Wet hair, cold air and multivitamins: How to avoid catching a cold

Going out with wet hair WON’T give you a cold but drinking orange juice might beat the sniffles: Top experts separate the facts from the fiction for common old wives’ tales

  • Birmingham based dietitian says multivitamins will not help you avoid a cold 
  • Surprising truth in myth that getting cold makes you ill revealed by cold expert
  • Others disagree and say that getting cold and wet is not the cause of illness 
  • Strange TikTok trend of shoving garlic in your nose is discouraged by experts  

With cold season now well and truly upon us, you’re probably seeking ways to dodge getting a sniffly nose.

Others might be reading this in desperation of getting rid of one.  

Glugging down orange juice, taking multivitamins and avoiding going out with wet hair are some tips you will have heard about.

But do they really help you avoid coming down with a cold? Or are they just myths?   

MailOnline spoke to experts to separate fact from fiction, and give you the best tips to avoid a bad bout of the sniffles this winter. 

Experts say although vitamin C is good for you, it probably won’t stop you from getting a cold, but it helps you fight one off. However, taking vitamin D in the darker winter months of the year could give your immune system the boost it needs to fight the virus


It is a multibillion pound industry centered on claims that they will keep you healthy and prevent you from getting sick. 

But experts say you shouldn’t rely on multi-vitamins.

In fact, there is nothing available that will prevent you from getting a cold — that is according to Cardiff University’s Professor Ron Eccles, who has spent decades researching the common cold. 

He also suggests there is little evidence the pills, which can cost as much as £60 a bottle, will help once you are infected. 

He said: ‘There is a lot of hype on multi-vitamins, but none of them really abolish the cold otherwise we would know about them.’

But vitamin C and D, two nutrients usually abundant in high street multi-vitamins, could boost your immune system, the body’s internal army tasked with fighting off infections. 

However, it might not be necessary to take expensive tablets to get your daily dose, especially when it comes to vitamin C. 

Critics of the supplement industry believe a healthy and balanced diet of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains should provide all the nutrients you need — effectively rendering multi-vitamin pills redundant.

Registered dietitian Dr Duane Mellor, based at Birmingham’s Aston University, said: ‘If you are eating a variety of fruit and veg, you will be getting enough vitamin C easily.

‘If you get any more than that you are just going to pee it out.’

Orange juice  

Glugging down orange juice each morning won’t prevent you from catching a cold.

But the vitamin C it contains may speed up your recovery, experts believe. 

Adults need roughly 40mg of vitamin C a day, half of the amount found in a standard glass of orange juice. 

Professor Eccles, who has worked on numerous trials sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, said: ‘There is a possibility that taking very large doses of vitamin C will act as an antioxidant and dampen down the inflammation. 

‘But the evidence is weak.’ 

One review of the evidence supporting taking vitamin C to fight off colds, published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine in 2016, ruled that that data does ‘show a decreased severity and duration of colds when vitamin C is consumed at doses at or above 0.2 g/day’.

However, the NHS says there’s little evidence vitamin C prevents colds or speeds up recovery. 

Orange juice is packed with vitamin C and although it is a common belief that drinking it will help you stay healthy and ward off a cold experts say it won’t. However, there is a small chance it could speed up your recovery 

Professor Eccles added: ‘There is probably a little more evidence for vitamin D over the winter.’

A lack of vitamin D, found in food such as oily fish, red meat, egg yolks and cereal, can lead to bone deformities such as rickets.    

It helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in your body — two vital nutrients for keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

Your body also creates vitamin D when it is exposed to direct sunlight outside.

But from October to early March, we do not make enough vitamin D from sunlight, according to the NHS.   

This is particularly true for those living in the northern hemisphere, especially in Europe and North America. 

The NHS advises everyone should consider taking a vitamin D supplement every day during the autumn and winter. 

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which provides national health advice and guidance, vitamin D could play a role in the immune system’s response to respiratory viruses including Covid.  

So, taking vitamin D might just keep your immune system in shape. 

Wet hair and cold air 

If you find yourself needing to rush out with wet hair on a cold winter’s day, do not worry about getting ill.

The common folk story, told for over a century, is heavily disputed by experts.  

Respiratory viruses, such as the ones that cause colds, the flu and Covid, are passed on through bodily fluids like coughs and sneezes. 

Despite your grandmothers’ warnings, wet hair does not make you more attractive to viral particles, and just having wet hair will not make you more vulnerable to getting sick. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, has worked on every major epidemiological outbreak over the past 30 years. 

He said: ‘You will only catch a cold from being in contact with somebody else with a cold and that is the primary reason.

‘If you are outdoors, you don’t really catch respiratory infections because they are all just blown away in the wind.’

The real reason why we get colds in the winter is, according to experts, because we spend more time crammed inside in poorly ventilated spaces close to other people — the perfect conditions for viruses to thrive. 

Professor Hunter added: ‘What happens in cold weather is generally people spend more time indoors and that increases risk of transmission. 

‘There is some suggestion that if the lining or you nose gets chilled then you may be more susceptible when you go back in doors and meet people, but that is not proven as far as I know.’

Despite your grandmothers’ warnings, wet hair does not make you more attractive to viruses and just having wet hair will not make you more vulnerable to getting sick. Viruses such as colds, the flu and Covid are passed on through bodily fluids. So, when someone sneezes, coughs or blows their nose the virus could be passed on through droplets

However, a study in 2005 conducted by Professor Eccles, suggested that there may be some truth behind the saying ‘you’ll catch your death of cold’. 

The study, involving 180 healthy people, saw half the volunteers sit with their feet in cold water for 20 minutes, and others stayed dry with their shoes and socks on. 

Professor Eccles found those who had their feet ‘chilled’ were 10 per cent more likely to report the onset of common cold symptoms four to five days later. 

But no medical tests were done to confirm that they were definitely infected with a virus.

He said: ‘When colds are circulated in the community you may already have a virus at the back of your nose and throat, but you will have fended it off and not really developed into a cold. 

‘But the insult of chilling your body causes constriction of blood vessels in your nose and weakens your immunity for a short while and lets the virus get the upper hand.

‘Although it is controversial, my view is that under certain circumstances it can bring on a common cold if you have already got the virus.’

Another study in 2016 by researchers at Mahidol University in Thailand, also implies your immune system weakens when it gets colder.

It suggests the cold, dry conditions of winter could make it harder for your immune system to fight off harmful viruses because it makes fewer interferons — the proteins in your immune system responsible for halting the invasion of foreign pathogens. 

There is still no evidence that going out with wet hair will give you a cold, though. 

Hot drinks 

Hot cups of tea definitely make you feel better.

And research suggests a cuppa really can relieve your cold-like symptoms.

Professor Eccles and his team, from Cardiff University’s Common Cold Centre, once studied the effects of consuming a comforting hot drink on a stuffy nose. 

The 2008 study, published in the journal Rhinology, found that drinking a hot drink provides immediate relief from a runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness and tiredness.

But a drink at room temperature only relieved symptoms of a runny nose, cough and sneezing.

Professor Eccles added: ‘Any hot tasty drink will relieve most of the symptoms of a common cold, particularly sore throat and cough. 

‘We did a clinical trial on that with a hot blackcurrant cordial and demonstrated that. 

‘It doesn’t have to be hot blackcurrant; any soup or hot tasty liquid will promote salivation and mucus secretion and soothes the inflamed throat.’

The theory is steam in the hot drink can soften and break down mucus, allowing you to breathe easier. It also reduces the swelling of a sore throat, but experts aren’t completely sure why.

However, a Cochrane review in 2017 on heated, humidified air for the common cold, found little evidence that inhaling steam can drain away mucus and kill colds and viruses.    

But Professor Hunter believes drinking tea when you have a cold might simply make you feel happier. 

He said: ‘With mild illnesses like the cold, how bad to feel is not just a physical thing but it also has psychological factors.

‘Tea or soup (or honey, lemon and whisky in hot water which is my favourite) won’t do much to end the infection, although there may be some symptomatic relief in people with a sore throat. 

‘Also, if they improve your mood, they will make you feel better and who doesn’t feel better after a decent cup or tea.’

A comforting cup of tea has not been proven to ward off viruses, but research suggests hot drinks can relieve the symptoms of a cold. One study suggests drinking a hot drink provides immediate relief from a runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness and tiredness

A dose of chicken soup has been suggested to have some preventative measures when it comes to warding off the first signs of a cold. But its positive effects could just be due to the water in the soup hydrating you

Chicken soup

Does chicken soup really have restorative healing powers, or is it just a comforting placebo effect? 

Just like a cuppa, the steam and warmth of a homily soup can potentially make you feel revived. 

But a dose of chicken soup has also been suggested to have some preventative measures when it comes to warding off the first signs of a cold. 

A 1998 study by the American College of Chest Physicians looked at the effect the comforting broth has on our immune cells. 

It suggested chicken soup may contain a number of substances with medicinal properties, including an anti-inflammatory effect. 

However, it could just be the water in the soup hydrating you and making you feel better, others argue. 

Dr Mellor said: ‘Probably the main reason why chicken soup helps is because it is hydrating, it is an easy thing to eat as well. 

‘Some people argue that it is the nutrients in there that help. But mainly it is the temperature helping to clear things through.’

It is not just chicken; spicy soups also have a reputation for being healing, according to Dr Mellor.  

He said: ‘I have heard of spicy curry soups having the same effect, but if you have a bunged-up nose the spiciness of the chilies helps clear your nose out a little bit anyway. 

‘It is not soup having this mythical cold busting effects, it is the hydration and the warmth.’

Garlic does have immune boosting effects, but not enough to get rid of a cold or prevent one. Experts have warned against a trend that saw people put cloves of garlic up their noses, Dr Mellor says it is dangerous and does not work anyway

Sticking garlic up your nose 

One TikTok trend last winter saw people attempting to unblock their stuffy nose by shoving cloves of garlic up it.

The idea is sticking something up your nose blocks the flow of mucus, so when it is removed, the flow starts and the mucus drips or even runs out of your nose. 

But unsurprisingly, this method is discouraged by experts. 

Not only because sticking things up your nose is not encouraged for obvious reasons, but also because garlic can cause irritation. 

Dr Mellor said: ‘Just don’t stick things up your nose because you can damage your nose.

‘There are lots of children that have to go and have various objects removed from their nose, we do not need more adults going to A&E for the same purpose.’

He added: ‘Garlic contains compounds that irritate. It just irritates your nose, which might help unblock it a little bit. 

‘There are lots of lab experiments that show the immune effects of garlic, but they are in cells in labs they are not in humans.’   

A study in 2016 by St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee suggests this method would be counterproductive anyway. 

The study explains that despite being hugely annoying especially when you have to constantly reach for a tissue, the mucus in your nose actually helps to trap and remove pathogens including viruses.

Washing your hands, staying fit and healthy and avoiding other people are also good ways of avoiding getting ill, according to the experts. GPs advise washing your hands with soap and water or hand gel will help you avoid catching a cold

What are the symptoms of a cold and how do you avoid catching one?

Common cold symptoms can include:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • a sore throat
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • coughs
  • sneezing
  • a raised temperature
  • pressure in your ears and face
  • loss of taste and smell

A person with a cold can start spreading the virus from a few days before symptoms start until the symptoms are finished. 

It is, perhaps, a little radical but keeping your distance from other people may be the only way to actually avoid getting a cold. 

The best ways to avoid a catching a cold are:

  • Washing your hands with warm water and soap
  • Not sharing towels or household items (like cups) with someone who has a cold
  • Not touching your eyes or nose in case you have come into contact with the virus – it can infect the body this way
  • Staying fit and healthy

Source NHS 

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