Illness Old Wives Tales

Illness Old Wives Tales
“Starve a fever, feed a cold”, “Feed a fever and starve a cold” (yes, it really does exist in both forms), and “Chicken soup will cure your cold”. If treating illnesses were as simple as these phrases imply, we doctors would be out of business! Here’s the truth to these age-old adages:

1. Chicken soup will cure a cold. There is not a grandmother around who is not convinced that chicken soup can cure anything. While not a cure, it can help alleviate some symptoms. First, the warmth from the soup can sooth chills and scratchy throats. Second, the steam from the soup can loosen clogged noses and help us breathe better. Third, soup is bland, easily tolerated by sick stomachs and a great source of fluid to ward off dehydration.
2. Starve a fever and feed a cold (or, Starve a cold and feed a fever). In reality, we want to eat and drink as much as can be tolerated. In fact, the stronger we keep our bodies our bodies can tackle those nasty germs.
3. Coughs are bad. A cough is a signal that our body is trying to clear mucus that is in our airway. This could be from the nose or the lung. Some coughs are from infection in the lung, others from sinus drainage into the throat, and others from asthma. While over the counter products can provide relief, they can be dangerous and often do not work in children under 3. Talk to your doctor before trying a cough medicine in very young children.
4. The flu is a winter illness. If only that were true! Viruses that cause colds and flus are more common in the winter but no season is immune from some sort of cold bug.
5. You’ll get sick if you go outside with wet hair. Viruses are spread from person to person independent of the outside temperature. What makes you get sick is being around sick people. The closer you are to them, the more likely you are to “catch” the germs they have.
6. Vitamin C and herbal remedies will treat a cold if you get one. While true scientific proof is lacking as to the effectiveness of these products, there are many anecdotal reports that they may benefit adults and many people are convinced they help. At the same time, we are not sure if these products are safe effective in children because they have not been adequately tested and thus should not be used routinely in children without consulting a doctor first.
7. Having the flu causes depression in children. The flu is certainly disruptive and exhausting, both of which can leave busy children frustrated and, therefore, can lead to a good case of the blues. True Major Depression, however, has not been linked to a specific illness. The cause of Depression is thought to be a biological imbalance within a person – not something you “catch”.
8. Only sick people get the flu. All people are at risk for catching viruses but healthier people do have stronger immune systems, which can battle the germs more effectively. Any stress to our bodies, emotional or physical, weakens our immune system and makes it harder to fight the cold germs.
9. Children should never be given aspirin when sick. Unless advised by your doctor, aspirin should never be given to children due to the risk of Reye Syndrome which can be serious and even fatal. Tylenol or Motrin are safe and not associated with Reye Syndrome.

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Content copyright © 2021 by Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D, F.A.A.P. All rights reserved.
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