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Medicine or Malarkey: Will you catch a cold if you go to bed with wet hair?

Is it okay to go to sleep with wet hair? It’s one of those sayings that gets passed from generation to generation: “go to bed with a wet head, and you’ll wake up with a cold.” Maybe you are a night swimmer or runner, like to take a shower in the evenings — or maybe you just feel like heading straight to bed after a long day at the beach. Is there any truth to this belief that going to bed with wet hair will cause a cold, or is it all malarkey? Let’s dive into how this idea started getting passed around in the first place.

How Did the Theory Start?

It is believed that this theory originated in the early 20th century during World War I when scientists concluded that soldiers who slept in cold, wet trenches were more likely to get colds than those who slept in dry barracks. Another source claims the idea dates back to the 1st century when Celsus wrote that the winter season causes headaches, coughs and all other infections that attack the chest and lungs. It can also be because most people just feel colder with wet hair.

The Truth about Going to Bed with Wet Hair

The truth is that, going to bed with a wet head will not cause a cold. Researchers have concluded that in order for you to get an infection, you need to be exposed to an infectious agent first.

The cold is caused by any one of over 200 viruses, and rhinoviruses are the most common cause. These viruses move from infected individuals to you in a variety of ways — but not through your own wet hair! Typically, an infected individual will rub or scratch their nose, which moves the virus to the hands. From there, they might move it to you either directly through a handshake or indirectly on a surface like a doorknob or a telephone. You, in turn, move the virus to your nose, causing the infection that manifests itself as the common cold.

Going to bed with wet hair cannot cause you to contract a virus. In extremely cold conditions, wet hair may contribute to hypothermia, another health concern altogether. However, at the sorts of temperatures that are comfortable for sleep in normal conditions, the risk is minimal or nonexistent.

But let’s say you have been exposed to a virus that does cause a cold — what should you expect, and when should you seek medical treatment?

Common cold symptoms

Typical symptoms of the common cold may include a sore throat, a cough, congestion and a runny or stuffy nose. You may find that you have a low grade fever and a general feeling of malaise. During your cold, the mucus from that runny nose may be clear and thin, or it may become thicker and take on a yellow or green color. This is a normal part of a cold and is not necessarily a sign of a bacterial infection.

Most colds run their course on their own, with little intervention beyond getting plenty of rest and fluids. However, in some cases, an infection may be mistaken for a cold — or you may develop other complications that could indicate something more severe. Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Wheezing or shortness of breath.
  • A fever higher than 101.3 F.
  • A fever that lasts more than five days or that comes back after you’ve been fever-free.
  • A severe sore throat paired with a headache or sinus pain.

Any of these can be signs of dangerous complications that require medical attention.

If you develop a cold or cough, it’s simply caused by a virus you caught from someone else — not from going to bed with wet hair. If you have a cold that won’t quit or a lingering cough you suspect may be developing into complications, visit CareSpot Urgent Care for a treatment plan that will help you get back to good health, or a referral to a specialist if you should require follow-up care.