7 Cold and Flu Myths Busted
Here's how to separate the facts from bogus science. (Sorry, grandma.)
Having a cold is no fun. Getting the flu, perhaps even less so. Both of these viruses tend to proliferate at this time of year, making a walk through your office feel as safe as a stroll through the sewers of Venice at the bubonic plague's peak. There's still no cure for either malady, but there is constantly advancing science about how both can be avoided and their symptoms lessened. Yet old inaccuracies are hard to shake, and they could be getting and keeping you sick. Below, we bust the myths. And for more on winter colds, learn Why the Flu May Hit Men Harder Than Women.
Myth: The cold can turn into the flu
The facts: While the common cold (rhinovirus) and the flu (influenza) are both respiratory illnesses, they're caused by different viruses. They're confused for one another because they can appear identical at times. The big difference is that the flu causes more severe symptoms than the cold, such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. The common cold is more likely to produce a runny or stuffy nose and is relatively NBD. And for more on the flu, learn the Single Best Way to Prevent the Flu.
Myth: The flu isn't that serious
The facts: Still think that a bout of flu is much ado about nothing? Sounds like the hubris of someone who hasn't been brought low by it lately. The CDC estimates that 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu each year – and during the 2014-15 flu season, 146 children died from flu-related causes. Pregnant women, people with asthma, heart problems or people over 65 are at higher risk of experiencing severe effects, because their immune systems are weaker.
Myth: If you get the flu shot, you'll be immune
The facts: The flu shot protects against H1N1, H3N2 and influenza B, but the vaccine only covers about 70 to 80 percent of the flu viruses that exist in a given season. That said, it's better to be safer than sorry, so go ahead and get it. If flu season is like a round of Russian Roulette, getting the shot is like taking 4 bullets out of the chamber. And it could hardly be easier, given that many pharmacies dole out the vaccination for free.
Myth: You can prevent getting a cold or flu by taking Vitamin C or echinacea
The facts: Some people swear by superdosing with this stuff, but there's very little scientific evidence to support their efficacy. According to the Mayo Clinic, neither vitamin C nor echinacea will prevent the average person from catching a cold or flu. Researchers do cautiously refer to some studies that show taking either before the onset of symptoms may shorten their duration. While you're at it, read why 9 In 10 Americans Are Deficient in Vitamin C.
Myth: Starve a fever to get well
The facts: Feed a cold, starve a fever? If you ever have, eject that old wives' saying from your brain. Why? Because it's exactly the opposite of what your body needs. A fever is completely unrelated to your food intake, so by not eating, you'll just be adding hunger to your list of discomforts. Your best bet is to drink more fluids to replace those you've lost and to maintain your normal calorie intake to boost your immune system.
Myth: Cold temperatures will make you sick
The facts: Grandma was looking out for you with this warning, but sadly, she was wrong. Cold weather makes you cold, but it doesn't cause a cold. Both the common cold and the flu are viruses, and they're not hanging out in the wintry air but in other humans and the surfaces they touch. That said, a change in temp can help alleviate some respiratory symptoms of cold and flu. Try taking a shower, stepping into a sauna or using a cold-air humidifier.
Myth: Going outside with wet hair will get you sick
The facts: There is no scientific evidence that there's any truth to this one either. Temperatures do indeed drop in most of the U.S. during the fall and winter, which is also the time when many people come down with the common cold and flu viruses. The dampness of your hair won't increase or decrease anything but the stares you'll get in public. Now start living your healthy life to the absolute fullest—begin checking off the 40 Best Ways to Conquer Your 40s.
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