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Myth: If you sit in a draught you will get sick

Myth: If you sit in a draught you will get sick

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

Myth busters

His grandparents, parents, everyone in Geert-Jan Dinant's family became ‘alarmed’ if a whiff of wind brushed passed their legs. Windows and doors that were causing the draught were immediately shut. This was not good, because you could catch a cold from it and it could give you gout.

Exactly where that pig-headed story comes from, Dinant - also a GP - doesn’t know exactly. Although it is clear that it is widespread, not just among the patients in his practice but also among scientists. “I always have windows and doors open in my room. Some colleagues only have to enter my room and they start shivering. 'Can you close something? There's a draught.' That is the whole idea, I then say. The misconception is not a Dutch phenomenon, by the way. In Ethiopia, where we carry out a lot of research, almost everyone believes that you can get sick from it.”

You can't. Quite the contrary, says Dinant: a draught is healthy. Open up your windows and doors! What's the idea behind this? Air inside a house becomes polluted, the scientist explains. “A house is alive, produces waste, especially through cooking and heating. Sometimes also through the distribution of dust or a pet that loses its coat and scales. This can cause problems; the airways can become over-stimulated, with the risk of developing asthma. That is also the reason why wood-burners, which are gaining in popularity, are being discouraged these days. It is cosy but not good for your lungs. So, in that case at least allow the wind to blow through your house every now and again.”

At home, Dinant wouldn't even have to do that. “We live in a limestone house from the nineteen-twenties, in Heuvelland. There are draughts coming in from all corners. The front door alone has three places where the wind comes through: through the letterbox, the cat flap and between the threshold and the bottom of the door. You can feel the air pass you by in the hall. Great, certainly if it's warm. The wind helps to get rid of the heat; it cools you down if you are sweating. During the summer we even sometimes have a fan on in our bedroom. The more wind the better.”

Dinant views the trend that he refers to as the insulation craze with caution. “In newly built houses or renovations the whole shebang has to be insulated. I understand that you want to save energy by doing so, but we are taking things too far.”

Look at the two new  “classrooms,” he says, that were realised not too long ago at Universiteitssingel 50. "They are wonderfully spacious and light, but you can't open a window. You are standing there teaching for two long hours – if you are unfortunate enough – in front of a group of thirty students. The air conditioning does its best but after only one hour I am so tired. I really notice the difference, after teaching in an open classroom I feel much more energetic. Several lecturers have complained about the new spaces, I wasn't the only one. Not much can be done about it, opening the door doesn't help either, because the door further down is closed.”

This illustrates the problem, says Dinant. “We insulate so well that it becomes unpleasant. I'm not an architect but I would like to give them the advice that they should provide for some natural wind. And then I haven't even mentioned the odour. If dozens of students have had a lesson in the classrooms beforehand, heavens, the odour just hits you. When I enter – it has become kind of a ritual, this is what I do: jumper off, heating off and door open.”

Myth busters is a series in which academics shoot down popular myths on complex topics

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