Can Heading Outside in Winter with Wet Hair Increase Your Chances of Catching a Cold?
Q: If I head outside on a cold day with wet hair am I more likely to catch a cold or the flu?
A: Going outside with wet hair may cause your mom to worry, but it won't cause you to catch a cold or the flu. Instead, those illnesses can only result after exposure to one of the many viruses that have the potential to infect your upper respiratory system.
The most common way to catch them is by inhaling airborne viral particles released by the cough or sneeze of an infected person. However, an illness may also occur after touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed fingers that have come into contact with a virus that has contaminated a high-touch surface such as a doorknob or keyboard.
But here's the good news: Common-sense measures, like washing your hands or getting a flu shot, can go a long way toward preventing or greatly decreasing your risk for getting one or more of these viral illnesses.
The cold facts
The common cold is caused by one of the more than 200 viruses that can infect your nose and throat. The most common is known as the rhinovirus, but other viral causes include the parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus, coronavirus and adenovirus. Children usually experience six to 10 colds per year, with adults averaging two to four during this same time period.
Antibiotics are not effective against these viruses, and there's not yet a vaccine to prevent the common cold. That said, symptoms begin gradually, occur one to three days after exposure, last seven to 10 days, and include these symptoms:
- Runny nose with mucous that may be clear, light yellow or green. For some the mucous may be constant and runny, while others may have a thick discharge that feels "stuck" in the nose.
- Itchy, sore or irritated throat
- Coughing, especially in children
- Mild headache and/or slight muscle ache
- Decreased energy levels
- Normal to slightly elevated temperature and fever
- While most cases of the common cold are mild, it has the potential to trigger complications such as wheezing (especially in children with asthma), inflammation of the sinuses, and ear infections.
The flu factor
Influenza is an illness caused by exposure to one of three types of influenza virus: type A, B or C. Each type produces various strains that in turn have the potential to cause illness. In general, types A and B influenza trigger noticeable symptoms, with type A often causing the more severe health concerns. Type C is rare and produces little or no health affects. That said, these symptoms from the flu strike quickly, are more severe than those of the common cold, and often last one to two weeks.
- High fever of 100 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit in adults, often higher in children
- Shaking chills
- Significant muscle and joint aches
- Unusual and noticeable fatigue
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Dizziness and nausea
While most individuals do well and completely recover within several weeks, flu-related complications including pneumonia may occur. This is especially concerning for the elderly, those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, as well as those with heart, kidney and lung disease.
Influenza is not that simple for the body to fight, as each flu type has different viral strains. However, the best defense is the annual influenza vaccine that is aimed to prevent, or greatly decrease, the risk of infection from the type A or B strains circulating in that particular year (the vaccines change from year to year). Additionally, there are anti-viral medications your doctor can prescribe in the event you cannot receive the influenza vaccine, though the effectiveness of one such drug, Tamiflu, has recently come into question.
Common sense to the rescue
Fortunately, these common-sense measures can go a long way toward reducing the risk, or decreasing the severity, of a cold or flu illness:
- Wash your hands periodically throughout the day, especially after touching objects (phones, desks, door handles, elevator buttons, water fountains) that may harbor germs. If soap and water are not available, instant hand sanitizers are a good alternative.
- Get adequate rest to keep your immune system strong.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid exposure to contaminants that may impair your respiratory defenses, such as first- or secondhand tobacco smoke.
- Get regular exercise.
- Humidify your home air environment with a cool mist humidifier (keep it clean as per manufacturer's directions) in order to keep the linings of your mouth and nose from drying out. In this way, they are better able to defend against viral invaders.
- Use disposable tissues and discard after use; use a fresh one each time you sneeze or need to blow your nose.
- Don't share drinking glasses, eating utensils or your toothbrush.
- Minimize exposure to over-crowded areas during the cold and influenza seasons.
If you do end up with a cold or the flu despite your preventive measures, drinks such as water, juice and warm tea can minimize fluid loss from "normal" amounts of expelled mucous and low-grade fever. Additionally, don't forget Dr. Mom's chicken soup. This natural recipe has anti-inflammatory properties and speeds up the movement of mucous through the nose. Besides, it tastes good and is comforting.
Remember, if you or your child have a fever greater than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, difficulty breathing, shaking chills or any concerns about your medical condition, speak with your physician.
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