Today, my wife has shocked me by telling me that a scarf does not and cannot help a sore throat. I could swear that it works wonders for me!

Pretty much the entire knowledgable Internet seems to agree with my wife (a scarf does not help), but at the same time they report on a widespread usage in Germany and other countries.

The only reasonable report in deference of my experience I could find is this Yahoo.Answers question:

Q: My mom always put us in a scarf when we were getting or had a sore throat. Was that an old wives tale or does it actually help?

A: Actually it does work.

The tradition comes from Northern Europe and especially Germanic countries.

No one knows exactly why it helps, the theory is that it raises the temperature of your throat very slightly but that is enough to make the environment more hostile to the infection. Thereby giving your immune system a chance to respond to it and clear it from your system before the infection has a chance to get serious.

An other possible mechanism is that the slight warming helps draw immune cells to the area, speeding recovery.

I wish I could locate the reference right now, but about 3 years ago there was a large study that showed a statistically significant shortening of symptoms in the group that wore scarfs as soon as they started to get the first signs of a scratchy throat.

It mentions that there's a conclusive study that shows that scarfs do indeed help, but it fails to give any reference to the study, and Googling/Bingling/DuckDucking does not help me either.


1) Do we have any studies that show that scarfs do or do not work?

2) If there are no studies, do we know the answer by other means? Is that quite certain, or can there be some reasonable doubt?

3) If the scarfs do not help, how come so many people believe that they do, from their own experience?

UPDATE: Looks like nobody has any definitive answer, and perhaps nobody has even worked on collecting any real data. So I'll describe my own experience. Perhaps comparing experiences of multiple people can get us closer to the answer.

  1. Not a childhood habit for me (as far as I remember). Picked it up when I was 18-19 y.o.

  2. When my throat gets sore, it gets sensitive to outside temperature. When it's cold outside or there's an air flow close to my throat, I feel as if it's getting dry inside, and as if it's aching more. With a warm scarf or blanket, the throat quickly gets comfortable and starts feeling as if it's getting better within 1-2 hours.

  3. The best perceived effect is, of course, after sleeping through the night with a scarf. (This is useless info, because sleeping through the night should give the best improvement with or without scarf.)

I propose a theory that a sore throat feels comfortable when it gets warmer, and the comfort might be producing a measurable effect on the overall illness.

  • 3
    Well (3) is easy enough: Placebo Effect. For the others, I drew a blank looking for any studies either way. My money is on your wife, though.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 8, 2012 at 15:29
  • 2
    @Oddthinking As someone wearing a scarf right at this moment, I'd rather bet on it simply giving you a pleasant but medically irrelevant feeling, and the tendency to mistake the general feeling of comfort with a feeling of being more healthy. (Although I still can almost swear it works! :) Jul 8, 2012 at 15:41
  • 1
    From personal experience i can say it helps very much at least at night. I easily get sore throats especially at night when that area dries out somewhat. Wrapping anything around my neck will make the difference between a bad sore throat or no problems the next morning. And since i am sleeping i dont think placebo plays a big role here.
    – Stefan
    Nov 14, 2012 at 20:07
  • 2
    @Ken-AbdiasSoftware My wife (a biologist) says that a scarf cannot change the temperature inside the throat (where the bacterias presumably grow), it merely changes an outside one. Jun 22, 2013 at 0:00
  • 1
    @AndreyTarantsov are we talking about bacterial infections here? Mild sore throats are not infections. It is very likely that a scarf could somehow alter how you breath while asleep
    – Andrey
    Apr 3, 2015 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


There has been a burst of popular presss articles saying that wearing a scarf that covers the mouth and nose can prevent the common cold by keeping the upper respritory tract temperature high and making it less suitable for the virus. For example:

Common Cold Could Be Prevented by Wearing a Scarf over the Nose

The actual basis for these articles is the journal article:

Temperature-dependent innate defense against the common cold virus limits viral replication at warm temperature in mouse airway cells PNAS vol. 112, pages 827–832.

  • Do you mean that sore throats and common cold share the same virus?
    – Pacerier
    Aug 13, 2015 at 10:39
  • @Pacerier a cold "usually begins with a sore throat" webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/common_-cold-symptoms A sore throat could be due to many other reasons instead such as allergies (via post-nasal drip), bacteria (as in strep throat) or a different virus such as influenza. This answer only applies to one cause of a sore throat.
    – DavePhD
    Nov 27, 2015 at 13:05
  • Thanks! Finally, some data. Even though it doesn't address the question of wearing the scarf over the throat only. Dec 1, 2015 at 8:17

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