Nearly everyone remembers their parents scolding them as children for venturing outdoors in cooler temperatures with hair still wet from the shower or without a heavy enough coat. Is it true that cold air makes people feel sicker, or does getting out in the fresh air actually reduce symptoms? Some science indicates we should be taking a second look at the question “is fresh air good for a cold?”
Research indicates that getting out in the fresh air does strengthen the immune system, making it less likely a person will become sick. However, what if someone already feels under the weather? Is fresh air good for a cold, or is staying wrapped in blankets on the couch a better way to recuperate?
Outdoor Air and Immune System Function
The indoor air people breathe can become laden with bacteria, viruses and fungi. The chances of the air becoming contaminated increase when someone becomes ill. Because many heating systems recycle air as it circulates through the home or office, these germs can spread easily from person to person.
Even those who perform regular duct maintenance nevertheless can get sick from indoor spaces with contaminated heating and cooling systems. How much control do most people have over air quality in their workplace or the grocery store where they shop weekly? Not much.
Is fresh air good for a cold, then, due to the immune system benefits, fewer pathogens in the air or both? Yes and no. While it’s true that people may inhale fewer germs outdoors than they would sitting inside, if someone has already contracted an upper respiratory infection, breathing frigid air may exacerbate symptoms.
Various studies show that people do get sick more often in the winter months in temperate climates. However, conflicting evidence also exists indicating that cold air inhibits the spreading of the virus causing the sniffles. Most recently, researchers discovered when crisp hair hits the nasal passages, germs may proliferate more when the temps fall too low.
Is Fresh Air Good for a Cold — or Is It Harmful?
The verdict remains out among scientists as to the question, “is fresh air good for a cold?” Part of the issue depends upon individual circumstances. For example, someone who lives in a healthy home and works in an office where air ducts are cleaned regularly may not contract the germs that cause most colds at all. Without a pathogen present, freezing temperatures won’t lead to getting sick.
However, it’s impossible to know what germs may or may not be present in the human body at any given time. Science does tell us that getting outside benefits immune system function in healthy individuals, so those who don’t currently feel ill benefit from getting outdoors as much as weather permits. Shoveling during a blizzard howls proves pointless in many ways, but on clear days, getting out a bit helps even if the temperature is on the frightful side.
Determining the Best Course of Cold Treatment
How can someone know what the best course of action is to remedy a cold? Most should take a tip from exercise physiologists: As long as the infection ails someone from the neck up, she’s fine to work out and get outside even while sick. However, when the virus moves to the lungs or when gastrointestinal distress is a symptom, staying warm and resting inside aids the healing process.
When cold symptoms do develop, taking a sick day and resting indoors may lessen the severity of the misery. Additionally, taking a day or two off helps avoid spreading the germs to co-workers, as cold viruses are most contagious at the onset.
Most colds clear up on their own with adequate rest and fluids. However, those who experience high fever, difficulty breathing or extreme lethargy to the point where getting off the couch becomes difficult benefit from a visit to urgent care or their local ER. Lung discomfort coupled with fatigue can indicate pneumonia, and fever may indicate either this or a bacterial infection requiring a course of antibiotics to treat.
If women who have little ones who get sick, keeping them home from school or preschool protects them and their classmates. Every teacher knows that when one child in a class becomes ill, others inevitably follow. While staying home with an ailing kiddo may cost lost wages if their employers don’t provide paid leave, sending them to class may worsen their symptoms. Children also are prone to strep throat and tonsillitis because their immune systems haven’t developed resistance to these bugs.
In the end, when people listen to their bodies, they’ll learn when resting inside will heal them best and when getting outdoors will ease their symptoms. Of course, eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise when not ill and taking vitamins during cold season can help folks resist getting sick in the first place.
Feeling Better Naturally
Even the healthiest immune systems cannot ward off every bug. For those with mild upper respiratory infections, getting out in the fresh air may lessen a cold’s severity. In the end, though, acting accordingly is the best remedy of all.