The facts & fiction on colds and flu
There is probably more folklore passed down through the generations about colds and flu than about any other types of illness. From when to prepare a big pot of homemade chicken soup to warnings about not venturing outside with wet hair, it’s sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction.
This pharmacist says Grandma was right… at least part of the time!
As a holistic pharmacist, I hear many myths about colds and flu. To help you better understand these common ailments, here are the facts.
Fiction. Being out in the cold weather or catching a chill does not cause a cold. Viruses cause colds. Most colds occur during the fall and winter because people spend more time indoors in close contact, sharing germs. Seasonal changes in relative humidity also may affect the prevalence of colds. The most common cold-causing viruses survive better when humidity is low, during the colder months of the year. There is some evidence that extreme temperatures can “stress” the body and that can hamper immune function. Cold weather also may make the lining inside your nose drier and more vulnerable to viral infection.
Fact. Hand-washing, when done properly, can help prevent transmission of cold and flu viruses. Viruses enter our body through our mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth). If you touch a phone, doorknob, or other object right after someone who has a virus touches the same object, and if you rub your eyes, nose or mouth, you can contract that virus. Hand-washing helps protect you and others.
Fiction. Antibiotics are of no value in treating a cold. The common cold is caused by a group of viruses called the rhinoviruses. Antibiotics are helpful for treating bacterial infections but they have no activity against viruses. If a person with a cold or flu develops a secondary bacterial infection, such as bronchitis, pneumonia or sinusitis, then an antibiotic may be necessary.
Fiction. Many OTC cold/flu medications are associated with side effects and contraindications. For example, decongestants can cause a number of side effects, including racing heart, increased blood pressure, insomnia and worsening of health problems such as glaucoma and prostate disease. A safer alternative is to use a nasal wash, such as Alkalol, which contains botanical extracts and essential oils to dissolve mucus, relieve congestion and moisturize the nasal passages.
Fact. Honey contains nutrients that lubricate and soothe the throat. Research has found buckwheat honey to be particularly helpful. Throat lozenges or drops can also help. Choose a product that contains natural ingredients such as glycerin and gum acacia, and one that is free of artificial dyes and gluten, such as Pine Brothers Softish Throat Drops.
Fiction. This is an old wives’ tale and there is not a shred of evidence to support this saying when facing a cold or flu. Many people lose their appetite with the flu, and you don’t have to force yourself to eat, especially if your stomach is queasy, but it's very important to drink lots of fluids and stay hydrated when you have a cold or the flu. When you sweat, you lose fluids and run the risk of becoming dehydrated.
Fact. This is a common recommendation by many mothers and grandmothers. and there is actually some science behind this home remedy. University of Nebraska researchers found that chicken soup has an anti-inflammatory effect, mobilizing the neutrophils and making them work a little bit better. It also keeps the mucus in the nose moving so that the virus, which sits in the nose, mobilizes faster and help speed recovery.
Fiction. This is a common misconception. Some people coincidentally get the flu after they have the flu vaccine and they think that it was the culprit. It is impossible to catch the flu from a flu shot because the flu vaccine does not contain a “live” virus, but rather components of the flu virus that are killed. Possible side effects of the flu shot include low-grade fever and redness, pain and swelling at the injection site.
If you suspect the onset of a cold or flu, it’s also important to act quickly. It may be possible to minimize some symptoms if you catch them early enough.
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