause of the common cold or similar viruses, colder temperatures can cause certain health problems.

There are many different health issues that can be exacerbated in the cold weather, particularly in the more vulnerable group within our society. However, few (if any) of these are actually caused by cold weather.

Conditions actually caused by cold weather include things such as hypothermia and frostbite. However, it’s worth noting that these usually occur in extreme conditions.


Being exposed to colder temperatures for too long can cause an abnormally low core body temperature. This can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Loss of coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Shivering
  • Slowed pulse and/or breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Hypothermia is more than just being cold—it is a serious reaction to prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures. If you are concerned about someone displaying signs of hypothermia, seek medical assistance immediately.5


Frostbite normally occurs when skin is exposed to windy, cold air but it can also occur when skin is covered by gloves and clothing. There are various levels of frostbite, the mildest of which being frostnip. 

Frostnip usually causes numbness to the affected area as well as pain and tingling when the skin begins to warm up again. This won’t cause any permanent skin damage.

The most severe type of frostbite is deep frostbite. This type of frostbite affects the tissue below the skin as well as the superficial layer. It can even cause muscle or joint damage. If you are showing signs of deep frostbite, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

So, Does Cold Weather Actually Make You Sick?

Now that we’ve cleared that up, you can rest knowing that just because the weather is cold, you are not guaranteed to get sick. However, it is still important to look after yourself, particularly in extremely cold climates. 

Just because cold weather doesn’t actually cause cold or flu viruses, it doesn’t mean that you are not vulnerable to them during the winter months. Follow our best practice advice to reduce the risk of catching a respiratory virus this winter, but remember not to panic if you do catch something. Most people will recover after a few days of rest but if you are older or particularly vulnerable to viruses such as the flu, it’s worth considering a vaccine for better protection.

For more information about flu vaccines, make a digital appointment with the Babylon online healthcare team today. 


  1. John Hopkins Medicine 
  2. Mayo Clinic,sick%20coughs%2C%20sneezes%20or%20talks
  3. CDC 
  4. John Hopkins Medicine 
  5. CDC 
  6. Mayo Clinic 

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.

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