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Can you catch a cold by going barefoot?

Posted on 31-01-2017

A few days ago I read an article that claimed that according to a study, barefoot children would be smarter because the sensory experience of bare feet on the ground would stimulate nerve cells, in addition to strengthening the muscles and increasing the feeling of freedom.

And I added: don’t worry - THEY ARE NOT GOING TO CATCH A COLD BY BEING BAREFOOT. Viruses cannot enter through the feet!

This statement, which by the way I usually make to mothers worried about the tendency of their children to live without shoes, has generated some controversy and many have thrown their hands up in horror.

How can they go barefoot in this cold! They’re sure to catch a cold!

The truth is that neither position is completely true.

In order for a cold to start, catarrh of the upper respiratory tract or infection of the upper respiratory tract (however we can call it), a virus has to enter the upper respiratory tract (by the mouth or nose) and get into the mucosa.

The virus passes from a sick person to a healthy person via the small droplets of saliva that we expel when coughing or speaking (so clearly there must necessarily be a sick person who transmits the disease) or if we touch surfaces contaminated with these droplets and then we put our hands to our mouth, something easily prevented with proper hand washing.

In the mucosa, the virus will cause dilation of the blood vessels, increased vascular permeability, increased mucus secretion, release of inflammatory mediators, etc ... that are responsible for the symptoms we all know so well.

On the other hand, cold, as a physical factor, does not produce any of reactions.

But simple exposure a virus is not enough to produce the disease. What would become of we pediatricians, exposed to coughs and sneezes in the face all day! Or teachers, or parents of sick children ... 

And exposure to cold alone is not enough either or in cold climates everyone would be sick.

What cold air does produce when passing through the nose is a vasoconstriction of the mucosa (the opposite of we said a virus produces) and a decrease in the immune response (the natural cleansing mechanism and the activity of white blood cells decreases). Both situations can favor the entry of viruses and the development of the disease.

That is, when we are breathing cold air, we can catch a cold if someone nearby is sick or by touching contaminated objects, but not by going out with wet hair, spending the morning in damp socks or walking barefoot all day on the marble floor.

There are studies that show that cooling the body surface, wearing damp clothes or having wet hair does not increase the risk of infection, even when the virus has been injected directly into the nose.



By Dr. Gloria Colli, Head of the Pediatrics Service at Hospiten Estepona.