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Debunking Old Wives’ Tales: Part One

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

This is part one in a series on old wives’ tales on colds and flu.

Will you become sick if you go outside with wet hair? Is it starve a cold, feed a fever, or vice versa? We spoke with Children’s National’s pediatrician Lee Beers, MD, to get to the bottom of some common old wives’ tales on colds.

You'll get sick if you go out in the cold with wet hair. 
FALSE: Illnesses are caused by germs and bacteria, so going out with wet hair does not make you more susceptible to an infection. Certainly colds and viruses are more common in the winter months because people are inside more and pass illnesses back and forth.

Feed a cold, starve a fever. 
HALF TRUE: These things may help people feel better, but it won’t cure the cold or fever. When you have a fever, you have less of an appetite, so that’s probably where this old wives’ tale came from. What is really important with both of these conditions is to drink fluids so you don’t get dehydrated. In general, you will recover faster from an illness if you have proper nutrition.

Avoid dairy when you have a cold. 
FALSE: People worry that the dairy will make congestion worse, but milk helps you get your fluids and it’s important when you’re ill to get enough fluids. If you get dehydrated, you will feel worse and your mucous will thicken.

Have some chicken soup when you're sick. 
TRUE: This goes along with needing fluids when you’re ill. Other benefits of chicken soup are that the salt tastes good to a sick person, the broth helps hydrate, and the soup does have a little bit of protein and carbohydrates to help with nutrition.

Rest, don't exercise, when you're under the weather. 
HALF TRUE: You certainly don’t want to overdo it when you’re sick and your body needs extra rest, but it will actually help you feel better faster to move around a little bit. You may not want to go for a 5-mile run, but a 2-mile walk may help you clear your head and feel physically better. It won’t make infection go away faster, but it will help you feel like you’re getting back to normal faster.

What are some of the old wives’ tales that you have heard? We’ll ask one of our experts to offer some insight.


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