Q. My daughter insists you get colds from catching a virus, NOT from being cold, wet, not fully dressed or walking in the rain. Her beautiful 15-year-old son does not use an umbrella and likes to wear just a T-shirt out in chilly weather. I suspect he is trying to get out of school.

She is so sure that ONLY a virus can cause a cold that she never tells him to take an umbrella or a jacket. It makes me frustrated. I went to school for 12 years and was never tardy or absent, so I feel like I know what I’m talking about.

A. Folk wisdom maintains that becoming chilled–especially if clothes, hair or feet get wet–is likely to lead to a cold. Researchers have dismissed this belief as an old wives’ tale. Like your daughter, they see viruses as the only cause of colds.

Scientists have squirted cold viruses into the noses of volunteers and then exposed them to cold temperatures to see if this makes a difference. Studies that were done decades ago did not find an effect.

More recently, though, researchers in Wales had 90 volunteers put their feet in cold water for 20 minutes. Ninety others served as control subjects. Those who were chilled with cold water were more likely to report cold symptoms over the next five days (Family Practice, Dec. 2005). The investigators concluded that the old wives may have been right after all, though they are not quite sure why.

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  1. Patricia

    I am curious as to why this answer gives more weight to one study of 90 subjects versus “studies that were done decades ago.” Were the methods somehow more accurate?

  2. MR

    Believe I read in one research based source, although I don’t recall which, that being exposed to cold temperature, the virus causing a cold can become activated.

  3. J.S.

    Who cares, one way or the other? Why do people make such a big deal out of getting a cold? Unless one has other serious health issues, what is the worst that can happen? If a person gets a cold, the overwhelming odds are they will survive. There are bigger fish to fry.

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