Ask The Doctor

Dress Properly In Cold Weather

Dear Dr. Garner,

Happy New Year! Thanks for all you do with your column and the TV show.

My mother used to tell me not to go out with a wet head because I would get a cold. I now have children of my own and I find I’m saying the same to them.

So my question is: Is there any truth to this, or is it one of those old wives’ tales?

Wet Head in Williamsburg

Dear Wet Head,

Thanks for the opportunity to expand a little bit on this topic. Last year I responded to a question in one column that found this to be a myth.

Since then, there has been new information that has developed indicating that there may be some truth to the fact that going out without proper clothing or with wet hair can cause a cold.

Even if it is a myth, 40 percent of mothers polled recently said they believe sending children out in cold weather with a wet head would get them sick. This thinking dates back to the late 1800s when an experiment exposed chickens to bad bacteria. Some were kept warm and others were kept in a cold blanket. The ones in the cold blanket had an increased chance of catching the bacteria. This was once again noted in the early 1900s during World War I. Soldiers who slept in cold, wet areas were much more likely to get colds then those who rested in warm, dry areas.

The latest study shows that it is possible to have an increased risk of catching a cold when the body temperature is lowered. This can happen when a child goes out without a proper coat. The decrease in temperature causes a drop in the immune system making the body more susceptible to the cold virus.

Until now, most people believed that the reason for increased colds in the fall and winter was related to the fact that the children are in crowded classrooms in school. Once one child comes in with a cold, it is easily spread. In addition, families tend to stay indoors in close quarters and are more likely to transmit colds among themselves.

New research suggests that when the body’s temperature falls after exposure to cold air, so does the immune system’s ability to fight viruses. These viruses can survive better in colder environments. The body’s immune response differs at different temperatures. When inhaling cold air from the outside, the temperature of the nose will decrease temporarily. It was found that in cooler temperatures the virus has the increased ability to multiply. However, the study was not a thorough one and results are prelimi- nary. It does present food for thought.

While we still don’t have an answer to the question as to whether cold weather causes a cold, it seems to play a role. Therefore, until we have further information, I would suggest listening to your mother’s advice and dressing properly in cold weather.

In summary, the exposure to colder temperatures and increased risk of catching a cold is not a myth. Cold weather allows viruses that are present to reproduce and become stronger and more easily penetrate the body’s immune system. In addition, the cold weather may impair the body’s immune system. It is still nec- essary to be exposed to the virus to catch a cold. However, once a few viruses have entered the nose, inhaling cold air creates a cooler environment where the viruses are likely to thrive.

I hope that this helps answer your question about a connection between the outside weather and the likelihood of developing a cold. While all the facts are not in yet, probably the best advice is just what your mother said: “Don’t go out with a wet head!”

Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts“Ask the Doctor” on NET TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97, Cablevision Channel 30 and Verizon FiOS on Demand.

Share this article with a friend.