Common Cold Risk Factors

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 30, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on July 30, 2014

Factors That Increase Your Risk of Contracting the Common Cold

Contrary to what we were told as children, wet hair cannot cause a cold. Neither can stepping out into the cold without a hat or earmuffs. Colds are actually caused by any one of more than 200 viruses.

There are factors that can contribute to or increase your risk of acquiring the common cold. These factors include age, lack of sleep, increased stress, the time of year, and smoking.

Factors That Increase Your Risk of Contracting the Common Cold

Age

The common cold is more prevalent in infants and preschoolers. Young children are more vulnerable because their immune systems haven’t matured and haven’t developed resistance to most of the culprit viruses. Young children are also often in close contact with other children. They are less likely to wash their hands throughout the day—one of the best ways to prevent a cold—or to put their hands over their mouths when they cough and sneeze. These and other factors allow cold viruses to spread more easily.

Lack of Sleep

In older children and adults, a lack of sleep is believed to negatively affect the immune system. Studies have found a link between not getting enough sleep or not getting quality sleep and catching the common cold.

According to Mayo Clinic, different age groups have different optimal levels for sleep. Adults should receive seven to eight hours, teenagers nine to 10, and school-age children may even need more than 10.

Stress

Some studies have shown that stress may make you more vulnerable to catching a cold.

Seasons

The common cold is more prevalent in the cold-weather months. During the fall and winter, adults and children are indoors more often. This puts them in close proximity to and in contact with one other, which also increases the risk of spreading the cold virus. In locations with no real winter weather, colds are more frequent in the rainy season for this same reason.

Dry air also worsens cold symptoms, drying out the mucous membranes of the nose and throat and causing a stuffy nose and sore throat. Consider using a humidifier in your home or office to add some moisture to the air. However, be sure to change the water each day and clean the machine frequently to avoid releasing bacteria, mold, and fungi into the air.

Smoking

Smoking disrupts the immune system, which is your body’s natural self-defense system against the common cold. Smoking or secondhand smoke also exposes you to toxic chemicals that can irritate the throat lining and worsen common cold symptoms such as a sore throat. According to one study, smokers are also more likely to develop serious respiratory complications from the common cold.

Research also shows that secondhand smoke puts individuals at greater risk for colds as well. Children and infants who live in households in which smoking is present are also at increased risk for serious respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and for worsening of already present respiratory conditions like asthma. According to the New York Department of Health, secondhand smoke also puts babies at greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS (NY Dept. of Health).

Allergies

According to Home Hygiene & Health, any allergic diseases that affect your nose and throat may put people at greater risk for contracting a cold as well.

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