10 Myths About the Cold

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

By Sandy Newton
December 5, 2019
myths-facts-about-cold

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 Body Heat Through 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.

Owl with christmas hat

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 (hot chocolate, anyone?) to help warm the body. 

Hot chocolate

4. Cold Weather Causes the Common Cold

Nope. You catch colds from viruses, 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, You Will 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.

ice skating at sunset

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. Remember playing in the snow as a child and being so thirsty when you came inside? Thank the cold weather for that!

So, keep in mind that dehydration is dangerous in the cold; it hinders the body’s ability to produce heat.

7. If You’re Stranded and Thirsty, You Should 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 (not directly against the skin). Ice melts more quickly than the same volume of snow and yields more water.

8. If I’m Cold, You Must Be Cold!

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. So next time your spouse complains about the thermostat, consider the physiological differences at play!

9. Does Shivering Make You Colder or Warmer? 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.

People who live in cold climates are typically used to this cold weather, 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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unice's response to "myths of cold"

Unice is absolutely correct. It is absolutely true that cold causes the "common cold/flu" on her flat earth. However, on the round earth the article is correct.

10 myths about cold

Can Unice explain why so many people get colds during the warmer spring and summer months if not from viruses?

contradictions

I find the first sentence in contrast with the answer to another question later. I have never agreed with the news that we don't get colds from being cold, only from viruses. That doesn't even make common sense to me. And here you've said it again. However, in your first 2 sentences you contradict it: 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.

If this is true, and we need to be 98.6 inside and it gets cold outside and we are not bundled up sufficiently to keep our temperature at 98.6, and we come down with a cold because of it.... is that because of a virus? No, it's because we didn't bundle up enough to keep the body the 98.6 temperature it needed.

I have never understood how intelligent people could believe this so-called scientific news about colds. Every year when the weather turns colder, I always am so happy that it's no longer hot, that I enjoy the coolness and do not immediately start bundling up as if it's freezing. And every year, I get a cold because I didn't wear layers soon enough. So every year, by the time the news starts talking about getting the flu shot, I have already had my first cold/flu and am either over it or in the middle of it. I experience getting a cold every year, from nothing other than simply colder weather that I didn't dress for. Yet I keep hearing this claim that it has to be a virus if you get a cold. Can you explain this?

Also, in the next part of your article, the first of the 10 myths about the cold, it just blows my mind that you so boldly quote some 'professional' who says we do not lose most of our body heat from our head... as if to dispute conventional wisdom. However, then you say that if you're all bundled up but your head is not, you DO lose your body heat from an uncovered head! How can you blatantly talk through both sides of your mouth? Why can't you just state clearly from the start what the answer is, rather than pretending to defy all common sense because some 'professional' says so, then go back on that and say your mother was right.

In this age of fake news, when the lies of omission are all over the place, and after researching, spending time to find out the real truth, one finds that the mainstream media left out all of the who, what, when, where and why, and only quoted a single line of the actual person they're quoting. And then one finds that that reporter took that one clip all out of context in order to persuade those who do NOT DO RESEARCH TO FIND THE TRUTH, of something that did not happen, if given context. I would have never thought that the famous Farmer's Almanac would join the fray of fake news journalists. But you are right up there at the top, if you continue to write articles that waste our time reading them, just to play some joke on the reader in the end to contadict what you said at the beginning. I am truly disappointed in this unbelievable display of dishonesty.

Rewarming shock!

People need to be aware of the requirement to rewarm slowly! And always remember: there's no such thing as a "cold" dead body.

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