Can Cold Weather Cause Cough and Colds? The Truth Unveiled

Ever wondered why you often catch a cold during certain weather conditions? Do you believe that coughs can also be caused by cold weather?

There are many questions surrounding the link between the weather and coughing. To make things more difficult to comprehend, the answers aren’t as straightforward as people might have hoped.

This article will attempt to clarify the correlation between weather (particularly cold weather) and coughing, with some tips on how to manage it.

What Causes Cough

Different types of cough emerge because of varying causes. Some of these are temporary; others are permanent. Many are simple and easy to overcome, even without medication, while others are more severe.

For example, clearing the throat is one of the most common reasons why people cough. After all, it is a natural bodily reflex that aims to get rid of foreign particles, like dust or smoke, from the airways. Of course, this type of cough is infrequent and will eventually cease once the exposure ends and the irritant is expelled.

Other common causes of coughing are bacterial and viral infections, such as the common cold and flu. Most respiratory tract infections are caused by a virus and may last for a couple of days to one week. Several others may take a bit longer to clear up and may require antibiotic treatment.

Underlying conditions like allergies and asthma can also cause a person to cough.

Normally, asthmatic coughs involve wheezing, which makes them much easier to identify. Some children with asthma can grow out of it, but others don’t.

Meanwhile, allergies triggered by pet dander, dust, mold, pollen, or other allergens that usually pass through the airways may also result in coughing, among other allergy symptoms. Take fast-acting allergy medication to stop the dry cough that is often caused by irritation or swelling of the airways because of exposure to irritants. 

Can Cold Weather Cause Cough?

People often roll their eyes when hearing older people warn against going out on a cold day to avoid getting sick. But believe it or not, this supposed “old wives’ tale” actually has a scientific basis.

Although this “colds because of the cold” connection are often alluded to as a myth in the medical field, research proves that cold weather can cause coughing up to a certain extent.

According to scientists from Yale University, cold temperatures trigger changes in the immune system that makes it easier for viruses to replicate. They also discovered that even a slight chill could increase the speed of reproduction for rhinoviruses that cause common colds after conducting an experiment on lab mice.

Even more compelling is the fact that scientists have already suspected that this is possible five decades ago. Published in 1960, a study revealed that rhinoviruses multiply faster at 33 degrees Celsius or 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit than they do at the normal body temperature.

In the newer study from Yale experts published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017, they have confirmed that these cold viruses produce more infectious particles and replicate more efficiently at lower temperatures.

They also pointed out three biological effects that link exposure to chilly air to a greater risk of catching a cold:

  • The virus-fighting protein interferon is less active in the cold.
  • Molecules inside the cells that detect viruses and trigger interferon production become less sensitive at lower temperatures. It also lowers the production of proteins that help chop up virus genes, impede viral release, and eradicate cells that have been infected by the virus.
  • While exposure to rhinovirus remains a prerequisite for a cold, even a few viruses entering the nasal cavity would result in a common cold in cold weather. This is because chilly air causes viruses to replicate faster and slows down the immune system’s response to the threat.

How to Manage Weather-Induced Coughs and Colds: 6 Tips

Now that you have confirmed that cold weather can actually cause coughs and colds, it is time to heed your mother’s warning about going out in the cold. You can also follow these six tips to manage weather-induced coughs and colds:

  1. Remain indoors when it’s too cold

People with chronic respiratory ailments like asthma are most susceptible to coughing when exposed to cold weather. To prevent coughing fits and asthma attacks, remain indoors on days when the temperature drops under -12.2 degrees Celsius or 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you can’t avoid going outside, wear a scarf or something that would cover your nose and mouth to keep the air you breathe in warm.

2. Be ready for night cough

Cough is always worse at night because of the mucus that builds up during sleep. Since you don’t cough during sleep, you don’t expel mucus in the evenings.

To help loosen the mucus, consider maintaining an active lifestyle. Move around and stay physically active, even when you feel under the weather. Just make sure you don’t overdo it.

3. Drink more fluids during cold weather

Drink more fluids during the cold season. Doing so can help thin the mucus in the lungs, which makes it easier to expel.

Plus, even though cold weather doesn’t make you thirsty, you still have to drink more fluids. Remember that your body needs lots of fluids to remain hydrated during a cold.

If regular water isn’t appealing, you can try drinking tea, lime, or warm water instead.

4. Avoid sudden exposure to cold temperature

Avoid exposing yourself to cold temperatures after coming from a warmer place. The sudden change in temperature may trigger mucus production and, therefore, lead to coughing.

5. Have a warm bath

A warm bath early in the morning and before you hit the sack in the evening is also recommended to avoid coughs and colds during the cold season.

6. Breathe warm, moist air

Coughing usually gets worse with dry cold air. To avoid this, consider moistening the air around you when you have an ongoing respiratory ailment.

However, some people might react differently under intense humidity. In some cases, it could make the symptoms worse.

Before you invest in a vaporizer or humidifier, verify first what will work for you and your family and adjust accordingly. It would also be best to avoid using vaporizers around children to prevent serious burns from the steam.

A Final Word

Cold season cough is no longer a myth as scientists have found a clear and direct link between the cold weather and cough-causing colds. Open your mind to this new information and consider the cough management tips listed in this article.

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