Does Changing Winter Weather Make You Sick?

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – Tuesday’s record high temperatures will soon dip back into more seasonable January weather. Many believe this drastic temperature change causes colds and other illnesses. But is that really the case?

SSM St. Joseph Health Center E.R. Director Dr. Rob Corley explains that many words of wisdom on cold weather and health are not based in science; they’re old wives’ tales.  

For example, the notion that chicken soup cures colds, or that people could catch a cold if they go outside improperly dressed or with wet hair, he says, simply aren’t true.

Corley explains, “I think a lot of this we learn from our parents, and our parents’ parents, and friends and family, and a very small proportion of the population actually has a medical education.  And so a lot of things, while based on some semblance of reality, over years and years and generations, kind of take on a life of their own.”

In fact, cold weather does make people sick, partly because winter in the U.S. coincides with the flu season. But the main reason might not be what many expect.

Pharmacist Angie Kloeppel at Ladue Pharmacy explains, “It’s because people tend to migrate inside, and so people are closer together, so things spread more from person to person.”

Although it’s being indoors that actually makes people sick, these cold weather myths have strong roots, especially the notion that drastic temperature changes, like this week’s, cause sickness.

To illustrate that point, we asked several people at Ladue Pharmacy whether they felt weather changes caused illness.

One woman said it did: “Your immune system is not used to it, to the change in weather, to the rapid change.” Another agreed: “[People] always come in and say they don’t know what to wear, so they’re going to get sick, and that’s why everybody’s sick right now.”

The best way for everybody to stay healthy during these winter months is no surprise. Corley says, “Stay well hydrated, wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and get plenty of sleep, honestly.”

There is a caveat to this temperature change myth: if you have sensitive airways from asthma or emphysema, this week’s wild weather can make you sick.

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