Hatchet Checkup: Common cold myths

With flu season in full swing, students need to reinforce their antiviral defenses in order to ward off the common cold. But a major step in overcoming a cold is differentiating fact from myth.

Dr. Matthew Mintz, an associate professor at GW’s School of Medicine, and Susan Haney, associate director of Student Health Service, helped The Hatchet break down myths associated with the common cold.

The flu shot

A flu shot serves as the earliest safeguard against sickness. Though some believe that the flu shot gives you the flu, in reality it uses “broken down pieces of the actual virus to build up your body’s own defenses,” Mintz said. Though it may cause some symptoms of the flu, including headaches, muscle aches and fevers, they are usually mild and last only a day or so.

Vitamin C

Consuming mega-doses of vitamin C has no effect on the onset or duration of colds. Mintz said “supplementation does not really work.” According to a 2005 study published in Public Library of Science Medicine, researchers showed that vitamin C does not ward off sickness. With no medical evidence to back it up, the vitamin C theory proves to be all juice and no pulp.

Getting wet

Wearing wet clothes or being outside in the cold will not necessarily make you sick – because viruses, not the weather, cause the flu.

“If you take a dip in the pool at the Lerner Center and immediately run to Starbucks in your bathing suit in 20 degree weather, unless someone coughs or sneezes on you, you will not get sick – though I wouldn’t recommend this activity,” Mintz said. But such activities may decrease your body’s defense mechanisms, thus influencing your propensity to catch a cold.

Chicken noodle soup

This motherly advice actually does work, but medical professionals are not exactly sure why. Mintz explained that the soup myth “dates back to Egyptian Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides, who recommended chicken soup for respiratory tract symptoms.” Today, evidence of this chicken cure-all actually exists.

Haney said the liquid and sodium content helps to treat the dehydration associated with colds and the bland flavor can help soothe an upset stomach.

Humidifiers

A misty subject, humidifiers have the potential to either sooth or exacerbate a cold. The added moisture of humidifiers can help pacify a stuffy nose and scratchy throat. However, humidifiers can carry and disperse molds that can irritate allergies, making the illness worse.

So with all of these myths floating around in the virus-infected air, what is a GW student to do?

“First stay healthy. Get a decent amount of rest, eat well and exercise,” said Mintz.

A healthy body serves as the primary defense against illness. Haney and Mintz agreed that handwashing is an important preventative measure.

“You really can’t say that one enough,” Haney said.

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