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Cold and Flu Myths: Debunked by a Pediatrician

As the chilly season settles in, parents often encounter a flurry of myths surrounding colds and flu. Let’s explore five misconceptions and why they don’t match the reality of these illnesses. We’ll bust some myths and give you practical tips to keep your kids feeling their best. Let’s get you the right info so you can navigate this season without confusion!

Myth 1: Going Outside with a Wet Head Causes a Cold

The Truth: Contrary to popular belief, catching a cold isn’t as simple as damp hair meeting chilly air. Colds and flu are primarily caused by viruses, such as rhinovirus or influenza, not temperature exposure. While being cold might temporarily weaken the immune system, it doesn’t directly cause an infection. These viruses are transmitted through contact with infected droplets, not through exposure to cold temperatures.

The Real Advice: Keeping cold and flu viruses at bay starts with simple steps like washing hands frequently with soap and water, especially after being in public places. Also, maintaining a safe distance from people who are sick helps reduce the chances of catching these viruses.

Myth 2: Antibiotics Get Rid of Colds

The Truth: Antibiotics are incredibly effective against bacterial infections, but they’re entirely ineffective against viral infections, like colds and flu. These medications are specifically designed to target and eliminate bacteria, not viruses. Misusing antibiotics for viral infections can lead to antibiotic resistance, rendering these drugs less effective when truly needed. Additionally, taking antibiotics unnecessarily can cause side effects and disrupt the body’s natural balance of bacteria.

The Real Advice: Rest is key when fighting a cold or flu—ensuring plenty of sleep and relaxation. Staying at home, hydrating, taking over-the-counter remedies for symptoms, and keeping distance from others can help prevent spreading the illness while your body recovers.

Myth 3: Green Snot After a Cold Means Bacterial Infection

The Truth: The color of nasal discharge isn’t a foolproof indicator of a bacterial infection. Green or yellow mucus can be a sign of a bacterial infection. This is especially true if it lasts for more than ten days or is accompanied by fever and other symptoms.

However, it is important to note that this is not always the case. Usually, the mucus color changes because the immune system reacts to the viral infection. This involves immune cells and chemicals that are released to fight the virus.

Myth 4: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

The Truth: Both fevers and colds demand proper nutrition and hydration. Restricting food intake during a cold or overfeeding during a fever isn’t a suitable approach. Balanced nutrition supports the immune system’s fight against infections and aids in recovery. Maintaining hydration and providing nourishing meals rich in vitamins and minerals is crucial for overall health and recovery from illnesses.

The Real Advice: During recovery from a cold or flu, focus on nutritious foods like colorful fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains. These foods help replenish your body’s energy and provide essential vitamins and minerals to support your immune system, aiding in a speedier recovery.

Myth 5: Cough Medicine Eliminates Coughs

The Truth: Studies have shown limited evidence supporting the effectiveness of over-the-counter cough medications, especially in children. Moreover, certain cough medicines can have harmful effects, ranging from mild to severe side effects like increased heart rate or drowsiness.

The Real Advice: Honey is a safer alternative (for children over one year old) to help with coughs. Its natural properties can soothe a cough by coating the throat and easing irritation. Mix a spoonful of honey in warm tea with lemon to bring relief and ease discomfort caused by a nagging cough.

Understanding the reality behind these common myths empowers parents to make informed decisions about their children’s health. It’s important to rely on accurate information and consult healthcare professionals for proper guidance when dealing with colds, flu, or any illness affecting your child. Dispelling these myths leads to a more realistic understanding of these illnesses and better care for your child’s health.

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About the Expert

Dr. Christina Johns is a nationally recognized pediatric emergency physician and Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care. An official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is board certified in both pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine. With extensive media experience, the proud mom of two teenagers shares over 20 years of pediatric expertise with patients and families everywhere. Follow Dr. Johns for more insights on children’s health!