Why you’re more likely to catch a cold in winter, reveals scientists

Scientists find the real reason you get sick during the winter months

Why you're more likely to catch a cold in winter, sleep & wellness tips
(Image credit: Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels)

Can you catch a cold from the winter weather? Turns out the answer is yes, as scientists have recently found the real reason why you’re more likely to catch the cold or flu in the winter.

We’ve all heard the old wives tale of if you go outside without a coat or not properly dressed, you’ll catch a cold. As the winter months see colder days, darker nights and a rise in illnesses, it’s unsurprising that this superstition is widely believed by many people. And according to new research, the colder weather could be the reason why you’re more likely to catch a cold, flu or COVID-19 during the time of year when the temperature drops.

Scientists from Harvard Medical School & Northeastern University have recently discovered that the cells inside the nose have a previously unidentified immune response when faced with viruses. These cells pick up signs of bad bacteria and release small fluid-filled sacs as a defense mechanism to fight off or neutralise infections.

After finding this immune response, the researchers on the project (who recently published their findings in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology (opens in new tab)) put its volunteers through a series of tests to see if this response could be impacted by the surrounding conditions. The scientists exposed the nasal cell samples to a drop in temperature from room temperature to winter levels of sub 5°C (opens in new tab).

Wellness tips

(Image credit: Noelle Otto / Pexels)

The scientists discovered that the immune response was vastly reduced or blocked due to the colder temperatures, meaning there’s a higher risk of bacterial or viral infections getting in through the nose when it’s cold. So, if you’re currently suffering from a cold or flu, it could be because the cold weather has made it harder for your nose to fight off illnesses… the old wives tale is true!

Of course, the cold weather is not the only reason you might be feeling under the weather this year. Typically, you have to come into contact with someone who’s ill and viruses tend to last longer when it’s cold. But this research does dispel rumours that cold and flu is more rampant this time of year because people are spending more time together indoors, and it proves that the cold has an impact on our immunity.

Tips for overcoming the common cold

If you’re currently suffering from a cold or the flu, there are a few things you can do to aid your recovery and make yourself feel better. It goes without saying that you should talk to a doctor if you’re feeling particularly under the weather, and taking cold and flu medication can relieve any pain and symptoms that you have. To help you get over your illness quicker, try to get plenty of rest on the best mattress (opens in new tab) and wrap up warm at night or when you leave the house. For more sleep tips, check out how  to sleep better with a cold (opens in new tab).

While it’s still debatable whether ‘starve a fever, feed a cold’ is effective or not, staying hydrated and nourishing your body is key to making you feel better. Drinking plenty of water, getting vitamin D and consuming warming foods like soups can be very soothing.

Other methods that can be comforting while you’re sick is gargling salt water for a sore throat and steaming your face to ease congestion. Some research also suggests that using the best essential oils (opens in new tab) can boost your immune system and reduce inflammation and headaches.

Bethan Girdler-Maslen
Acting Wellness Editor & Deals Writer

As T3's resident Shopping Expert and Deals Writer, Beth covers deals, discount codes, how to save money and seasonal holidays, including Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Amazon Prime Day, Boxing Day and Easter sales. Alongside her primary focus of deals, Beth is currently Acting Wellness Editor, covering all things sleep, yoga, relaxation and general wellbeing.

Having always been passionate about writing, she’s written for websites, newspapers and magazines on a variety of topics, from jewellery and culture, to food and telecoms. You can find her work across numerous sites, including Wedding Ideas Magazine, Health & Wellbeing, The Bristol Post, Fashion & Style Directory and more. In her spare time, Beth enjoys running, reading, baking and attempting DIY craft projects that will probably end in disaster!