When Is Common Cold Season?

You can get a cold year-round, but most people consider the winter months to be common cold season. The viruses that cause colds also spread more easily just after a drop in temperature and humidity. Generally, this means the United States' cold season starts sometime around September and ends sometime around April.

However, this doesn't mean the cold weather itself makes you sick. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can cause very serious illnesses like hypothermia, but there is no strong evidence to show that cold temperatures can give you a cold. Only exposure to a virus that causes the common cold can do that.

Why Colds Are More Common at Certain Times

Colds are more common during certain times of the year for several reasons:

  • People spend more time indoors and closer to each other during the winter.
  • Children are in school and sharing germs with many more children than they do during the summer.
  • The viruses that cause the common cold spread more easily after drops in humidity and temperature, which are more common during the cold months.
  • Your nasal passages are drier during the winter (due to drier air), allowing cold viruses to take hold and make you sick more effectively than they can during the spring and summer months.
  • According to preliminary research in mice, cold-causing viruses replicate better at temperatures just below body temperature (such as in a nose that's breathing in cold air).

Cold weather doesn't make you sick, but it does make your body a more suitable environment for the rhinovirus and other viruses that cause the common cold to flourish.

How to Avoid Colds During Cold Season

You have a lot of options for reducing your risk of getting a cold, even when the climate is just right one.

Wash Your Hands

The simple act of washing your hands is an incredibly important part of keeping yourself and those around you healthy. You touch your face thousands of times a day, and you touch things in your environment even more often. Washing those germs off your hands is essential to keeping them out of your body.

It may sound silly, but you could be washing your hands the wrong way, which leaves you at risk for illness.

Cover Your Cough

If you are sick and coughing, use your elbow to cover your mouth when you cough. When you cough into your hands, you just spread the germs onto everything you touch—and then to anyone else who might touch those things after you.

Changing how you cover your cough really isn't that difficult and it makes a big difference in the spread of germs.

Take Precautions

It's hard to stay away from sick people. Many parents are reluctant to keep their children home from school, meaning they take their germs into your child's classroom. Your co-workers may not want to call in sick, so they come to work and infect you. Traveling can mean dry, recycled airplane air and exposure to germs from all over.

Washing your hands frequently is still the number one suggestion to keep yourself healthy, no matter where you are. Beyond that, washing toys, shared phones, and other things people touch frequently can help.

A Word From Verywell

People will likely blame the common cold on cold weather for years to come, despite evidence that points to a complex set of contributing factors—the weather being but a minor player. Although more people get sick with colds during the winter months, the temperature outside is not the direct cause of these illnesses. Cold season falls during colder months for all of the reasons discussed, and possibly some that aren't even known yet.

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Article Sources

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  1. Ikäheimo TM, Jaakkola K, Jokelainen J, et al. A Decrease in temperature and humidity precedes human rhinovirus infections in a cold climateViruses. 2016;8(9):244. doi:10.3390/v8090244

  2. Foxman EF, Storer JA, Fitzgerald ME, et al. Temperature-dependent innate defense against the common cold virus limits viral replication at warm temperature in mouse airway cellsProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015;112(3):827-832. doi:10.1073/pnas.1411030112

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: Protect yourself and others. Updated February 11, 2019.