Was Mom Right? Can You Get Sick Just From Being Cold?

Was Mom Right? Can You Get Sick Just From Being Cold?
November 28, 2020 welleum


Can You Get Sick Just From Being Cold?

Cold Air And Illness in Eastern Medicine

When you were a kid, did your mom ever tell you to bundle up before you go outside in the winter so you don’t catch a cold? Ours did! But does this old wives tale have any truth behind it? Turns out, it depends who you ask.

In Western medicine, when it comes to the cold and flu, germs make you sick, not the weather (The germ theory). To catch a cold or flu, you’d have to be infected with the Rhinovirus or influenza viruses. But, while cold weather may not directly cause you to get sick, there’s evidence that it might make it easier for you to come down with the sniffles. Our bodies are often exposed to and carry around viruses, but that doesn’t mean we’ll get sick. However, when our system is out of balance, you’re more likely to get sick. Being cold can lower your immune system and make it harder for your body to fight off the germs you harbor.

Cold Air And Illness in Eastern MedicineBut if you asked an Eastern medicine practitioner, they’d give you a much different answer. That’s because in TCM, there’s a focus on prevention rather than just fixing what’s broken, and the inputs which help you live happily range from your relationships and the weather, to which veggies you eat. 

In TCM, you stay healthy when your body is in harmony with itself and the rest of the world, too. When something disrupts that balance, your physical or mental health gets messed up as well.

There are 3 things that can cause what TCM practitioners call wind-related exterior syndromes:

  • wind-cold type (風寒型 fēng hán xíng)
  • wind-heat type (風熱型 fēng rè xíng)
  • summer heat dampness type (暑熱型 shǔ rè xíng)

That first one, wind-cold type, goes back to what your mom used to tell you about getting sick from the cold. When your body is exposed to cold air, you might get sick with the common cold or flu.

But don’t worry, TCM didn’t just figure out how you get cold. It also tells you how to feel better depending on what exactly disrupted your body’s balance. And traditional Chinese cold and flu remedies are safe and effective ways to deal with these illnesses. In fact, they’ve been used for hundreds of years to do just that!

Read on to learn more about wind-cold and wind-heat illnesses, which are the two most common types. You’ll learn what symptoms to look out for, plus how to get yourself feeling better ASAP. Plus, the next time you talk to your mom, you can tell her she was right–exactly what every mom wants to hear!

Traditional Chinese Medicine and The Common Cold


TCM is a holistic medicine, so it takes your entire body into account.Diseases are caused by imbalances with the body, mind, and outside world. In TCM, wind is a powerful source of Qi, the life force that runs through us all. But too much Qi can unbalance you and make you sick! Remember, TCM is all about harmony. 

Wind-Cold Eastern Medicine - Blowing Snow

So when the wind is cold in the winter, you might come down with what TCM calls a wind-cold illness. Here in the west, we know these illnesses as the common cold or flu.

Wind-Cold Symptoms

It’s never fun being sick, but the earlier you notice your symptoms, the faster you can treat your cold. And the faster you treat it, the sooner you’ll be back to your regular old self again!

Here are some symptoms that let you know you have a wind-cold sickness.

  • You start to feel sick a day or so after being exposed to the cold.
  • Your nose will become congested, making it hard to breath through your nostrils.
  • You might also notice a lot of phlegm in your throat. This can give you a runny nose or sore throat. To get the phlegm out, you might start coughing.
  • Your muscles and limbs will be sore, especially your neck and shoulders.
  • Your tongue will become pale and have a thin coat on it.
  • Your body will feel cold, and you’ll naturally want to stay out of the cold or wind.

Wind-Cold Remedies

Once you know that you’re sick because of wind-cold, you can start to use these TCM remedies to get back on your feet.

Since traditional Chinese medicine is all about maintaining balance, you have to get rid of that extra coldness in your body that is making you feel sick. To do that, you have to work up a sweat.

But there’s no need to hit the gym. You don’t want to share your germs, after all! If you can’t work up a sweat by exercising, all hope is not lost. You can try adding spicy foods to your diet, like chilies, onions, green onions, and ginger. You can also bathe in hot ginger water After you bathe or eat some of these foods, get under your heaviest blankets to sweat it out. It might sound gross, but it’ll have you feeling better in no time.


Wind-Heat Eastern MedicineWhile you’re more likely to catch a wind-cold illness in the winter, summer and autumn illnesses are caused by “wind-heat.” Western medicine sometimes calls this a summer cold, and it can feel just as bad as the common cold. Here’s what you need to know:

Wind-Heat Symptoms

Some of the symptoms of a wind-heat illness match up with wind-cold sickness, but there are also some distinct differences.

  • You’ll feel congested and might have a runny nose. Your phlegm will probably be slightly yellow.
  • Your throat will be sore and your glands will swell up.
  • You might get headaches and feel nauseous.
  • Your tongue will be slightly yellow and have a thin coating on it.
  • You’ll have a high body temperature, but you won’t sweat.
  • You’ll naturally want to avoid the wind.

Wind-Heat Remedies

If you’re having trouble sweating during a wind-heat illness, you can try the same tricks you’d use on a wind-cold sickness. Eat or drink something with a lot of garlic or ginger before swaddling yourself in a blanket to work up a sweat. If that sounds confusing, remember that in the Western naturopathic tradition one supports a fever rather than suppressing it with Aspirin.  This is also true in Chinese Medicine. In fact the great Chinese doctor Zhang Zhongjing never used a cooling herb like mint in any of his formulas for fever, although later doctors did.  

If you’re not having trouble sweating, avoid any spicy foods. Instead, opt for cooling foods and herbs like peppermint. You might also want to work in some sour foods like kiwi or lemon (sorry, sour patch kids don’t count).

Stick to foods that are easy to digest, like soup and noodles, to help you get back on your feet. Throw in some ingredients that TCM considers “cooling”, like broccoli, celery, corn, mushroom, and spinach if fever with sweating occurs. You’ll be better in no time!

The cold and flu season is coming up, so make sure to bundle up and stay healthy! And don’t forget to tell your mom that she was right about getting sick from the cold for extra brownie points.

What are your favorite cold and flu remedies? Will you be trying any of these this winter? Let us know!

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