Ask a Doc: Can my child catch a cold from being cold?
Q: My child’s preschool is air conditioned during the summer months to keep it cool but I noticed that he is getting colds more frequently. Is it true that if your body is cold you can get a cold more easily?
Dr. Thomas Dovidio, a pediatrician at Advocate Sherman Hospital, answers:
Keeping our body temperature warm and raised, especially in children and the elderly, is a natural way of keeping our immune system strong enough to fight viruses from spreading like the common cold.
A recent study conducted by Yale researchers found human airway cells create an immune system protein called interferons which is the first line of defense against a cold virus. When tested in a person with a healthy body temperature the virus quickly died off and could not spread compared to a person with a lower body temperature. They also found an enzyme called RNAseL was more elevated in people with higher body temperatures and assisted with attacking and eliminating viral genes.
Using our body’s natural defense mechanisms, which already exist in our airways, is crucial to avoiding the common cold. With healthy body temperatures interferons and RNAsel can do their job to keep your child healthy.
Tips for keeping your child’s body temperature at a healthy level:
- Adjust the Temperature. If you can adjust the temperature of a room your child is in, make sure that even in summer months it is not too chilly. Keeping it around 23-26 degrees Celsius or 73-79 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal and will even help keep electric bill costs down. If your air conditioner can be timed, look into setting it so it is not running 24/7. If you cannot control the room your child is in, see if you can situate them far away from the direct blast of the air conditioning unit or vent.
- Layers. We’ve all heard the phrase “layer up” and there is a good reason for it. If your child is going to be in an air conditioned building, it’s important to make sure they have both a short sleeve shirt on for when they are outside and a long sleeve shirt to cover them up for when they are inside in the air conditioning. Throw extra socks and shoes in their bag too in case their sandaled feet get cold. Hats can also help, not only to keep the sun from burning their face, but also to help keep their head warm.
- Water. Make sure your child stays hydrated as air conditioning can dry out their skin. Really cold water and lots of ice is not necessary when they are already cool.
- Stay Active. Children who are active throughout the day keep the blood flowing and their temperatures raised. Make sure your child is not sitting for too long indoors. Get them moving around, helping with chores and going outside to play.
- Annual Physicals. Let your family physician or pediatrician know if your child is often cold or getting a cold, despite having an active lifestyle and dressing appropriately. There might be other issues at play that need to be checked out.
Educating and assisting your child to form healthy habits and an active lifestyle will give your child’s body a chance to fight the common cold year round. Mom was right on this one – bundle up.
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About the Author
Jennifer Benson, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs for Advocate Aurora Health. She has 10+ years of community development and communication experience for non-profits and has a BA in Architecture from Judson University in Elgin, IL. Outside of work, you can find her planning the next adventure near water or rocks, re-organizing spaces, working on her Master’s in Public Health, caring for her senior citizen cat, keeping to healthy moving and eating disciplines and growing green things wherever she can find room.