Is it true that going out in the cold with wet hair will make you sick?
Many of us have heard the warning: don’t go out in the cold with wet hair, or you will die. It arises from the fear that being too cold can predispose us to illness.
There is not much truth in it. But it may not be entirely false either.
The common cold, flu and other respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, are caused by viruses. Some sinus infections are caused by bacteria. These germs are usually spread by inhaling respiratory droplets and particles from sick people, eating or drinking after them, or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
“You can’t get a cold just from going out in the cold,” said Sean O’Leary, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Infectious Diseases.
However, winter weather can create a friendlier environment for germs, both on and off our bodies. Some research has suggested that cold temperatures may help the flu virus survive better, for example.
Cold temperatures can also affect our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to exposure to germs.
A 2018 study found that the area just inside the tip of each nostril contains receptors that can detect bacteria that are inhaled. The immune system then sends a swarm of tiny bubbles, known as extracellular vesicles, into the mucus in your nose to kill bacteria before they have a chance to cause an infection. In a 2022 study, researchers found that a similar process occurs with viruses and, most importantly, when the nose becomes cold, its ability to perform this function may be hindered.
The totality of the research shows that “our susceptibility to viral infection roughly doubles as the temperature drops, even just 5 degrees” Celsius, said Benjamin Bleier, director of otolaryngology translational research at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, who was the lead author of the study. both studies.
Hypothermia (a significant drop in body temperature caused by prolonged exposure to extreme cold) can also suppress the immune system.
“I wouldn’t be so worried about going out with wet hair,” O’Leary said. “I would be concerned about making sure that you are protected from the things that we know can be very serious,” particularly by getting vaccinated against coronavirus, influenza virus and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
What else you should know:
Some people may be more likely to get sick in the winter, but not because they spend time outdoors in the cold. In some cases, it may be the opposite, experts say.
“During the winter, people gather indoors,” where there is little ventilation, said Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. This proximity to family and friends during cold and flu season “increases exposure to viruses due to interaction with others,” she said.
The bottom line:
You can’t get sick just from going out in the cold with wet hair; must come into contact with a cold or flu virus, for example. However, cold temperatures can make you more susceptible to infection when you are exposed to certain germs.