The Myths and Truths About Colds

The Myths and Truths About Colds

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Achoo! Cold and flu season is officially here. There are a whopping one billion colds in the United States each year (so basically, plan on getting more than one).But what causes colds and helps you get over a bad case of the sniffles is surrounded by myths and misinformation.Get the truth about what makes you sick—and how to fight off the common cold.

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Myth or Truth: You can catch a cold by walking outside with wet hair.

Myth. Sorry, Mom, but dashing out of the house with a wet head doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to catch a cold. “It’s a great old wives’ tale,” says Beth Ricanati, M.D., YouBeauty Wellness Advisor and medical director of the Lifestyle 180 program at the Cleveland Clinic.

So how do you pick one up? “You get sick by acquiring one of over 200 viruses, usually into your upper respiratory tract, when your immune system is not capable of managing the virus,” explains James Nicolai, M.D., YouBeauty Integrative Health Expert and the medical director of the Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program at Miraval Arizona Resort and Spa in Tucson.

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A cold virus spreads through tiny air droplets that are released when a sick person sneezes, coughs or blows their nose or when you’ve touched your eyes, nose or mouth after touching an object, like a doorknob, contaminated with a cold virus.

Myth or truth: Drastically changing weather brings on a cold.

Myth. Similar to the false belief that walking outside with wet hair can make you sick, temperature fluctuations (such as the weather going from 70 degrees to 50 and back to 70 in the span of a week) doesn’t bring on a cold. Catching the cold virus is what triggers the sniffling and sneezing.But there is truth to the belief that you catch colds more often in the winter. That’s because when the temperature drops, people tend to stay indoors (with the windows shut and the heat blasting). Being in such close quarters with the same air circulating makes it easier to pass the cold virus back and forth.

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Myth or Truth: Antibiotics help you beat the common cold.

Bad idea! It’s not only a myth—antibiotics fight bacteria, not viruses—but taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can actually be harmful to your health. “Antibiotics do not work against viruses,” explains Dr. Nicolai. “They may cause untoward side effects like stomach problems or yeast infections and contribute to drug-resistant bacterial infections.” So put the Cipro down and step away from your medicine cabinet.

Myth or Truth: Chicken soup helps heal a cold.

True. Your grandma was doing more than just showering you with love when she brought you a “nice bowl of chicken soup” to cure the sniffles. “There are some tests in recent literature that suggest chicken soup may calm the inflammatory response caused by a viral infection,” notes Dr. Nicolai. “Warm things of any kind are comforting, but they can also help clear nasal passages and positively affect the immune system function.”

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Rachel Grumman Bender
Rachel Grumman Bender is an award-winning freelance health and beauty writer and editor. She writes regularly for The New York Times and has written for Women's Health, Yahoo Health, Everyday Health, the New York Post, Cosmopolitan, and many more publications. Rachel has held Health Editor positions at and Cosmopolitan magazine. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Boston University and her master’s degree in journalism at New York University. She lives in northern California with her husband and her twins.