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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Kids playing in snow

Does Playing in the Cold Give You a Cold?

You’ve probably heard these warnings:

“It’s too cold to play outside!”
“Don’t go out with wet hair – you’ll catch a cold!”
“Wear your hat or you’ll get sick!”

Maybe you’ve even said them? I know my mother has! But…are they true? Does being out in the cold give you a cold?

Nope. Viruses cause colds. The only way to get a cold is to be exposed to a virus. Doctors call colds upper respiratory viral infections. There are hundreds of viruses that cause colds – most often it’s one called a rhinovirus that causes a stuffy, runny nose, sore throat, and cough.

The symptoms of a cold usually last a week, but the cough and congestion can linger for longer. Plus, the common cold is indeed common – children get many every year.

So why do these myths about catching colds persist? Cold and influenza viruses do occur more often in cold months.

We get more colds in the winter months primarily because we spend more time indoors close to other people. Warm dry rooms contribute to the spread of these viruses. Also, dry air dries out the mucus membranes lining your nose, lungs, and eyes making it harder for your immune system to fight off viruses that attack there.

Think about your child’s kindergarten class – all of those kids close together every day. If one of them gets a cold, their germs from sneezing, coughing, and wiping a runny nose will be easily shared to all their friends! Ick.

Common cold viruses also survive better in low humidity, like in the winter months.

Believing in the myths about colds is dangerous because it can detract from the real way to prevent colds and flu: handwashing! And more time spent outdoors (dressed warmly) playing in the fresh air should help boost kids’ immune response and decrease opportunities to share germs. So bundle them up, and kick them outside!

And Mom, if you’re reading this, I love you and thanks for looking out for us all these years. But – playing outdoors in the cold won’t make the kids sick!

Find more resources for parents:

My Doctor Online
Colds and Flu in Children

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others