Catch Your Death of Cold

So please call me, baby
Wherever you are
It's too cold to be out walking in the streets
We do crazy things when we're wounded
Everyone's a bit insane
I don't want you catching your death of cold
Out walking in the rain
Tom Waits, "Please Call Me, Baby" - The Heart of Saturday Night.

The Common Cold is a very mild disease (in first world countries, among people who are not immunocompromised in some way) caused by a number of different viruses that largely have nothing in common other than most of the symptoms they cause. It has been around as long as anyone can remember, but has yet to be stamped out due to the sheer number of "cold" viruses and their different properties. Almost as durable as the disease itself is the myth that it's directly caused by exposure to cold temperatures, and that's what this trope is about.

The origins of the disease's name dates back to ancient times. Long before the advent of germ theory or any understanding of how the body works, it was believed that one's health was dependent on keeping the body's "humours" - blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile - in balance. The patient exposed to cold temperatures was thought to have taken in a "lump" of cold which would increase the amount of phlegm, so any disease that caused a patient to produce phlegm was said to be caused by "catching cold". In addition, people in pre-industrial times were more likely to embark on travel in the late fall because that's when the year's harvest was sold. Those that went to market (quite possibly through cold, wet conditions) would bring back whatever infections they had been exposed to. Since these infections usually spread through the community in the early winter when the temperature was coincidentally dropping, the common cold gained an additional association with cold weather.

In truth, because the cold can only be caught from other people, you're far less likely to catch it if you go wandering through the wilderness on a cold night, although prolonged exposure may well weaken your immune system against an infection already acquired. You'd do far better to worry about the much more severe consequences of real exposure, such as hypothermia and frostbite.

Despite the fact that the actual cause of the cold has been fairly common knowledge for about a hundred years now, this fact has not seemed to permeate the public consciousness very far. (In English-speaking communities, this confusion may just be caused by its being called a 'cold'.) Mothers still caution their children to button up when going outside lest they catch cold, and any character in fiction, especially animation, will instantly begin to sneeze and cough after being chilled or, especially, frozen. These symptoms may go away once they've been warmed up again, which is sometimes Truth in Television, as some people Freeze Sneeze when it's cold, but often these symptoms are treated like a cold.

There's some legitimacy to this claim, to wit: having a rapid change in temperature (such as a home with a roaring fire to the freezing midwinter outdoors) can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to showing symptoms of the common cold. So, going outside while properly protected from the cold really is good advice for avoiding virus-related unpleasantness, and other cold-related unpleasantness. Cold air can also irritate the respiratory tract enough to cause a temporary increase in mucus production, but in that case it's more like having a very mild asthma attack than an actual infection.

The trope, although pretty much a Discredited Trope at this point, is still used faithfully in fiction and media — exposure to cold means you are going to 'catch' a cold or something worse. Once one has caught cold, if it's a Gross-Out Show, expect rivers of green mucus, horrible shots of runny noses and hankies and tissues dripping with said mucus.

The variations of this trope are rarely combined with Redemption in the Rain, Snow Means Cold, or Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Death

See also: Freeze Sneeze. When the cold really is fatal, see Snow Means Death.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • Kiki's Delivery Service: Kiki ends up sick in bed after getting caught in a storm doing a delivery.
  • In Hidamari Sketch, when Yoshinoya-sensei (and a number of students) is out sick, the principal advices the other students to take care of themselves, specifically warning them not to go out with wet hair on a cold day just because "you think it looks cool" (implying that that's how Yoshinoya-sensei got sick).
  • In the Pokémon anime episode "The Ice Cave!", Team Rocket doused Ash and his friends with cold water inside the title icy cave, causing Brock to come down with symptoms similar to influenza.
    • In the XY episode "Battling At Full Volume!" a similar thing happened, as Ash got a bad cold after being doused in cold water.
  • In the first movie to Cardcaptor Sakura, Sakura falls into a (shallow) well and gets completely soaked and then sneezes.
  • In A Cruel God Reigns, Jeremy immediately catches a cold after he attempts to throw himself in the lake during a freezing rain but is pulled out by Ian. The trope is lampshaded by Lindon, who says he's more worried about Jeremy catching a cold than he is about water in his lungs or the possibility of an irregular heartbeat. To be fair though, Lindon states that Jeremy is probably also sleep deprived, and that the exposure to the cold may have just been the final blow to his immune system.
  • In a Filler episode of Fairy Tail, Lucy catches a cold after being buried in snow while other guild members battle a wyvern.
  • In Free!! Haru catches a cold from swimming in the newly restored Iwatobi High swimming pool too early in the season.
  • In Jewelpet (2009), Dian has a cold that lasts for several episodes after his release from his frozen seal.
  • Kirito sneezes once when caught out in the rain in Akagami no Shirayukihime and develops a cold that night. In this case he did not actually get sick from the cold itself and everyone else who was in the rain is fine.

     Comic Books 
  • DuckTales: As Scrooge wanders around Duckburg while trying to figure out what happened so that no one wants to be anywhere around himnote , he gets caught out in some weather and begins sneezing. He hates this, most notably because cold medicine is so expensive. Later, the cold turns into a fever.
  • In Asterix in Switzerland, Obelix says he's caught a cold from "that retched lake".

     Fan Fiction 
  • If Them's the Rules, Tom ends up sick after other kid dumps a bucket of ice water on "accident" in the middle of winter.
  • The Stalking Zuko Series Zuko gets extremely sick from cooler fever as warming himself in a freezer caused a temperature shift that weakened his immune system.
  • In Fever Dreams Light and L get sick after staying out on the roof in the rain and having sex for a prolonged period of time.
  • In Travels of the Trifecta, Paul catches a severe cold from being soaking wet in the rain near the beginning of the story.
  • A Happy Days fan fiction called A Day in the Rain is Worth a Few In Bed, Fonzie gets a cold from kissing in the rain with his Love Interest Meg, who's an Author Avatar.
  • In Old Fashioned Remedies, which is a fanfic of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, with a short appearance of Boba Fett from Star Wars Apple Bloom gets a disease from working in cold weather. The symptoms are fatigue, green face, red polka dots, and low mood. Yes, she gets better, but in the process, things get Squicky, and there's a bit of a Mind Screw.
  • In a What's New, Scooby-Doo? fanfic called Scooby Kratt, where they meet the gang from Wild Kratt. Velma has a cold and says she's had it since they were mystery solving last week in the rain.
  • In Tommy Pickles Vs The Terrible Twos, Didi thinks Tommy will catch a cold if he stays in his wet clothes.
  • In this unnamed Mork & Mindy fanfiction, Mork develops cold-like symptoms after playing in the rain.

    Film — Animated 
  • Beauty and the Beast: Belle's father Maurice lets out a Freeze Sneeze when he first enters the Beast's castle after getting drenched in a rainstorm and develops a nasty cough after the Beast locks him in the cold dungeon. Later, after failing to convince the villagers to help him rescue Belle, he tries to go back to the castle by himself, but gets caught in a blizzard and becomes sicker than ever. Fortunately, when Belle and the Beast see this in the magic mirror, the Beast lets Belle go to take him safely home.
  • Subverted in Frozen Fever: Queen Elsa declares the since she has ice powers and cold doesn't bother her, she can't get sick, but it turns out she's wrong and she catches a cold and fever.
  • In Christmas Carol: The Movie, Tiny Tim, only just recovering from pneumonia, makes the mistake of caroling outside Scrooge's window, and Scrooge throws a bucket of cold water onto him. This triggers a relapse of his illness, which is what would have killed him if not for Scrooge's ghostly adventures that night.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Disney's The Three Lives of Thomasina, little Mary catches pneumonia after running out into a rainy night after her long-lost, presumed-dead cat, the titular Thomasina. She nearly dies - only getting her cat back in the end gives her the will to recover.
  • Independence Day: Julius tells his son to get off the cold floor so he doesn't catch cold. This gives David the inspiration to write a virus that will help humanity against the invading aliens.
  • In A Christmas Carol: The Musical starring Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge, Bob Cratchit has a cold and sneezes constantly, presumably due to Scrooge's stinginess with the coal in his office. Scrooge is later shown sneezing as well, implying that he's caught Bob's cold.

  • In the picture book Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold, Mr. Putter catches a cold after he goes outside in the snow without his hat.
  • In the Greyfriars stories, anyone who gets soaked with water is liable to be coughing and sneezing by the following chapter.
  • In Samantha's birthday story in the American Girl series, Samantha complains that her grandmother makes her wear long underwear from September to June to prevent consumption.
  • The titular character of Ishmael "dies" of pneumonia after being out in the cold too long.
  • In the Belgariad, cave-dweller Relg catches a cold soon after emerging onto the surface world for the first time; although exposure to the other characters might have infected him with something to which they were already immune, the text implies he caught it from the unaccustomed weather. (Then subverted: Relg recovers by walking through rock.) In the Malloreon, one character voices an apparently serious concern that the Team Pet snake might have caught a cold, though this proves not to be the case.
  • In the final book of the The Dark Tower series, Roland starts coughing and seems to have the start of pneumonia due to the extended exposure to cold and long amounts of walking with minimal nutrition. He eats a part of a freshly killed deer to cure it.
  • Bilbo in The Hobbit catches a cold after his ride downriver on a barrel, soaked through and very cold when he arrives.
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Jane ends up with a bad cold after riding her horse through the rain to see Mr Bingley.
  • Similarly, Marianne in Sense and Sensibility comes down with a bad fever after moping around a wet garden and not changing into dry clothes. This is more justified because she'd been generally neglecting her health and contemporary medical treatment included bloodletting, which would just makes things worse (not that Austen knew it at the time).
  • In the picture book Little Raccoon Catches a Cold, the title character gets told to bundle up or he'll get a cold. He tries to literally "catch" a cold, but in the end falls in the river and is told "a cold caught you".
  • In The Woman in White, Marian gets soaked in the rain and develops full-blown typhoid fever within hours.
  • In a book based off Ozwald, Ozwald gets a cold from being caught in the rain.
  • What is Love?, which is a book tries to define the word "love" to children has a part about Tough Love which says that "your parents may make you wear a jacket in the rain even if you don't want to and your teachers may make you study subjects you personally dislike but don't think that means they don't love you because their motivations are still out of love. Your parents make you wear the jacket because they don't want you to catch a cold and your teachers give you lessons you don't like because they might be important in the future."
  • The story Charlie the Crocodile Who Couldn't Catch a Cold has Charlie, a Funny Animal crocodile, catch a cold from neglecting to wear his coat in the snow due to his erroneous belief that crocodiles are immune to colds.

     Live Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: The trope appears in any episode where Mr. Conklin is being particularly stingy in maintaining the school's heat; most notably "Blue Goldfish".
  • In F Troop, it happens to Captain Parmenter after he keeps getting water dumped on him in one episode. Unfortunately, the cure leaves him Unsuspectingly Soused.
  • Invoked in Highlander...Anne tells Duncan he'll get a cold from sitting out in the cold air. (And she was a doctor. Eesh. as for whether immortals get sick, we never find out for sure.)
  • The Tick (2001): Arthur tells Batmanuel that the last time the Immortal was in town he waited outside his hotel for hours in bad weather hoping to get his autograph and caught a terrible cold. (He never did end up getting Immortal's autograph.)

  • From Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts": "You're gonna catch a cold/From the ice inside your soul". Todd in the Shadows sums up this insult perfectly.
  • In the children's song Achoo, I Got a Cold, the little girl catches a cold from going out in the rain with wet hair and the little boy John catches a cold from fishing without a jacket.

     Newspaper Comics 
  • In the book Astérix in Switzerland, Obelix declares he's caught a cold "from that wretched lake".
  • In a Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin deliberately catches a cold (to escape schoolwork) by opening the window and putting his head outside. In another strip, his mom refuses to allow him to play in the rain because he might catch pneumonia, although this is somewhat more justified as pneumonia can be contracted from spores or molds.

     Oral Tradition 
  • An old British folksong "On Ilkley Moor" suggests that, from traveling on Ilkley Moor without a hat ("baht'aht"), then "thou'll catch thy de'ath of cauld!", after which there are other repercussions, leading to a somewhat cannibalistic observation!

     Tabletop RPG 
  • The Earthdawn supplement Earthdawn Survival Guide had a game mechanic for catching a cold after being caught in the rain.

     Video Games 
  • In Harvest Moon: Animal Parade, if you work too hard in the rain, you'll catch a cold. The cold makes it so it takes more stamina to do work, unless you cure it. You also lose stamina faster just by working in the rain itself, but that's a somewhat more reasonable assumption to make, because doing hard work while soaking wet, in high winds, seems more difficult.
  • Almost happens to Dr. Wily in Mega Man 10.
  • Phoenix himself in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials & Tribulations catches a cold after falling to a river in a very cold mountain. While the fall only caused him minor injuries, the sudden shift in temperature caused his immune system to weaken.
  • Seems to be a reoccurring mechanic in the stealth-based Metal Gear series, where leaving the player character in a cold or rainy place or leaving him scantily clad for too long causes him to catch cold and start sneezing at random, making it harder to sneak around enemy soldiers.
    • Snake gets a cold after being stripped of his suit in Metal Gear Solid, although it only serves as something to attract guards.
      • In-game dialogue implies he actually caught it from the sick soldier guarding his cell. He can catch cold from spending too much time in the frozen outdoors at the beginning of the game, though.
    • He gets a cold again in the sequel, after sneaking around in the pouring rain.
      • Raiden can also get a cold, if you take too long finding his gear in the level where he's naked.
    • In Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake leaving Solid Snake hanging around in the water of the underground drainage ditch for too long causes him to catch a cold, making him occasionally sneeze. The sound causes nearby guards to get suspicious.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater Naked Snake can catch a cold if you make him run around in the "Naked Camo" or hang around in water or rain. In addition to his random sneezing alerting guards like in previous games, his stamina will drain more quickly, the camera will shake in first person view, and the controller will vibrate (explained in-game as Snake shivering) until you cure him.
  • In Persona 3, the main character gets caught in the rain on the way back from school during the onset of a typhoon, and spends a few days in bed with a fever. The main character can also come down with a cold if fatigued by studying too late or spending too much time dungeon-crawling in Tartarus; because daytime is being spent in a crowded school and the fatigue weakens his immune system, this is in fact more realistic than catching cold due to the weather.
    • In Persona 5, there are five days of flu season. During this time, any enemies you encounter have a chance of starting their battles inflicted with despair, a status effect that disables all actions and kills its victim in three turns. The Reaper is not immune to this. That's right, Death itself can be killed by a cold.
  • In Ocarina of Time, Idle Animation changes based on your environment. If it's a cold place, you shiver, and then sneeze.
  • In Katawa Shoujo, Emi catches a cold after staying out in the rain too long.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, the late-game boss Blizzard Midbus attacks using snow and ice-based powers which can cause Bowser to become sick.
  • In the online game based on Frozen, called Elsa Frozen Flu Doctor, Elsa catches the flu from spending weeks in the cold.
    • A similar game entitled Rapunzel Flu Doctor has Rapunzel and Eugene from Tangled on a date and then Rapunzel falls out of a boat into the lake and catches the flu.
  • In an online game Victoria at the Flu Doctor, a girl about seven years old (but with a babyish cry) named Victoria catches the flu because her ice cream was too cold.
  • A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky: A woman in Lilledragen:
    Woman: It's dangerous to go outside without heavy clothing. Are you trying to catch the flu?!
    Gainer: No, ma'am...
    Woman: Just try to keep warm, dear.

     Web Comics 

     Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: After getting caught in "The Storm", Katara and Sokka both come down with severe colds. Aang, who is of stronger constitution (possibly due to having spent a century as a Human Popsicle), remains healthy and has to undertake the Fetch Quest to get their cure. They're an inversion because they're from a frozen climate but were not acclimated to a warmer climate.
  • On Spongebob Squarepants the Suds are the underwater version of a cold (for sponges, anyway), caught after Spongebob fell asleep in front of an open refrigerator.
  • Inversion: The Year Without a Santa Claus: Vixen, who's acclimated to the frigid temps of the North Pole gets sick when she goes to warm weather Southtown.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man: Peter goes around in un-insulated Spider Man suit in the dead of snowy winter, and the next time we see Peter Parker, he's sneezing, albeit not nescescarily with a cold.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: Fighting Mr. Freeze is enough to give Bruce a cold. Justified: it's stated there's an exceptional heat wave occurring; the temperature shift would weaken his immune system.
  • In one Looney Tunes short, a dog trying to find shelter from the snow trespasses into a skunk's house. The skunk runs him out and he falls into a frozen pond, catching a cold in the process... which works to his advantage, as his nose is now too stuffed up to be affected by the skunk's odious smell.
  • Space Ghost episode "The Iceman". Blip catches a cold after being exposed to prolonged cold temperatures.
  • In an episode of The Magic School Bus, when Arnold takes his helmet off on Pluto, his head freezes over. Back on Earth, he's just got a cold. Just so everyone's clear, the estimated warmest temperature on the surface of this little ball of ice is just about a skip above absolute zero.
  • In the movie Balto, Rosy is taken to the doctor, and sees her dog Jenna outside. When Rosy goes to play with Jenna, she starts to cough, and her father rushes out saying, "You'll catch your death out here!" Justified, as Rosy was already sick with diphtheria, and being outside on a cold Alaskan winter evening with no coat would have likely made her worse.
  • On the Futurama episode "Cold Warriors", Fry gets a cold as a child when he falls into freezing water while ice fishing. It happens again in the year 3010, a time where the common cold has been eradicated, and Fry's dormant strain threatens to contaminate the whole world.
  • In the update of How To Catch A Cold, Goofy says that people used to think colds were acquired by going out in the rain.
  • In Winnie-the-Pooh, the Backson is shown to give Eeyore a cold in the fantasy sequence by sprinkling water on him and blowing icy air at him.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Winter Wrap Up", Spike has fallen asleep on the last piece of ice left in the lake. Applejack jokes he's in for a big surprise when it finally melts. Next time we see him, he's wrapped in a blanket by the fire with fuzzy slippers, looking sick.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer makes Lisa crawl into a freezer to get a particular tub of ice cream, and she comes down with a cold. She then spends all her time playing a parody of Crash Bandicoot, and cheats on an English test.
  • Played ridiculously straight at the end of the Recess episode "Rainy Days." Less than a minute of playing outside in the rain has T.J. and friends all sneezing and feeling sick by the time they go in.
  • The Pororo the Little Penguin episode Get Well Soon, Loopy has Loopy catch a very serious cold from getting drenched in water.
  • In Dibo The Gift Dragon, Elo catches a cold from walking in the rain in Elo Catches a Cold
  • In the Peppa Pig episode George Catches a Cold, George's cold is acquired from walking in the rain with no rain hat on.
  • In an Angelina Ballerina episode, Mr. Operatski thinks he's got a cold after falling in the river and nearly drowning. It is never confirmed if he actually did get a cold.
  • In Penelope, "Penelope Catches Cold" is an episode where the rain makes Penelope get a cold.
  • In Little Princess, Princess is told she will catch a cold if she doesn't move out in the rain in "I Want a Tent", but the rain never actually makes anyone sick.
  • An episode of Mike, Lu & Og has Mike getting a cold after getting drenched in ice water.
  • An episode of Ben 10 has Ben getting a cold after sneaking into the back of an ice cream truck.
  • In the Rocko's Modern Life episode 'Yarnbenders', Filburt the turtle falls ill after being stuck on his back in the rain, leading Rocko and Heffer having to tell him a twisted fairy tale.

     Real Life 
  • During his visit to the Western Isles of Scotland in 1773, Samuel Johnson was told that everyone on a certain island normally caught colds shortly after the quarterly ferry boat arrived. He thought the story unlikely since the contemporary understanding was that the common cold was caused by exposure to cold, but nevertheless reported the conversation faithfully in his book about the trip. The story was eventually referenced as evidence to support the germ theory of disease.
  • Prolonged exposure to cold does sometimes bring on a temporary bout of the sniffles, as breathing cold air slows the action of cilia that normally keep the mucus coating of the nasal passages from accumulating. Such environment-induced nasal congestion isn't infectious, however, and clears up quickly once the sniffler resumes breathing normal-temperature air. Interestingly, it could clear one's sinuses and or nasal passages, leading to a runny nose
    • While the cold doesn't cause illness, it can bring some illness (like the flu or the common cold) out of its incubation period, triggering symptoms, or it can complicate an illness already present (like the Balto and A Christmas Carol examples under Western Animation).
  • The death of Francis Bacon (stuffed a chicken with snow, died from pneumonia) is a prime contender for this trope. (As usual what really happened is in dispute.)
  • Two urban legends surrounding the deaths of US presidents: The throat infection that killed George Washington (or at least that led to his doctors bleeding him to death) is traditionally attributed to a long horseback ride he took through the snow two days earlier, while the pneumonia that killed William Henry Harrison just thirty days into his presidency is usually attributed to the long inaugural speech he gave in cold, wet weather with no coat. In truth, Harrison didn't become sick until three weeks after his inauguration, and the exact cause of Washington's death is still up for debate.