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Myth Buster

Can Air-Conditioning Increase Your Chances of Getting a Cold?

air conditioning

— White Packert/Getty Images

Myth: Going from air-conditioning to summer heat increases the likelihood of catching a cold.

Facts: You don’t have to worry about catching a cold from changes in temperature. Going outside in the winter without a coat won’t cause a cold, and neither will going from frosty air-conditioning to sizzling heat. That’s because differences in temperature don’t affect whether or not you come in contact with a virus.

Think of it this way: What is a cold? It’s an all-too-familiar infection caused by a virus—not bacteria. More than 200 viruses can cause colds, and the number of symptoms they can bring seem to be nearly that high. Sneezing and sore throat can be just the start; aches, coughing and congestion are often close behind.

The best strategy for avoiding a cold virus is, simply, basic hygiene. “Cold viruses are respiratory viruses, but they’re spread by touch,” says Andrew Adesman, M.D., a pediatrician and author of BabyFacts, a book that evaluates medical myths. In other words, shaking the hand of someone who has just used that same hand to contain a sneeze is one way to give yourself a hearty dose of cold viruses. Similarly, spending time with children who haven’t yet learned good hygiene habits such as using tissues can also increase your chances of picking up a cold. According to Adesman, nothing beats the basics when it comes to cold prevention: Wash your hands frequently, and keep your distance from people who are already sick.

Beth Goulart is a journalist based in Austin, Tex.

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