Don't Fall For These 10 Cold And Flu Myths

Maybe mom wasn't always right.
Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

You’ve washed your hands and taken vitamin C, but you still managed to catch your office cubemate’s germs. Part of avoiding a cold or the flu is knowing the facts. Colds and flus are caused by viruses – not because you went outside in the cold, says Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, a practicing internist at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta and a past president of the American College of Physicians. Almost as prevalent as cases of the cold and flu are these myths, which we've debunked to help you have a healthier season:

1. The cold can turn into the flu.

False. The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses, but they're caused by different viruses, says Dr. Kenneth Steier, dean of clinical education and a professor of medicine at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Middletown, New York. They appear identical at times because both cause similar flu-like symptoms. So, what’s the difference? The flu causes more severe symptoms than the cold, such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough. The common cold is more likely to produce a runny or stuffy nose. Plus, colds don’t often send people to the hospital for complications – and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications.

2. The flu isn't that serious.

Actually, it is. The CDC estimates that 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu each year – and during the 2014-15 flu season, 146 children died from flu-related causes. “That’s a good argument for getting the shot,” Steier says. “People with asthma, heart problems or people over 65 are much more at risk for death or a bad outcome from the flu because their immune system isn’t as strong to begin with.” Pregnant women should also get the vaccine.

3. Starve a fever.

Nope! In fact, that's the opposite of what your body needs. “A fever is the body’s normal reaction to try and clear a virus like the cold or flu,” Steier says. “The fever is completely unrelated to your food intake.” Instead, aim to drink more fluids to replace those you’ve lost, and maintain your normal calorie level to boost your immune system.

4. Dry heat or cold will make you sick.

“Cold weather makes you cold, and hot weather makes you hot, but neither one causes any flu or cold because they’re caused by viruses,” Steier explains. While you won't catch a cold from a wintry breeze, moist air can prove helpful if you're having trouble breathing, Fryhofer says. Try taking a shower, stepping into a sauna or using a cold air humidifier; each can alleviate respiratory symptoms associated with the cold and flu.

5. Don't go outside with wet hair.

Steier says there’s no scientific evidence that this old myth holds any weight. Temperatures do indeed drop in much of the U.S. during the fall and winter, when many people come down with the common cold and flu viruses. But your hair has nothing to do with developing an infection. If you have to skip the blow dryer because you're tight on time, so be it – your health won't suffer.

6. The flu vaccine causes the flu.

Wrong. Doctors have known for ages that the flu vaccine can’t give someone the flu, but somehow this rumor continues to spread quicker than the common cold. The CDC cites the vaccine's most common side effects as soreness, redness and tenderness or swelling at the injection site. Some people may develop a low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches – but not the flu.

7. Avoid dairy if you're sick.

If you grew up with a chronic respiratory condition like asthma, you might have heard this one: Dairy makes your phlegm thicker. “That’s not true unless you have dairy problems to begin with,” Steier says, such as lactose intolerance or food allergies. “That’s when you probably don’t want to consume [dairy products] when you’re sick. There’s no relationship between dairy products and phlegm.” If you have more mucous than you bargained for, and you’re trying to kick the virus, consider these 13 ways to beat a cold.

8. If you get the flu shot, you'll be immune.

Not true, Steier says. In general, the flu shot protects against H1N1, H3N2 and influenza B. However, the vaccine only covers about 70 to 80 percent of the flu viruses that exist in a given season, Steier says. And getting the flu once doesn't mean you can't get it again. Still, it's better to be safe than sorry. Steier encourages everybody to get a flu vaccine.

9. You shouldn't exercise.

Au contraire. “An active day keeps colds at bay,” Fryhofer says. “Exercise can help [keep] you from getting a cold” – although if you already have one, it can't cure it. If you plan to go to the gym when you’re fighting off a cold, make sure to wipe down your workout station and wash your hands frequently to avoid infecting other gym-goers. If you’re not up for your regular workout routine, listen to your body. Keep it simple and limit yourself to stretching at home.

10. Cover your mouth (with your hands).

Please don’t do this. “Hands could carry the infection to someone else,” Steier says, if you, say, cough into yours and then shake hands with someone or use a doorknob the rest of your company will later use. Instead, try to cough into your arm. If you realize you did cough into your hands, wash them or use hand sanitizer immediately to avoid spreading your germs, Fryhofer says.

10 Cold And Flu Myths Debunked was originally published on U.S. News & World Report.

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