10 Myths About the Cold

Can Cold Weather Give You a Cold? Should You Really Eat Snow?

By Sandy Newton
January 3, 2018

Can cold weather give you a cold? Do you lose most of your body heat through your head? Is a cup of hot coffee the best way to warm up? We answer these and more myths about the cold!

Humans are warm-blooded and need to maintain an inner core temperature of about 98.6°F (37°C). We primarily warm ourselves by exercising and eating, and in winter, the challenge is to keep the warmth we create as long as possible, or lose as little of it as we can. The ways we avoid getting cold may surprise you!

10 Myths About the Cold

1. Do You Lose Most of Your Heat from Your Head?

No, you don’t. Thermophysiologist Gordon Giesbrecht of the University of Manitoba says, “Where your body loses heat is closely related to surface area, and the head has only about 9 percent of the body’s surface area.” As the temperature decreases, the blood vessels in your extremities constrict. Yet only 10% of your body heat is being lost through your head.

That said: If you are all bundled up, you lose more body heat through the top of an uncovered head, so perhaps you could say “Mom was right” after all.

2. What Should You Do if Your Fingers or Toes are Cold?

You should rub your fingers and toes when they get chilly, right? Nope. Wiggle them instead. If exposed skin (including that of your face and ears) becomes cold, cover it with a warm hand until it feels better. Dr. Giesbrecht says, “Never accept numbness. It is a sign that tissue is already very cold and potentially about to freeze.” If there’s a chance you may have frostbite, don’t rub the frostbitten area, especially not with snow. Rubbing will cause tissue damage. Do not try to warm frostbitten skin until you’re sure you’re free of the danger of it freezing again. Refreezing increases tissue damage and can cause you more pain and suffering.

3. Is A Cup of Coffee or a Sip of Brandy a Good Way to Warm Up?

Nope. Caffeine and alcohol may actually speed up heat loss. According to Weather.gov, caffeine can cause your blood vessels to constrict and prevent your hands and feet from warming properly, and alcohol can reduce shivering, which is something your body does to help keep you warm. 

Instead of caffeine and alcohol, drink warm water or a warm, sweet, nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated beverage to help warm the body. 

4. If You Go Out in the Cold, Will You Catch a Cold?

Nope. You catch cold from a virus, not from cold temperatures. However, cold weather can weaken your immune system, making you an easier target! Here are some other ways to avoid getting colds.

5. If You Fall Through Ice and Into Water, Will You Die of Hypothermia Right Away?

It depends; you may have about an hour to survive this kind of cold shock. Understanding what’s happening and not panicking are critical to your survival. Remember the one-ten-one rule: one minute, ten minutes, one hour. You have one minute to get control of your breathing (a common reaction to severe cold is to panic and start hyperventilating). You have ten minutes to perform any meaningful movement, during which you can do your best to get out of the water. If you can’t get out on your own, you have one hour before hypothermia will render you unconscious. So, when you can no longer use your arms and legs effectively, adopt a position in the water that conserves body heat (curl up, keep limbs close) until help arrives.

Check out our windchill temperature chart for more information on surviving hypothermia and frostbite.

6. Dehydration is Not a Danger When You Exercise in Cold Weather

False. You can sweat when you exercise anytime, and in cold weather you also lose more water through your breath than you would at warmer temperatures. Dehydration is dangerous in the cold; it hinders the body’s ability to produce heat.

7. If You’re Stranded and Thirsty, Should You Eat Snow?

Bad idea. Eating snow or sucking on ice will lower your body temperature. It can also lead to internal injuries. If you have no water, try melting ice in a plastic bag between the layers of your clothing. Ice melts more quickly than the same volume of snow and yields more water.

8. If I’m Feeling Cold, You Must Be Feeling It, Too

Nope. Age, gender, fitness level, acclimatization—these and other factors determine when you “feel” cold. It’s been proven, for example, that women generally feel cold before men do, possibly because they have less heat-generating ability but a relatively similar amount of heat-losing skin. In addition, women’s blood vessels contract sooner as a result of cold than men’s do, so women’s skin feels colder more quickly.

9. Is Shivering Good? Why Do We Shiver?

It may not feel good, but shivering means that your body is trying to warm up, and that’s good. Shivering happens involuntarily—it’s one of the ways (along with an increased metabolism and breathing rate) that your body automatically responds to heat loss that threatens to lower your core temperature. In fact, skeletal muscle contractions—shivering—can triple your body’s heat production. 

10. Does Cold Always Feel the Same?

Actually, it doesn’t. Ever noticed how ten degrees (or, any cool temperature) feels colder in the fall than it does in the spring? This is because our bodies are used to dealing with much colder temperatures and react more quickly, so we lose heat more slowly, and don’t “feel” as cold.

Canadians are used to this cold, so maybe they don’t feel it as much! Find out what happened on some extra chilly days in Canada.

Learn More

Can it ever be too cold for snow? Find out here!

Aren’t some of these facts, uh, chilling? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Reader Comments

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Cold hands

About the point on frostbitten hands. I came home one time when I was 9 in pain with frostbitten hands back in 1970. The lady( in her 70's then) who was babysitting us heard me in pain. She and her friend took me took me to the kitchen sink and ran cold water over my hands and rubbed them till the pain was gone. They told me not to use warm water, as it will cause problems. I figure people who grew up in the really old days now, would know how to handle these things better than modern people. Because 100 years ago there was no central heating, only the wood stove. So they would know how to handle these things.

For many years afterwards I had a hard time, when the cold came in winter, to be able to move my hands properly, especially if out in the cold. I moved to Singapore and have stayed here for 30 years. I can now go back in winter to Canada and my hands are not affected by the cold and they move really well. The warm weather here must have corrected the problem.

relief from the cold

The Editors's picture

Happy to hear that you found a solution, then and now. Thanks, too, for following us from afar!

'Running' + 'water" obviously is somewhat above freezing...

When your skin is numb (lacks some feeling from the cold) you must be careful to not burn the skin. When feeling returns slowly it might feel like pins and needles but that goes away as the skin returns to normal temperature. Putting hands inside pants or jacket/shirt works. If feet get cold move them over to spouse... for further advice call 1-800-DIVORCE

To Build a Fire, by Jack

To Build a Fire, by Jack London. That's a great book if you want to get an idea of what real cold is like!

10 myths about winter

enjoyed reading this article alot of interesting facts