Did your mom tell you not to go outside with wet hair – especially in the winter? Mom certainly had the best of intentions but was she right? Does wet hair cause a cold?
Does Wet Hair Cause a Cold?
This is one time mom may have gotten it wrong. There’s no proof that going outside with wet hair – even in the winter – brings on a cold. For that matter, getting your feet or body chilled won’t sentence you to the common cold either – at least according to most research.
The idea that wet hair causes a cold when the temperatures drop was tested in several studies, including one published in the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine. The results soundly dispelled the idea that having wet hair, wearing wet clothes, or getting chilled increases the risk of a cold. Still, not even all experts agree – despite the research.
How Did the Myth That Going Outside with Wet Hair Causes a Cold Get Started?
Colds are caused by the common cold virus, usually a rhinovirus or a coronavirus. The common cold is highly contagious and easily transmitted when people work and play in close quarters. Since people spend more time indoors when the temperatures drop, colds are more common in the winter. Thus, it may seem that going outside with wet hair in cold weather was what brought on a cold, when, in actuality, the cold victim was already carrying the virus and would have developed symptoms anyway.
Factors That Do Increase the Risk of a Cold
Spending time indoors with other people increases the odds of catching a cold, especially if you don’t wash your hands regularly. Once you’re exposed to the common cold virus, your immunity plays a strong role in whether or not you come down with the symptoms. Smoking, eating a nutritionally poor diet, and not getting enough sleep all reduce the body’s ability to fight off infection. Living and working in an area with low humidity also increases the risk of catching a cold – by drying out the mucous membranes and making the virus easier to transmit.
Does getting chilled reduce immunity? Most research says no, but a few small studies suggest that when body temperature drops, it suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of respiratory infection. But there’s so little evidence to support this, that the effect is probably slight.
Does Going Outside with Wet Hair Cause a Cold: The Bottom Line?
Getting chilled probably plays a very small part, if any, in whether or not a person gets a cold. Most research shows it’s not a factor. On the other hand, common sense dictates you should avoid getting chilled as much as possible. More importantly, wash your hands, eat a nutritious diet, and get enough sleep to help ward off the common cold.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.
Men’s Fitness. “Was mom wrong — about catching a cold by going outside with wet hair?”