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I keep on reading about people living in the Northern Hemisphere who warn their children not to get their feet wet or else they will "catch the death of your cold". Is this really true? I mean will they catch cold? If so, why? Because in Australia, I can stand in the rain and not catch cold. I play footy, and it rains, and its autumn, but I don't get sick. However, when I play, I don't get my feet wet. Do you really catch cold if your feet get wet? And if you get wet but your feet don't, will you still become sick?

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What part of the northern hemisphere? I've never encountered that behavior in Scandinavia and I've lived all over the place. –  Kit Sunde May 27 '11 at 7:53
    
From what I've read, england, america, germany, etc. –  Thursagen May 27 '11 at 7:58
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I can confirm that this is commonly told to children in (at least some parts of) Germany. –  Konrad Rudolph May 27 '11 at 9:13
    
Seems closely related to skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/88/…, perhaps up to the extent of being duplicate? –  Suma May 27 '11 at 9:39
    
I understand that in Vietnam it was difficult to keep your feet dry, but vitally important due to the conditions and footwear, which would lead to sores, infection, and gangrene quickly. I wonder if this saying has any root in that period. –  Adam Davis May 27 '11 at 12:58

1 Answer 1

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Colds are caused by viruses (over 200 types). There are lots things which increase the chance of you getting a cold which include:

  • Touching your face with contaminated fingers.
  • Spending lots of time in enclosed, warm, moist areas with other people. (This is the main reason we get colds in winter—because we spend lots of time indoors).

This study by Claire Johnson and Ronald Eccles entitled "Acute cooling of the feet and the onset of common cold symptoms" concluded

Acute chilling of the feet causes the onset of common cold symptoms in around 10% of subjects who are chilled. Further studies are needed to determine the relationship of symptom generation to any respiratory infection.

And in fact some further studies do show such an relationship.

...most of the available evidence from laboratory and clinical studies suggests that inhaled cold air, cooling of the body surface and cold stress induced by lowering the core body temperature cause pathophysiological responses such as vasoconstriction in the respiratory tract mucosa and suppression of immune responses, which are responsible for increased susceptibility to infections

To me it seems that being cold makes your body weaker in some ways, and less able to deal with viruses. But it is not the low temperature that directly gives you a cold, it is still a virus.

That said, according to this book, people with very strong immune systems are more likely to develop symptoms of a cold because the symptoms are due to the way your body fights off a virus. The harder it fights, the worse your symptoms.

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That first study is not blind. Simply speaking it asked people who had their feet chilled if they had gotten cold symptoms. FAIL. For the second type it is unclear how cold the subjects were. It includes hypothermia, lowering of core body temperature. That's a very different thing from getting your feed cold or being exposed to cold. Perhaps if somebody has a link to the full paper? –  Lennart Regebro May 27 '11 at 12:23
    
It wouldn't seem unreasonable to me that an increased flow of mucus leaving the body (ie a runny nose) could help prevent you catching a virus, if triggered by cold feet... ie it might be a temporary defense mechanism, even if it's making up for a lowered immune system –  Highly Irregular Feb 25 '12 at 8:31
    
remember that you can get cold feet when they're not wet at all :) And that you can warm your cold feet by making them wet through immersion in a bucket of warm water :) –  jwenting May 6 '13 at 6:50

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