By Sarah Klein
The question: Can I really catch a cold just from going outside with wet hair?
The answer: No doubt you’ve heard this one before — probably from Mom or Grandma as you rushed out the door one winter morning fresh out of the shower.
But while you might not feel so cozy venturing out into the cold with a wet head, doing so doesn’t condemn you to illness. Colds and the flu are caused by viruses; the only way to come down with the bugs is to come into contact with those viruses that cause them.
“In order to get an infection you need to be exposed to an infectious agent,” said Dr. Pritish Tosh, an infectious diseases physician and researcher at the Mayo Clinic. “There are several things that circulate during periods of cold weather — influenza, different cold viruses. That’s what you need to get infected. Going out with wet hair is not going to cause an infection. I think it more so just makes people uncomfortable.”
He cautioned that that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go traipsing around in below-freezing temperatures without a jacket or with a wet head. Ultra-cold weather is a stressor on the body, and in extreme cases could lead to hypothermia, which can certainly affect your immune system, but “you will not on your own get an infection from going outside,” he said.
Of course, you can catch a cold or flu virus while outside, and cold and flu season certainly does overlap with cold weather. Recent research suggests rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold, may thrive in low temperatures. And traipsing around in below-freezing temperatures could, in extreme cases, lead to hypothermia, which can certainly affect your immune system, he says. But you won’t get an infection simply because your hair is wet. Or because you didn’t wear a jacket, or a scarf, or mittens, either.
“The things to really focus on are respiratory etiquette, meaning if you are sick to cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow, and good hand hygiene,” said Tosh, who admits this is a tough myth to finally put to rest. “No matter how many times I tell my mom that you can’t get a cold from being in the cold, she still says this,” he said. “And she knows I’m an infectious diseases physician!”
“Ask Healthy Living” is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical advice.
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