Cold and Flu Myths

By Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent

With all the germs swirling when the weather gets cold, everyone is afraid of coming down with a cold or the flu — and wondering how to prevent and recover from such illnesses.

Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, Medical Director of the Cheng-Tsui Integrated Health Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, dispels some common myths about how we get sick in the winter, and why some “healing” remedies may not actually help.

  1. Cold weather does not cause a cold.

“People tend to get more colds in the winter time because they’re indoors more often and in closer proximity to other people,” says Dr. Nerurkar. “The viruses are present all year round, but infections tend to increase because we’re in closer contact.”

  1. Bundling up has no bearing.

How many times have you heard someone yell, “Put on your hat or you’ll catch a cold!”? “There is actually no basis for the common misconception that having wet hair or going outside without a hat or jacket makes it more likely that you’ll get sick,” says Nerurkar.

The way you get a cold or flu is by coming in contact with the cold or flu virus. So without a jacket, you might be cold, but you’re no more likely to catch a cold.

  1. Vitamin C: more isn’t better.

One of the very persistent wives’ tales suggests that mega doses of vitamin C will prevent you from getting sick. But, sadly, it’s not true.

“I recommend eating a nutritious and balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables,” says Nerurkar. “That and getting a healthy amount of sleep,  staying hydrated and minimizing stress will give your immune system the best chance of fighting off a cold.”

  1. Soap sanitizes, too.

A lot of people think that hand sanitizers are the best way to prevent colds and flu. “It’s absolutely true that hand hygiene is important. But, hand washing with good, old-fashioned soap and water works just as well as hand sanitizers to prevent infection,” says Nerurkar.

  1. Antibiotics are a no-go.

“I often have patients come for a visit hoping to be prescribed an antibiotic to treat their cold, but antibiotics won’t actually help. Antibiotics are for bacterial infections, they’re not effective against viruses,” says Nerurkar. “And overuse of antibiotics could lead to future bacterial resistance.”

Nerurkar recommends getting a flu shot, but if you’re unlucky enough to get the flu, you can talk with your doctor about Tamiflu, an antiviral that can help relieve symptoms when treated at the start of the illness.

  1. Energy drinks and juices will not help you heal faster!

“It’s important to think about hydration, especially if you have a fever, but I recommend water, since many of the energy drinks have lots of sugar, salt and sometimes stimulants, which can cause more harm than good when ingested in large quantities,” says Nerurkar.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted December 2016

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