How does our cold weather affect your health?

January 8, 2010 5:28:57 PM PST
Our arctic blast may have you and your family worried about getting sick. New research shows the temperature outside may affect your overall health, but it's not what you think. We're told an estimated dozen homeless people have ended up in Ben Taub's emergency room because of the cold.

"If they have slurred speech or no speech, these are definitely signs of hypothermia," said Ben Taub Emergency Center physician assistant Trisha Harris.

The cold has also created some eye-catching art, and caused us to repeat the cold and illness mantras we've heard all our lives. But what's the truth? Does the cold cause you to get sick?

"The cold allows the virus itself to be more fit and able, and, of course, the biggest issue is we get together in the cold weather and congregate and we sneeze and cough," said UT Houston Infectious Disease Professor Dr. Charles Ericsson.

Even if you go out with wet hair, or your kids leave their coat at home, doctors say it's the viruses and bacteria that make us sick, not the cold itself.

Doesn't the cold make us less resistant to viruses?

"No, your immune system works just fine in the cold," said Dr. Ericsson.

Cold air can trigger asthma. The cold can increase blood pressure because it constricts blood vessels and the body reroutes blood to the vital organs. And if you add exertion, some people with heart problems can end up with chest pain. And don't forget the frostbite.

"A jogger who was just wearing a jogging suit, his private parts got frostbit because they weren't protected enough by layers," he said. "You just have to be careful."

Is there anything about the cold that's good for us?

"I think you get more work done because you can't go outside and play as much," he answered with a laugh.

Here's another thing your mother told you. Most of your body heat is lost through your head. But that's a myth. Experts tell us the truth is you lose heat from whatever is uncovered.