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Wintering Well: A runny nose, shivering...I must be getting a cold?

Ricky van den Ende, Bayleaf Integrative Naturopath - BHSc (Nat)

Let me paint a picture....

You wake up to a frosty morning in an alpine area where the mercury has dipped below zero. You are headed for your morning walk, naked, for argument’s sake. Ok, not completely naked, you’ve got some slippers on. After a few mins of breathing in alpine air, you start to feel your nose running, maybe you even sneeze, and then the shivers start.

And as those shivers start you hear a little voice inside your head, “time to go inside before I catch a cold”, though some clothes would also be nice.

But can “a cold” be caught from the cold? Alliteration aside, let’s delve in.


When you start to feel cold, the quickest way to warm your body is to exercise, it’s remarkable how quickly ten burpees can warm you up. But you have to possess the willpower to do them (it is a burpee after all). Shivering on the other hand requires no willpower, it’s an involuntary function characterised by the rapid oscillation of skeletal muscles which generates heat to prevent your body temp dropping and it’s pretty effective.

Runny nose

Cold air is not only cold, it lacks humidity, and the winter months are some of the driest. When you inhale cold dry air through the nose, the nasal passage works hard to; a) moisten this air, and b) warm it for its safe passage into the lungs. Dry air can cause the mucous membranes in the nose to dry, so the compensatory mechanism in the nose is to ramp up mucous production. This combined with simple condensation can result in excess moisture that flows out of the nose. This is why the initial drips are a clear watery mixture.

Ok that makes sense. But how come we catch a cold more often when it’s cold?

Well, this is a favourable environment for viruses, particularly the rhinovirus- the one responsible for the common cold. Firstly, the virus for a common cold is mostly spread through respiratory droplets. In the winter you tend to spend more time inside, confinement brings you closer to the people you love (in theory) and it also brings you closer to their respiratory droplets. Combine a lack of space with no fresh air and you end up recycling air with whoever you share the room with, having a heater on further satisfies the environment for the common cold virus.

When you are tired, you often feel cold

When we sleep our body temperature dips and reaches its lowest point of the day at the end of the sleep phase. Feeling cold when you are tired can be the body’s way of adjusting your temperature to its ideal temp to get some sleep, so if you are pushing the needle constantly, take being cold as a cue that your body needs rest.

All of the above are normal physiological responses to cold exposure. But if you find you are constantly shivering, and always have a runny nose or mucus that is not watery, there is likely a hidden cause with a myriad of reasons why. It is important to know when to act on the symptoms that you have and seek assistance. There are many nutritional and herbal options to assist not only with prevention of the common cold but also for the acute phase, onset and duration. Make a time to ensure you are in the best shape to deal with winter and the cold or address any underlying conditions that may lead to a compromised immune system.

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