Legends and Tall Tales About the Common Cold

We celebrate George Washington’s birthday this month, during a long cold and flu season. Much like President Washington, I cannot tell any lies – about these winter illnesses. Instead, I want to speak the truth about some rumors regarding the common cold.

For example, parents ask me if you can catch a cold by being out in the cold. The answer to their question is “no.” There is no data to support that exposure to cold temperatures causes a cold.

Instead, you need to remember that viruses cause cold symptoms. You are more likely to catch a virus while indoors, around other people. After all, it is people who can spread the virus or leave germs on tables, glasses, or other common items. That’s how you and others pick them up and then become infected.

In fact, if we spent more time out in the cold, it’s possible that we wouldn’t get so many viruses.

Here’s another myth: Covering your face with your hand when you cough or sneeze prevents the spread of a cold. Actually, it’s more likely that you’ll pass along the germs onto your hands before they’ve had a chance to die. Consider coughing into a tissue, handkerchief or the crook of your arm instead.

Then there’s the confusion over feeding a cold and starving a fever or starving a cold and feeding a fever. In both circumstances, colds and fevers, you need more fluid and food. The reality is, your body burns energy up at a greater rate with an infection or a fever. The more calories you can get when you don’t feel well, the sooner you will begin to feel better.

Finally what about chicken soup? Is it the magic needed to cure a common cold?  Well, there is no evidence that chicken soup has a special power to cure a cold. It does taste good, and will make you feel good, but not because it has any medicinal qualities. The salt, protein, and fluid in soup cannot hurt – and hot (but not too hot) liquids can soothe a scratchy throat.

Hopefully, you will not be left out in the cold when it comes to knowing the truth surrounding common colds.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

 Stay Informed

Sign up to receive the latest stories, information and guidance from our experts on a wide variety of health topics.