6 colds and flu myths, debunked by a doctor

Medically reviewed by words by Dr Roger Henderson, Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP
·3-min read
Photo credit: Erik Madigan Heck for Harper's Bazaar
Photo credit: Erik Madigan Heck for Harper's Bazaar

From Harper's BAZAAR

Most of us have contracted a cold or flu before and know how to recover, and yet there still seems to be a number of myths floating around - from how you catch them in the first place to how you should treat the common cold to recover faster. Should you starve a fever and is it wise to wash your hair when you're feeling unwell? With cold and flu season upon us, now is the time to set the record straight.

Below, Dr Roger Henderson debunks six common cold and flu myths so you can focus on recovery.

Myth: You only catch a cold when someone sneezes on you

Fact: You’re more likely to be infected with a cold by touching a door handle, tea towel, or a handrail on the bus that’s been contaminated by the virus. Shaking hands also passes on germs. Once your fingers have been contaminated and you rub your eyes or nose, the virus could invade your body. However, with flu, people can more easily breathe in droplets containing the influenza virus that have been sneezed or coughed into the air.

Myth: Feed a cold, starve a fever

Fact: Never starve yourself! Nutritious hot drinks and soups (rather than solids) are what you need. Hot liquids increase the temperature in the nose and mouth and help kill viruses off more quickly. Keeping well hydrated is important for any type of infection.

Myth: Going out with wet hair won’t cause a cold

Fact: This old wives tale was recently debunked, but it’s now thought that you may actually be able to catch a cold by getting cold. When we shiver, our whole body becomes quite stressed, which depresses the immune system. We have bugs in our nose all the time, and when the immune system drops its guard, these seize their chance. So your grandmother may have been correct when telling you to wrap up warm.

Myth: You can catch the same cold twice

Fact: There are around 200 simple cold viruses and, on average, we catch a couple each winter. However, once the cold ends, your body has built up immunity which will protect you from catching that exact same virus again.

But you're not immune from catching a new virus just because you recently recovered from another one. Reduce your chances of getting a cold by keeping your immune system in peak condition with a healthy diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep - and don't forget to wash your hands regularly.

Myth: Resting will help banish a cold quickly

Fact: Gentle exercise and fresh air are more likely to speed your recovery from a cold. But if you come down with the flu, go to bed. Rest is essential to help you get better.

Myth: Antibiotics are the only way to cure colds and flu

Fact: Antibiotics are only suitable for the treatment of bacterial infections and do not work on viruses such as those that cause colds and flu. You will only be prescribed antibiotics if the cold turns into a secondary infection such as bronchitis.

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