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Will Playing in the Rain Hurt My Child?

by  Leonard Marks, MD

A problem commonly dealt with for those of use who run or have run soccer leagues is: When do we cancel games if it is raining?

While we know rain can be harmful to the fields, is it harmful to children? Does rain, wet, cold cause pneumonia? Can wet weather cause colds? The answer is NO! Rain and wet weather do not cause colds, viruses do. Rain and wet weather do not run one’s immune system down. There is excellent data from the 1960s and 1970s in which groups of individuals were exposed to very adverse conditions – dampness, rain, cool temperatures, etc. Their infection rates were identical to those individuals kept warm and dry. Years ago I remember reading something from one of the eastern electric companies in which those individuals working outside in the winter had a lower rate of absenteeism from infections than those in the offices.

Colds are caused from viruses that are transmitted via direct contact or airborne vectors almost always from person to person. If an individual is exposed to a new virus he will probably get it. There is absolutely no data to indicate that being outside or being exposed to adverse climatic conditions will increase the number of infections for those of us healthy enough to play soccer. I am adding a qualifier since malnourished and emaciated individuals fall into a different category.

The reason people believe that wet weather causes colds is that the bad weather usually occurs in the winter which is the cold/flu season. We apply a cause and effect relationship thereby assuming that wet weather causes colds. This is false. Many areas are wet year round but still have a significant winter cold and flu season. If weather caused infections, kids in these areas would be sick year round.

Regretfully many parents wholeheartedly believe there is a correlation. While many kids would love to play in the rain, just like they love to run through sprinklers, it is easier to cancel games for the younger groups then deal with the criticism of parents for giving the kids pneumonia. I should go on record that I am all for canceling games when the temperature is cold and it is raining. I hate being outside under those circumstances. It is uncomfortable but it will not cause colds.

As an aside, keeping a child well dressed, wearing a hat, using scarves, avoiding drafts, etc. will not prevent colds. If you want to prevent a cold, try not to breathe and do not touch things others have touched first. Good luck.

Dr. Leonard Marks

Dr. Leonard Marks is a specialist in Pediatrics and a Fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics - Sutter North Medical Foundation. He coached the Marysville High School Varsity Soccer team for 21 seasons and was named the Sacramento-San Joaquin Section Model Coach of the Year in 2010.