The Common Cold: Actually From Getting Cold?

Old Chinese medical chart on acupuncture meridians
Image via Wikipedia

I’m working to become an expert on the flora of the middle ear for a patient, and I came across this extraordinary study.  It should be noted that I have for years thought the explanation that people are closer together in the winter months and that is why we all get respiratory diseases was bogus.  Anyone who has ever attended a family reunion in July realizes that people are just as close during the summer months and perhaps more likely to be exposed. 

It is also true that Chinese Medicine discusses the idea of wind entering the body as carrying disease with it.  In our modern medical model, temperature has nothing to do with it.  A virus is spread, and that’s the extent of our interest in what causes the illness. 

So here comes this study, which shows a typical commensal (friendly) bacteria, Moraxella catarrhalis, which lives in our ears all year long.  Except when someone is exposed to several hours of 26 degree Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit) in their middle ear, which can occur when the temperature drops and they breathe very cold air for several hours. 

The result is increased adherence by our little friend, who goes from being a friend to taking over a bit and deciding he’d like to rule the roost.  This sets off our immune system (Oh, no you didn’t!) and “contribute to the symptoms referred to as common cold.” 

So we were right all along, it does have something to do with a cold after all.  Good thing I’m writing a book about colds and flus to help clarify what is and what isn’t true. 

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2011;697:107-16.

Moraxella catarrhalis – pathogen or commensal?

Aebi C.

Department of Pediatrics and Institute for Infectious Diseases, University of Bern, Inselspital, Bern, Switzerland.


Moraxella catarrhalis is an exclusively human commensal and mucosal pathogen. Its role as a disease-causing organism has long been questioned. Today, it is recognized as one of the major causes of acute otitis media in children, and its relative frequency of isolation from both the nasopharynx and the middle ear cavity has increased since the introduction of the heptavalent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which is associated with a shift in the composition of the nasopharyngeal flora in infants and young children. Although otitis media caused by M. catarrhalis is generally believed to be mild in comparison with pneumococcal disease, numerous putative virulence factors have now been identified and it has been shown that several surface components of M. catarrhalis induce mucosal inflammation. In adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), M. catarrhalis is now a well-established trigger of approximately 10% of acute inflammatory exacerbations.Although the so-called cold shock response is a well-described bacterial stress response in species such as Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis or – more recently – Staphylococcus aureus, M. catarrhalis is the only typical nasopharyngeal pathogen in which this response has been investigated. Indeed, a 3-h 26°C cold shock, which may occur physiologically, when humans inspire cold air for prolonged periods of time, increases epithelial cell adherence and enhances proinflammatory host responses and may thus contribute to the symptoms referred to as common cold, which typically are attributed to viral infections.

PMID: 21120723


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