Cold Weather True or False: The Docs Dispel the Most Common Winter Myths

Article excerpt

This month we answer questions you sent us about cold weather myths. Here's our take on what you can do to stay healthy when those chilly winds blow.

Q: My mother always said that going outside in cold weather with my hair wet would cause me to catch a cold. Is this true?

A: It's an old wives' tale that you can catch a cold by running around in the winter with wet hair or even without a hat on. Research shows that being chilled or wet has no effect on whether or not people catch the common cold.

And by the way, here's another myth; Starve a cold and feed a fever. Or is it the other way around? Doesn't matter, actually. Whether you have a cold or a fever, you should eat normally (unless normally means a grease-soaked buffet). The important thing for both is to stay hydrated--especially if you have a fever. Lots of fluid will help flush your whole body of infection. And rest, rest, rest--it helps your immune cells prepare for the light.

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Q: Cold weather seems to make my skin drier and more raw: true or false?

A: True. There is less humidity in the air in the winter. If your skin's looking as if you just did the hubba-hubba in a bed of mashed strawberries, it might be a case of the common skin condition eczema. This is a type of allergic reaction, and it's easily treated with inexpensive skin moisturizers. It's especially common during the winter, when the dry air causes little breaks in the skin, letting in chemicals that rake over your skin, particularly your hands. Treat your skin like it's an athlete working out in the heat--keep it hydrated. Alter your daily shower, while you're still damp, immediately apply Vaseline or a gentle, fragrance-free cream (Eucerin, Keri, NIVEA) so the moisture is locked in--and the rash-irritating dryness is kept out.

Q: I always seem to gain weight in the winter. Does cold weather makes people pack on the pounds?

A: No one knows for sure, because the data is contradictory. First, it's possible that indoor heating in the winter can make you fatter, even though it may make you less cranky. If you're in a cold room, your body has to do more metabolic work to bring your temperature to normal, thus increasing your metabolism. The same is true in a too-warm room, but in reverse: Your body has to work to cool you down.

On the other hand, one theory about metabolism says that cold temperature stimulates appetite. (Ever notice you eat more during the winter or that you're not hungry after exercising when your body's warm?) Also, we know that people with low body temperature have lower metabolisms and will be prone to gaining weight.

So the bottom line is we really aren't sure whether or not winter adds to weight gain. But we do know people can use cold weather as an excuse to eat more and exercise less (especially if they like to walk or run outside), so be especially vigilant about your habits now.

Q: My hands and feet sometimes get tingly in the cold weather, and I heard it's from poor circulation. True or false?

A: Maybe true. What you have sounds like Raynaud's (say "ray-NODES"). Raynaud's phenomenon is a problem with blood flow. …