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DrSugar Answers: Weather and Colds


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Dear DrSugar,
I have a friend who lives in the warm suburb of Fairfield, CA, and commutes to foggier, colder San Francisco every day. She is wondering if the daily climate switch from hot and dry weather to the foggy cold is making her sick, or at least more vulnerable to cold and flu? I am curious too. Is it a myth?
– Friend of Sniffles

To see what DrSugar has to say about the connection between abrupt and drastic changes in the weather and the common cold, read more.

It is a common misconception that cold weather can cause the common cold or flu. The common cold is caused by a virus and has never been shown to be related to exposure to cold weather or wet weather. The idea that cold weather itself leads to colds is likely related to the observation that people get viral illnesses more often in the Winter. Health officials and epidemiologists believe that viral illnesses are more common in the Winter because they are highly contagious and people are often in closer indoor contact in the Winter months. When you were young Dr. Mom always said, “Put on a sweater or you’ll catch a cold.” She would have been more correct to say, “Don’t go to school or you’ll catch a cold.” Wouldn't that have been great?

The temperature difference between the warmer, dryer climate of Fairfield and foggy Summers of San Francisco is unlikely to have anything to do with her increasing frequency of illness. However, there are a number of other factors that could contribute to her getting sick more often. If this is a new job in the city, it could be related to new exposure to large groups of people in close quarters, i.e. an office environment. Also, new jobs and long commutes can increase stress levels, which can weaken the immune system. The other possibility is that she is allergic to molds or pollens in San Francisco that are less prevalent in her home city. In summary, there could be a number of things making her sick more often, but that actual climate change is an unlikely culprit.

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