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Biggest Common Cold Myths – Cold Myths and Warm Answers

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), adults get two to three colds on average each year, while children may be even more. While you can’t cure a common cold, there are tips and remedies basically to feel yourself better during your cold period. However, according to the general common cold cycle, if your throat is already tingling, it’s probably because of one of the 200 types of the common cold virus that has settled in for the next 7 to 10 days.

How long does a common cold last?

The full life cycle of a common cold is usually between 7 and 10 days and basically, consists of 3 stages: After an incubation period of 24 to 72 h, symptoms appear in about one to three days, peak around day four, and disappear in around day seven. In the first and second days, fatigue, sneezing, and sore throat are begun, nasal symptoms and cough appear in 3 to 5th days, and all symptoms gradually ease in 6th and 7th days.

There are no vaccines, as well as no specific treatment for the common cold, exists. Antipyretics and analgesics are to help for relieving fever and sore throat.

But what do we know about the most common viral infection in the world? Doctor Lica Craciun is here to provide us with insight into the 7 biggest common cold myths.

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1. Vaccination – “Getting Flu Shots Can Keep the Common Cold Away”

False. As there are over 200 different strains of viruses that cause the common cold, developing an effective vaccine is practically impossible. The common cold should not be confused with the influenza virus. Many of my patients complain about getting flu shots and still catching a cold during the cold season. Truth be told, vaccination offers only slight protection against airborne diseases. You can still catch the flu after getting flu shots, and you can catch a cold after getting flu shots.

Rather than looking for more vaccines for the common cold, I teach my patients how not to spread it further, especially to their loved ones. Because most of us become contagious about a day before cold symptoms appear and also remain contagious for about five to seven days long.

2. “Cold Weather Can Make You Catch A Cold”

This is another common cold myth. Spending time in the cold stimulates the body’s natural immune system, making it harder to catch a cold or any type of disease or infection for that matter.

Parents visiting me often complain about their children “spending too much time outdoors” or “playing outside too much” and then catching a cold. This is nonsense. Although cold weather can indeed dry off your nose, and this makes it easier to catch an infection, you shouldn’t avoid going outside, even in bad weather as long as you take precautions.

3. “A Strong Immune System Can Prevent the Common Cold”

False. Individuals can catch a cold regardless of the strength of their immune system. Although a poor immune system can increase the risk of developing a cold and can make it last longer, even individuals with a strong immune system can catch a cold if the virus makes its way to the nose. On the other hand, strengthening the immune system shouldn't be ignored. A strong immune system can shorten the duration of the cold and reduce the risk of developing other health issues such as pneumonia.

READ: How to Boost Your Immune System | Immunity 101

4. “Antibiotics Can Help Cure the Common Cold”

This is another common and even dangerous myth. Taking antibiotics to treat the common cold can also lead to antibiotic resistance in the long run.

Antibiotics should never be used as a means to treat the common cold. Many of my patient's outright request antibiotics prescriptions when faced with the common cold, but there is no medical evidence to support the fact that antibiotics can be used to cure or alleviate symptoms. According to clinical studies, antibiotics have no beneficial effect on the common cold. They increase adverse events. The evidence on acute inflammatory rhinitis suggests a benefit for antibiotics, but the routine use of antibiotics for the common cold is not recommended.

Antibiotics also have certain side effects and as such, should only be taken when faced with certain bacterial infections.

5. “Wearing Lots of Clothes Can Keep the Cold Away”

Another ill-founded myth. Dressing in layers, 3 layers optimally, does make sense, instead. Parents usually wrap their children in as much clothing as possible during the cold season. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help at all. Of course, this is not a case of bad parenting, it’s just misguided parenting. Before considering clothing and outdoor activities, we need to know how people catch the cold virus. The virus can be transmitted by air droplets (aerosols) from contaminated objects such as books, cups, plates, public transport hand grips, etc., or direct contact with nasal secretions.

One of the most common ways to catch a cold is through contaminated objects. So instead of just wrapping yourself in as much clothing as possible, I recommend strict hand hygiene, especially for the little ones since they are more susceptible to catching a cold.

6. “By Going Out With Wet Hair You Can Catch A Cold”

Another misconception is that by going outside with your hair wet, you’re sure to catch a cold. There is no correlation between cold weather, being wet, or performing certain activities with less clothing on as well as there is no evidence that going out in the cold will get you cold.

7. “Drinking Alcohol Can Ward Off A Cold By Making You Warmer”

As appealing as this may seem, no amount of alcohol can prevent the cold. The common cold is not caused by “feeling” cold but by viruses. A small drink can make you feel a bit warmer because alcohol generally causes vasodilation, a widening of the blood vessels but this won’t help you ward off the common cold, and it can also lower your core temperature, which can be dangerous in certain circumstances. According to a study conducted by the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, in cold weather alcohol blocks your ability to shiver, which is one of your primary mechanisms to create warmth.

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*Dr. Lica Craciun is a family doctor with more than 20 years of experience in the medical field.

**This content is edited by Flymedi Medical Editors in March 2023.


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