The Top 10 Cold & Flu Myths

After Dr. Wolynn’s Note teaching us about what colds ARE, I thought it would be a good time to list the Top 10 Cold & Flu Myths…

10. Drinking milk will make your cold worse. 

While milk (especially any milk with fat in it) may coat your throat and make you feel more mucousy, there’s no evidence that it increases mucous production in children. One of the best things you can do for a cold is to stay hydrated, so if a child wants to drink milk, drink away!

9. “Feed a cold, starve a fever.”

There’s no need to starve a cold OR a fever. Eating a healthy diet, whether you have a cold or a fever, is a good idea. Your body needs good nutrition to function and recover at its best, so if you’re hungry, eat!  That being said, kids often lose their appetite when they’re sick, and that’s fine too. Forcing them to eat when they don’t want to generally isn’t a good idea, because you’re more likely to upset their stomachs even more. When they feel better, they’ll eat extra food to make up for those lost pounds. However, it is very important to make sure children drink when they have colds. Staying well hydrated is one of the best things you can do for yourself while you’re sick.

8. Chicken soup will make you better faster.

Well, actually, there may be a bit of truth to this! Some studies have shown chicken soup has an anti-inflammatory effect in rats, but this hasn’t been reproduced in humans (yet). Either way, eating soup is a great way to stay hydrated, and it makes great comfort food.

7. Vitamin C, echinacea, and zinc will make you better faster.

Not necessarily. There have been mixed results with each of these. Some studies suggest a minimal shortening of cold symptoms, and some studies show no improved outcome at all. Many of these studies have used widely varied doses, and there is very little research on these in children. We know that being deficient in vitamins and minerals can harm your immune system, but there’s no proof that taking extra doses will help. And in large doses, they’re often associated with significant side effects like rashes, stomach upset, and even damage to your sense of smell (with large doses of nasal zinc). Bottom line: best thing to do is make sure you have a healthy, well-balanced diet.

6. Over The Counter (OTC) cold and cough medicines will cure a cold faster.

The bad news is, they won’t. In fact, especially in younger kids, cold medicines can actually make things worse by masking symptoms or having unwanted side effects. Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Motrin (ibuprofen) can help bring a fever down and make a child more comfortable, but they won’t make them better faster. Cough and cold medicines may take the edge off of older kids’ symptoms, but they won’t make them better faster.

5. Antibiotics will cure a cold.

Again, the bad news is that they won’t. Colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics only work against bacteria; they do nothing to help a viral infection. In fact, taking an antibiotic when you have a viral infection just puts you at risk of making things worse — possibly developing an upset stomach, diarrhea, rashes, and increasing the risk of developing bacterial resistance. The only thing that will make a cold go away is time.

4. The flu vaccine will cause you to get the flu.

Absolutely not true. The flu shot is made with a killed virus, so it is 100% impossible to get the flu from a flu shot. As with any vaccine, there’s always a small chance of getting a little soreness or mild fever, but nothing that compares to the seriousness of the actual flu. The nasal flu vaccine uses a special type of live flu virus, one that’s been altered to survive only  in the cooler outer nose region; if it tries to spread deeper into your nose or into your body, the slightly higher temperatures there prevent the nasal flu virus from living, making it impossible to get the flu from the nasal vaccine as well.  (Personally, I think this is one of the coolest things science has done in a while. There have been AMAZING advances in medicine in the last ten years. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!)

Sneezy

3. The flu vaccine will prevent all colds.

Unfortunately, it won’t. I hear quite frequently, “I don’t want to get a flu shot – I got one last year, and I still got stick a lot.”  The flu vaccine is designed to prevent infection from influenza, which is a particularly nasty infection. However, even with a flu shot, you can still get every other viral cold that comes your way. But even though it won’t make you immune to everything, it’s still a good idea to get your flu shot. If you can do something to help prevent getting the flu, it’s certainly worth it!

2. You shouldn’t get your flu vaccine too early, or it won’t last.

The good news is, immunity from flu vaccines lasts much longer than the flu season does. Even getting a flu vaccine in early August is late enough that you’ll stay protected well past the end of flu season.

1. Going out in the cold, or with a wet head, will cause a cold.

You’ve heard them all before from your mother when you were a kid, and you may have told your kids the same thing, but the truth is… you’re no less likely to catch a cold if you’re warm and dry indoors than if you’re wet and cold outside. Viral colds tend to be more common this time of year for a few reasons. It’s colder outside, so we spend more time indoors in closer contact with each other; when someone sneezes or coughs, you’re more likely to be close to them and catch their cold. Also, viruses tend to live longer in lower winter humidity, so they stick around longer. But actually being wet or cold doesn’t make you more likely to get sick.  So while you may think those teenagers wearing shorts and no hats with wet hair are crazy walking around like that when it’s freezing, they’re not any more likely to get sick than if they had dry hair and were all bundled up.

Dr. Wolf, a Kids Plus Doc since 2000, is a Shareholder and CFO of the practice.