Misconceptions About Your Health and Wintertime
When I was younger and it got cold outside, all the rules my mother had for not getting sick came out in full force.
I couldn’t have wet hair, I always had to have a hat and socks on, I was pumped full of preventative medications hot drinks and hot soups all winter long. I couldn’t go outside, I couldn’t play with friends, and my hands were so raw from washing my hands all the time.
Funny enough, I was also always sick, which just further motivated her to keep her regime on staying healthy strong.
So if I was following all of the rules, why was I still getting sick? Obviously doing all of these things didn’t keep me from getting sick.
Are we all supposed to lock ourselves down to our individual rooms and fumigate the house with Vicks Vapor Rub to keep from getting sick? Of course not.
There are way too many misconceptions that have spread from generation to generation that I want to clear up today. You’ll be surprised which ones are true and which are not.
What is your cure for sickness during cold season?
Misconception #1: You can catch a cold by going outside with wet hair.
This misconception is going to lead into the next couple of misconceptions about cold weather and sickness.
I should begin this article by stating that you do not catch a cold on your own, it takes contact with another person that is sick to catch it. True, there are dangers to going outside with wet hair, but catching a cold is not that danger. See more about this topic below under Truth #2.
I certainly don’t recommend this practice, and you will be a lot more uncomfortable and cold with wet hair outside, but it will not make you sick.
Misconception #2: You can catch a cold by being out in the cold for too long.
D.J. Verret, MD, an otolaryngologist in Dallas states, "Going outside -- with or without a wet head -- is one of the best things you can do to prevent catching a cold. Actually being cold has nothing to do with your risk of catching a cold.”
“Colds are caused by viruses or bacteria which are more often spread in the winter because of close contact from everyone being indoors. That's right, spending time outdoors can make you less susceptible to those nasty germs.” (Healthy Living)
Misconception #3: You lose most of the heat from your body through your head.
You’re going to lose heat from any body part or patch of skin that is exposed to the cold. This is like saying that you can wear shorts and a t-shirt outside, but as long as you’re wearing a hat, you’re okay.
Anytime you go out in cold weather (and I’m not talking about a nice, cool day), you should have every body part covered, if possible.
Depending on the temperature outside, you should even wear layers, as just one is not always enough to protect you from the cold. There’s a reason hats, mittens, jackets, and scarfs were created for cold weather conditions.
Those that spend time in the snow should also consider insulated pants, fur lined boots, and a jacket with an insulated hood to go over your hat.
Misconception #4: A single cough or sneeze in the winter months means that you have a cold or the flu.
There are so many reasons that kids cough and sneeze without any cause for concern. In fact, it’s more likely that you are sneezing or coughing for an alternative reason like something blowing into your nose, inhaling really cold air, swallowing something down the wrong tube, etc.
Even if one of these isn’t the reason, it’s likely that your body is coughing or sneezing as a way of defending itself from the other sicknesses going around. Wait for other telling symptoms before rushing off to the doctor, confining yourself to the house, or even taking medication.
Misconception #5: Taking medication during the winter can be a great preventative for sickness.
Too many parents rush for the medicine cabinet at the first sign of a cough or cold. At any time in a child’s (or even your) life, there’s never a good time to take medication unless told to by a doctor.
For those of us that have had tons of cold over our lifetimes, you know that even if you do visit a doctor for a cold, you are always told that you’ll just have to wait it out. There’s no medicine for the common cold.
A doctor will always tell you to get plenty of rest and drink lots of liquids in order to give your body the best shot of fighting off the illness. In fact, by giving your kids unneeded medication, this can actually lead to the overuse of antibiotics or over-the-counter medications.
Not only can this make your child sick, but when your child really does need medication for an illness, their bodies won’t respond to it like they need to.
Misconception #6: You don’t have to worry about sun damage to your skin in the winter.
When it’s sunny outside, parents are usually overwhelming in their need to slather their kids in sunscreen to protect them from a sun burn. However, too many parents forego this same thing when sending their kids into the sun on a cold winter day.
So it's cold and cloudy outside, the sun and UV rays are still present regardless of whether its winter, spring, summer or fall. The dangers of the sun are just as dangerous for your kids’ skin throughout the winter as during the middle of the summer, if not more so because so many people forget to protect themselves.
Misconception #7: Dry skin is just a normal winter phenomenon, but nothing to worry about.
Itchy, flaky skin can be an irritating and unsightly consequence of cold, dry air, but dry skin, if not kept at bay, can cause you a great deal of pain, and possibly make you more prone to sickness if left untreated.
It's very important to keep your skin hydrated, because when skin becomes dry, it can lead to small cracks that can leave your body prone to infections.
To prevent this, make sure that you moisturize twice daily during winter months, after you shower and before bed, as well as throughout the day for body parts that are prone to dryness, like your hands and feet. (Healthy Living)
Misconception #8: You should bundle up when you have a fever in order to sweat it out.
The truth is actually just the opposite. Bundling up, especially if you are bundling a child or infant with a fever, can raise the temperature causing more problems, rather than solving the problem.
Your best bet is to air dry after a nice room temperature shower, as it will produce even more of a cooling effect as it evaporates, and then dress in loose, lightweight clothing to stay as cool as possible.
Misconception #9: You shouldn’t drink milk when you’re sick as it increases mucus production.
I really don’t like this one as milk is always what I’m craving when I’m sick.
Warm milk to soothe my scratchy throat . . . ice cream and yogurt being the only things that sound reasonable to eat when I’m not feeling good . . . and something that will give me the nutrients and fullness I’m looking for without actually having to chew . . .
Milk increases mucus only in children and individuals who are already allergic to milk. (Weather.com)
“Drinking milk may make your phlegm thicker and more irritating to the throat than it would normally be, but it doesn't cause the body to make more phlegm," says James Steckelberg, M.D., consultant in the division of Infectious diseases and a professor of medicine at Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota.
In fact, he recommends that cold sufferers drink or eat dairy products such as cream-based soups, ice cream, pudding, or milk, as they are soothing on sore throats and provide calories they otherwise might not eat while they're feeling so lousy. (Parents)
Misconception #10: You’re only contagious if you have a fever.
If you have a cold, you're actually the most contagious for the first 2 to 3 days, whether you have a fever or not, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The contagious phase of a cold virus is usually over by day 7 to 10, and many individuals that contract a cold will either have such minimal symptoms that they won’t even realize it, or they’ll have a traditional cold with coughing, sneezing and a runny nose, but will never actually get to the fever stage.
The flu can be stealthy as well. According to the CDC, most healthy adults may be able to infect others prior to showing the symptoms of the flu, and for five days after that, with or without a fever. It’s best just to consider everyone contagious during the cold and flu season.
Misconception #11: Your cold could turn into the flu.
First of all, the flu and the common cold are caused by completely different viruses. So a cold can't really "morph" into the flu. The doctor will even prescribe antibiotics for the flu, where he or she will not for the common cold.
Although it may be difficult to tell in the beginning whether you are suffering from a cold or the flu because they both start in similar ways with similar symptoms, a cold will continue in the same way, whereas someone with the flu will likely develop a fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and a dry cough. (Parents)
This myth is difficult because it’s easy to believe that because they start in similar fashions, that one gets a cold and then it turns into the flu when it gets worse, but if you’ve got the flu, it started as the flu. Period.
Now let’s look at some beliefs about winter and your health that really are true.
Truth #1: Eating chicken soup and drinking chicken broth can get rid of a cold.
Strangely enough, there is actually research behind chicken soup and other hot beverages having a positive effect on the immune system. They call it neutrophil aggregation -- which means "bringing white blood cells together.”
White blood cells help fight off infection in your body and are integral to helping you feel better faster. Chicken soup or broth can also help to reduce the symptoms of a cold or flu virus, by relieving sinus and throat pain, along with being a healthy way to get the needed nourishment when you’re sick. (Healthy Living)
Truth #2: Spending too much time in the cold can be dangerous to your health.
Although you may not have to worry about catching a cold or flu virus by spending time in the outdoors when it’s cold, there are other dangers to worry about.
When your skin gets too cold, it may dry out, numb, and even blister. This is especially true if you have exposed skin out in the cold, parts of your body are wet, or if parts of your body that don’t get a lot of blood, like your hands and feet, aren’t protected properly.
This can happen quickly, within 30 minutes or so, even in temperatures as high as 32°F, which is common in winters for most of the world.
Once your skin blisters, it may turn black, become permanently insensitive to the heat and cold, you may suffer nerve damage, and with further exposure, you may even lose infected body parts. This is called frostbite, and not only is it very easy to get, it’s way more common than you would think.
Like getting a sunburn in the winter, because people are not aware of the dangers, this makes them even more vulnerable to it. And having wet or exposed skin anywhere on your body for any prolonged period of time, makes you that much more susceptible. (Healthy Living)
This is just one reason it’s so important to cover up and protect yourself from the cold when you go outside in the winter.
Truth #3: Vitamins can help to prevent sickness.
This is true only if you are taking them all year long. To try and prevent a sickness by starting a vitamin regiment just as its getting cold outside, or just as everyone is starting to get sick, is not the best way to utilize them.
Like anything else you do for your health, it has to be done over the course of time to truly give your body the protection it needs to combat illness during the cold season. However, extra Vitamin C and Vitamin E are good for your body all the time, and long as you don’t try and overdo it.
Taking vitamins may keep possible sickness from being as bad as it could be, may prolong the time before you get sick, or may help you get over the sickness faster.
Honestly, the only way to truly keep from getting sick during this vulnerable time, is to maintain a healthy lifestyle all year round.
Feed your children a healthy diet packed full of all the nutrients and vitamins a growing body needs, complete with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and full fat vitamin D milk. See my article on Teaching Kids to Be Healthy From the Beginning.
Make sure your kids are getting enough exercise and sunlight. Vitamin D from sunlight is also great for giving kids the vitamins they need to stay healthy all year long.
Make sure your kids are getting enough sleep. As their little bodies are growing from birth to around age 18, kids need at least 9-10 hours of sleep every day. Sleep is the time when their bodies can heal, resupply, and re-energize for the next day. Without it, they are at risk for getting sick. For sleep info on babies and toddlers, see my article on Sleep Training Your Toddler.
And they need to learn about healthy hygiene habits, like washing their hands often, using lotion all over their bodies when their skin is dry, sneezing and coughing into their elbows, and not touching their mouths or eyes when they are at school.
A kid’s multivitamin all year long, and a little extra Vitamin E and Vitamin C in their diets during cold season won’t hurt either for strengthening their immune systems and giving their bodies the tools to fight off illness naturally.
When it comes down to it, good old fashioned prevention is going to be the key. By teaching their bodies to defend themselves, they will always be healthy. Waiting until cold season to do anything, or until they are already sick, won’t do you any good.
For some tips on doing just this for your children regardless of their ages, read my article on Sanitizing and Your New Baby and I know it will really open your eyes.
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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness