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VERIFY: Can being outside in the cold, give you a cold?

The Storm Track 8 team verifies a popular weather myth claiming that being outside in the cold can give you a cold.

MOLINE, Ill. — We've all been told at one point to, "Put on a jacket! You are going to catch a cold!". Is it the actual cold that will cause us to get sick or are there cold virus particles flowing through the air, being refrigerated and maintained with the cold air? Let's verify. 


Can I catch a cold by just being outside in the cold? 


Our expert says the simple answer is, no. There are not cold virus particles floating around outside in the cold air that you will 'catch' by just simply being in the cold, coat or no coat. However, you can develop signs of hypothermia that will eventually require medical attention. 


Our source is Dr. Aubrey Riefe, a Family Practice Physician at UnityPoint Health in Davenport. 

We know that extreme temperatures can have dramatic impacts on our bodies, but is it just the temperature that causes us to get sick? 

"There are not viral particles floating throughout the air at all times, no matter where you are outside that you can just catch and breathe in", says Dr. Riefe. 

While the cold air itself won't give you the cold virus, it could certainly give you something much worse.

Credit: National Weather Service
Warning signs for hypothermia include confusion, stiff muscles, and shivering.

"Something that is always concerning, especially now in the wintertime is hypothermia. Unfortunately, we do see a lot of patients, particularly more so in the hospital setting, suffering from that with cold exposure", says Dr. Riefe. 

So, if the temperature itself doesn't cause a cold, then what do we call it that?

"I think it would have something to do with the way it makes you feel. Often times if you get fever or chills, you kind of feel cold when you get sick that way", says Dr. Riefe. 

Research has shown that cold weather can make you more vulnerable to the cold virus and others if exposed. Cold air tends to reduce your immune cells' ability to fight off the virus in your nasal passage, according to a study by the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health conducted in 2015. 

With this information we can verify, no, being outside in the cold without the proper protection, like a coat, will not give you a cold. 

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