Your children might have different ailments in winter than they have in summer — but not for the reasons that many of us think. Cold weather health myths are so widely believed that many of us are surprised to find out they’re folklore.
Here are some common beliefs about health in winter that just aren’t true.
Cold weather causes colds
There’s a sense in which this is true. The myth is that getting cold makes kids sick. This widely-held belief seems reasonable, but a well-designed study of students found that getting chilled didn’t result in any significant increase in catching colds.
In fact, kids are more likely to stay indoors with other people when it’s cold. Other people carry around viruses. Dry, heated air lets viruses travel further, and dry membranes in the nose can’t flush out those viruses as well as moist ones can.
So it’s not the cold that causes an increase in sniffles and sneezes, but our response to them. One CDC-funded study found that viruses don’t travel as well in a humid room as they do in a dry one, so consider using a humidifier in winter.
We lose most warmth through our heads
A hat helps kids keep warm in winter — but is it really responsible for half our body heat? Many of us grew up hearing that half our body heat left through our heads, so we should wear our hats.
That idea seems to have come from a 1950s military experiment. Under Arctic conditions with all parts of the body covered in warm clothing except their heads, soldiers lost most body heat through their heads. An Army field manual from 1970 said that “40-45% of body heat” is lost through the head. They should have said that most heat is lost through whichever body parts are uncovered.
The field manual’s claim has been debunked by studies reported in the British Medical Journal. There have been more recent studies, too, which have confirmed that heat lost through the head is proportional to the skin surface. Better advice: for maximum comfort, cover up everything you can when you go outside in cold weather.
Exposing ears to wind causes ear infections
Ear infections, like all infections, are caused by bacteria or viruses. Since these infections develop in the middle ear, which is not exposed to the outside world, going bare-eared into a winter day is not likely to be the culprit.
Blocked Eustachian tubes can be painful. They can result from a cold, allergy, or environmental factors. See your pediatrician if you think your infant under six months has an ear infection, or if your older child has a fever and severe ear pain.
Hats help keep kids warm in windy weather, so give your child a hat and encourage her to pull it down over her ears, but don’t worry about wind causing infections.
Don’t let winter health myths worry you… but do see your child’s pediatrician if you have questions or concerns.