Now that the cold and flu season is here we're not only worried about bird flu, most of us are concerned about catching the ordinary, everyday cold. The idea that failure to bundle up against the elements can lead to sneezes and sniffles has been around for ages, but has been dismissed as an old wives' tale. However, a recent study supports the folklore that links chills to the common cold.
Researchers Claire Johnson and Ron Eccles recruited 180 volunteers during the common cold season, which lasts in Wales, where they work, from October to March. All of the participants took their shoes and socks off. Half had their feet chilled in ice-cold water for 20 minutes, while the others sat with their feet in an empty bowl. Over the next four to five days, 29% of the chilled volunteers developed cold symptoms but only 9% in the control group did so.
Eccles explains it this way: "If they become chilled, this causes a pronounced constriction of the blood vessels in the nose and shuts off the warm blood that supplies the white cells that fight infection. The reduced defenses in the nose allow the virus to get stronger, and common cold symptoms develop. Although the chilled subject believes they have 'caught a cold,' what has in fact happened is that the dormant infection has taken hold."
It is well established that colds are more common in winter than summer. This may be because of the cold weather. Another possible explanation may be because our noses are colder during the winter months. Eccles says, "A cold nose may be one of the major factors that causes common colds to be seasonal. When the cold weather comes, we wrap ourselves up in winter coats to keep warm but our nose is directly exposed to the cold air. Cooling of the nose?slows down the white cells that fight infection.? The solution? Wrap a long scarf around your neck and keep your nose covered.
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