Like the game of party line we played as kids, myths about colds and other short-term illnesses prevail. The reality is that the common cold is caused by a virus that is passed from person to person. They can occur anytime during the year and not just during what is commonly referred to as the “cold season”.
So what are those myths? Contributing author Dr. Joe Alton is here to debunk these myths and to reinforce what I have always said: thoroughly washing your hands is one of the best ways to avoid sickness, including the common cold.
Fact or Fiction When It Comes to Preventing a Cold
by Joe Alton, MD
I’ve written books about Ebola, Zika virus, and other epidemic diseases, but your chances of getting these viruses are pretty small.
One virus that you are likely to get, however, is the common cold. It’s the most common illness on the planet, and is one that 75-100 million Americans present to a medical professional for treatment every year. Only a small percentage of these people go on to have secondary respiratory infections such as pneumonia, which can lead to a life-threatening situation.
The common cold is an infection caused, usually, by a virus in the Rhinovirus or Coronavirus family, although a number of others have been implicated. Affecting the upper respiratory system (nose, throat, sinuses), it’s a rare individual that hasn’t dealt with a cold at one point or another.
Like many viral illnesses, there is no cure for the common cold, and attention should be paid to methods that might prevent it. Many people have their own strategies for prevention, but some of these methods are ineffective and have little basis in fact. Here are time-honored (but false) ways that you can (can’t) prevent a cold:
Prevention is only an issue in the winter
You can only catch colds then: In reality, colds occur most often in the Spring and Fall. Many viruses actually become dormant in cold weather.
Dress warmly and you won’t get sick
Dressing warmly for cold weather is a smart move to prevent hypothermia, but it won’t prevent colds. A cold is an infectious disease caused by a virus. Regardless of what you wear, you can be infected in any type of weather.
Stay inside during the winter to avoid catching a cold
Staying inside actually increases your chances of getting infected. Enclosed spaces can expose you to a higher concentration of the virus.
Take antibiotics to prevent colds
Antibiotics kill bacteria. Colds are caused by viruses, an entirely different organism. Therefore, antibiotics are ineffective against them as a preventative or a cure. Although many people ask their doctors for antibiotics to prevent or treat colds, this is a practice that has contributed to an epidemic of resistance in the U.S. Indeed, one out of three Americans leave their doctors’ offices with a prescription for antibiotics to treat an illness that is completely unaffected by them.
A weakened immune system will cause a cold
Certainly, having a strong immune system is a good thing, but even the healthiest person can catch a cold if exposed to the virus. Most people who catch a cold were perfectly healthy until the virus gets a hold of them.
Vitamin C will prevent colds
Although supplements like Vitamin C and Zinc may decrease the duration of a cold, they don’t do anything to prevent your catching one.
Keep your head dry
A wet head will cause a cold: Having a head full of wet hair is thought by some to predispose you to a cold, but it just isn’t so. You may feel a chill, but it won’t make you more likely to catch a virus.
Turning down the heat in the house will prevent a cold
Many feel that central heating causes the nose to dry up and make them more susceptible to a cold. A virus can colonize the mucus membranes, regardless of the temperature or level of humidity.
Wearing Garlic or other herbs will prevent your getting sick
What? Wearing garlic may repel vampires (and everyone else), but its health benefits mostly derive from being ingested in its raw form.
Avoid kissing to prevent colds
Interestingly, relatively small quantities of virus reside on the lips or in the mouth. Most of it is found in the nasal cavity. Then again, it’s hard to be kissed without being breathed on as well.
Facts You Can Believe About Preventing a Cold
Those are some myths, but here’s a fact: Hand washing is an effective way to decrease your chances of catching a cold. Viruses are transmitted less often if hands are washed regularly and frequently throughout the day. This is especially true if you want to prevent colds in children. Instill hand-washing as a part of daily routine in kids when they’re very young, just as you would teach toilet training.
Don’t forget to use disinfectants frequently on common area doorknobs, kitchen counters, and work surfaces.
Natural remedies can make a cold less debilitating. Here’s one of my favorites: Green tea with Lemon and Honey. Chicken soup is also great. Drinking the tea or soup and breathing in the steam helps the hair follicles in the nose to drain germs out. Lemon is known to thin out mucus and honey is a great natural antibacterial agent.
Starve a fever, feed a cold? It’s never right to starve yourself when you’re sick. Eat a healthy diet, with lots of antioxidants, and you’ll have a better chance to stay healthy.
One More Myth Abut Colds
There is one myth that Dr. Alton did not mention.
Myth: A cold can turn into the flu.
Fact: Nope. Although both are respiratory conditions with an overlap in symptoms, the flu is far more severe with symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and a dry cough. On the other hand, a cold is a miserable brew of congestion and a stuffy and runny nose. One similiarity, however, is they are both caused by a virus.
Using Essential Oils for Colds
I will typically get one cold a year but whether it is luck, the use of essential oils, they only last a few days. As soon as I get a sniffle or (and this is important) Shelly gets a sniffle, I arm myself with cold and flu bomb. This is something you can make yourself using readily available essential oils. Mostly I use the oils mixed in a rollerball but I always have some flu bomb salve on hand as well.
The other preventative measure I take is making copious use of the hand sanitizer I make using organic Aloe Vera get and essential oils. I love this stuff plus it doubles as a hand moisturized. Since posting the recipe, I purchased some blue glass pump bottles that make using this cold preventative a no-brainer.
The Final Word
I don’t know about you, but I had no idea that some of these commonly held beliefs were myths. There is even a chance I may have mentioned them as facts in previous articles although I hope not. Who knew?
If you are a fan of Joe Alton and his wife, Nurse Amy, you might want to check out their store where they sell all manner and types of first aid kits for preppers. I happen to have the Gunshot Wound Kit and hope to get a review for you done soon. Not that I am planning to shoot or anyone or get shot myself anytime soon but you just never know.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!