Top 10 winter health myths – and the truth

The cold and flu season is upon us: queue old wives’ tales, rumours and bonkers advice. But what health myths actually hold a grain of truth?

We confirm and deny the 10 best.


1. Being out in the cold will make you ill

False -  You have to ‘catch’ a virus or bacteria to make you ill and this is more likely to happen when you come into contact with people or germs spread by ill people. Unless you’re outdoors with a group of people full of cold, being outdoors could actually lower your risk.
Can being out in the cold make you ill? © Rex
2. Winter makes us depressed

True and false - Cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) increase in winter, making it seem depressive, but actually the number of suicides decline around December and peak in the spring and summer, according to research from the journal Psychiatry Research. Medical cases of depression don’t increase in the winter either. However, January can be difficult as many people expect the holidays to have ironed out any problems they were having and make them feel better, and feel disappointed when they don’t.

So winter does bring on the blues, but doesn’t cause depression.

[Related: Mood boosts to beat the blues]


3. You need more sleep in winter

False - You don’t actually need more sleep in winter but you might feel more tired than in the summer because your body is designed to wake up with the sun and go to bed when it sets, so it responds to light stimulate. If you’re waking up in the dark it can feel harder to get up as your body’s wake-up sense hasn’t been stimulated by the sun rise.

4. You don’t get allergies in winter


False - You might not get pollen allergies, as the trees and flower beds are distinctly bare, but other allergens can affect people, such as mould and dust. These can be worsened in the winter as we spend more time indoors and central heating makes the air dry, potentially making us more susceptible to allergens.

5. Going out with wet hair is asking to get ill

False - As with just being outside, actually being cold and having a cold head will not make you sick. If you aren’t exposed to a virus or bacteria going out with wet hair won’t make you ill on its own. However, you may find yourself coming down with something soon afterwards as if your body has already been fighting a cold that you have been exposed to.

This is because your body will have to work to keep you warm, taking vital energy and nutrients away from your over-loaded immune system. It could mean that rather than not noticing any symptoms of an illness, you come down with a full blown cold or flu instead. So a had might be a good idea, if you really don’t have time to dry your hair. 

 [Related: Top five cold cures and remedies]

Does the flu jab give you flu? © Rex
6. The flu jab can give you flu

False - The flu vaccine isn’t a live virus so it can’t cause an infection. But it can occasionally give you mild flu-like symptoms, such as a headache or mild fever for a day or two. Flu jabs won’t protect you against other viruses though so if you catch one soon after, remember it’s nothing to do with the jab you just had.

7. Antibiotics can cure colds

False - You can beg your GP as much as you like for antibiotics in the cold season, but you’re likely to be faced by refusal. Colds and flu are caused by viruses that are not bacterial, so antiobiotics will not have any effect.

GPs have also been advised not to give out antibiotics as easily as they have in the past as resistance among bacteria is on the rise. It’s very frustrating not to be able to take something to make you better, but with colds, you just have to sit it out.

[Related: The best vitamins and minerals to prevent winter colds]


8. You can’t get frostbite in the UK winter

False (though it’s unlikely) - You can actually get frostbite in the UK but it’s not very common and mainly affects people who spend extended time outside. However, it does happen when people wear inappropriate clothes outdoors in below freezing temperatures. The skin on extremities such as fingers and toes gets so cold it blisters.

If not treated quickly the skin can go black and in extreme cases, people have lost fingers and toes to frostbite. In the more northern parts of the UK, where snowfall is common and temperatures are regularly well below freezing, make sure you’re dressed appropriately and pay attention to your body if any part of you feels numb.

9. You should feed a cold, starve a fever

False - Feeding and hydrating your body with plenty of healthy foods will help it fight any infection and help your immune system do its work.

10. Eating plenty of fruit and veg helps beat colds

True - Fruit and veg are full of vitamins and minerals that your body needs to fight infection and help your immune system battle bugs. They’re not the only foods to eat though, make sure your diet is well balanced with all the food groups and even if you’re not feeling up to eating, try to take on some small but ultra healthy meals and plenty of fluids to flush out infections.

Stay healthy this winter with our seasonal health advice.