It’s that time of year again. It’s not only when you carve your pumpkin, the days are getting shorter and outside it’s cold and rainy (at least in the UK). It’s also that time of year when it’s more likely that you’ll catch a cold. I caught one three weeks ago, right after I had finished my move. I was exhausted, my immune system was low and voilà — one week of running nose and sneezes.
But there is a common misconception that I often hear, particularly from Southern European athletes. We catch a cold because the temperature outside is colder. In Italy we are taught that since a very young age. “Wrap up if you get out, otherwise you’ll catch a cold!” I used to believe that too.
But as I often remind you guys every year in this period, no, the cold is not the cause of the common cold. It is correlated because at this time of year — autumn and winter — common colds are more widespread. It is also when we spend more time indoors and with people who may be already sick.
So what is the common cold and how do you get it, if it’s not the lower temperatures that cause it?
By definition, a cold is an infection, and that means it’s caused by the presence of a virus. If there is no virus, you won’t get a cold. Viruses can spread both in cold and hot environments (that’s why you can get them during the spring and summer seasons too), but they are more common in autumn and winter. There are also hundreds of viruses out there and that is why we get so many in our life.
What truly happens when it’s cold outside, though, is that we end up spending more time indoors (at the office, but on public transports too) and that is when we get more in contact with people that are already sick. The heat and air conditioned systems make the air we breath dryer, and that not only can promote the transmission of the virus, but also makes are sinuses dryer. Without a good nasal mucus flow, it’s harder for the immune system to work against the virus.
What the cold temperatures do, on top of all the above, is that they contribute to make our immune system weaker — and that is the misinterpreted connection between cold temperatures and common cold (sorry for the word pun once again!).
Unfortunately, there are no real cures against the cold, nor can you get a vaccine for it (that only works for the seasonal flu). You can buy meds that can make you feel better, but they will not treat the cold. What it can happen, on the other hand, is that the cold can get worse — spread lower into your respiratory system and evolve into cough and chest infections (I’ve been there too in the past, and that’s NOT nice).
So, if you feel like you just have caught a cold (at this link you also see the differences between cold and flu), you feel guilty because you don’t want to miss training and you decide to push through it, well, that is the recipe for disaster. The best thing you can really do in that situation is to rest.
DO NOT train and the cold will pass by quicker (and finally you can resume training earlier). If, on the other hand, you train through it and make it even worse because you think you will sweat it all out, well again, that is not a good idea and you’ll do it yourself no good.
To prevent the cold, though, there are lots of things you can do:
wash your hands often with warm water and soap (this is true throughout the all year!)
have with you a hand sanitiser for when you can’t wash your hands
do not share anything with someone who already has a cold (cups, towels…)
use tissues to trap germs and limit the possible infections to others (be nice with the world!)
bin those tissues asap!
wash your hands again, please!
stay healthy :)
Washing your hands and using a hand sanitiser is still the marginal gain n.1 — and not only for Team Ineos!