Last summer, I had a chance to visit Mount Vernon. I saw George Washington’s beautiful gardens and home. What struck me most, though, was the story of his last few days.
On Dec. 11, 1799, Washington spent about five hours riding his horse around the property. It was a cold, rainy, miserable day. He returned home and ate dinner while still in his wet clothes. The next day, he complained of a sore throat. Two days later, he was dead.
So was it Washington’s exposure to the nasty weather that killed him? Most likely, it was the bloodletting — the 18th century’s cure-all. But what caused him to get so sick in the first place?
While you really can’t catch a cold from being cold — a cold is caused by a virus — there is evidence that being chilled may nudge along any infectious agents we may harbor.
Researchers at Cardiff University’s Common Cold Center in the United Kingdom conducted an experiment on healthy college students. The feet of 90 students were immersed in cold water for 20 minutes. Over the next five days, the chilled group experienced twice as many colds as a control group of 90 students whose feet weren’t chilled.
The Cardiff researchers’ theory is that being chilled causes constriction of blood vessels in the nose, inhibiting the local immune response. So having a chilled nose might be the problem, and a simple solution just might be dressing warmly and covering your nose with a scarf if you are going to be out in the cold.
To your health!