Acute cooling of the body surface and the common cold

Rhinology. 2002 Sep;40(3):109-14.


There is a widely held belief that acute viral respiratory infections are the result of a "chill" and that the onset of a respiratory infection such as the common cold is often associated with acute cooling of the body surface, especially as the result of wet clothes and hair. However, experiments involving inoculation of common cold viruses into the nose, and periods of cold exposure, have failed to demonstrate any effect of cold exposure on susceptibility to infection with common cold viruses. Present scientific opinion dismisses any cause-and-effect relationship between acute cooling of the body surface and common cold. This review proposes a hypothesis; that acute cooling of the body surface causes reflex vasoconstriction in the nose and upper airways, and that this vasoconstrictor response may inhibit respiratory defence and cause the onset of common cold symptoms by converting an asymptomatic subclinical viral infection into a symptomatic clinical infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Common Cold / etiology*
  • Common Cold / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia, Induced
  • Nasal Mucosa / physiology
  • Prognosis
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / etiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / physiopathology
  • Rhinovirus / isolation & purification*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Vasoconstriction / physiology