Naturally Rockford: Chicken soup and wet heads: the truth about cold and flu myths

At some point when you were a child, your mother may have told you not to leave the house with a wet head. “You’ll catch a cold, the minute you walk out that door,” she would say. As children we laughed it off, but now as adults, we sometimes wonder, was what she said true?

With every winter season comes a barrage of sniffles, sneezes, coughs and colds. However, most people don’t run to the doctor for every hint of a cold or flu. Instead, they turn to the age-old motherly wisdom that’s been passed down through the generations. You know, those tales that supposedly can help prevent or treat common cold weather ailments.

But which ones are really valid? Can you actually catch a cold from not drying your hair before going outside in the winter?

“Many of these adages actually do have some truth to them,” says Phyllis Brown, CRNP. “However, just as many of those sayings are purely fictitious.”

To help demystify these long-established sayings, here is a list of common myths and the real truth that lies within them.

Claim: Cold weather makes it easier to catch a cold.

Fact or fiction: Fiction. Cold weather has nothing to do with catching a cold. Many people become ill due to the fact that we tend to spend more time indoors in close contact with other people in heated homes. Because of the heated close quarters, germs are more easily passed from person to person.

Claim: You can catch the flu from getting a flu shot.

Fact or fiction: Fiction. The flu vaccine is made from an inactivated virus, so you cannot catch the flu from a flu shot. However, it’s not uncommon to experience some soreness at the point where the injection was administered, and on occasion some people can feel a little under the weather for a few days.

Claim: Starve a cold, feed a fever.

Fact or fiction: Fiction and fiction. “This is definitely not a good idea in either case,” says Brown. “It is extremely important to stay well hydrated when you’re sick. Starving a cold by not drinking plenty of water and juice could do even more damage.”

Likewise, overeating when you have a fever is not ideal either. It is important to eat, but you should not overindulge. Eat enough to satisfy your appetite, and make sure to drink plenty of fluids.

Claim: Herbal remedies are helpful for treating colds.

Fact or fiction: Fact. An herbal remedy will not cure your cold, but in many cases an herbal remedy can alleviate many cold symptoms and allow you to feel better. For many people, head and chest congestion are the most irritating aspects of being sick because a stuffy nose and heavy head make it very difficult to sleep.

Humidifiers utilized in conjunction with an herbal aroma can provide substantial relief from head and sinus congestion as well as help soothe an itchy or scratchy throat. The Ultra Sonic Personal Humidifier from Medisana is one humidifier that actually comes with a eucalyptus cold therapy to specifically combat congestion and throat irritation.

Claim: Chicken soup will help you feel better.

Fact or fiction: Fact and fiction. It is true that warm chicken soup will make a sore throat feel better. However, chicken soup does not have any special medicinal healing power to cure a cold. Along with chicken soup, the notion that hot toddies will provide relief is absolutely false. When you’re sick, it is definitely important to avoid alcohol. Beverages containing alcohol contribute to dehydration, which can compound the effects of a cold or flu.

Claim: It’s easier to catch a cold if you go outside with wet hair.

Fact or fiction: Fiction! The only way to catch a cold or flu virus is if you come in contact with one. Having a wet head or wet feet will not make you more susceptible to catching a cold. Wet hair in chilly weather can sometimes lower body temperature and make you feel colder, which in turn can reduce resistance to a virus or cold, but you will not get sick purely from having wet hair in cold weather.

So, was your mother right? Well, not always, but she was trying to make sure you were healthy. Knowing the truth behind the myths will help you better prevent and treat any cold or flu bug, and that will definitely keep Mom happy.

From the Oct. 19-25, 2005, issue

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