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Myths About the Common Cold Persist Among Parents, New Survey Finds

It’s peak season for sneezing, scratchy throats and runny noses, but age-old myths about the common cold seem to persist year-round with parents — such as “going outside with wet hair can get you sick.”

A new survey found that many myths about catching a cold still ring true with many adults. For example, 52 percent of parents reported that they tell their child not to go outside with wet hair, while 48 percent said they encourage their child to spend more time indoors to avoid catching a cold, according to results from National Poll on Children’s Health [1] by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan.

Both cold-prevention strategies  — not going outside with wet hair and staying indoors — are mostly myths,  experts say. Wet hair will not increase your chances of catching a cold virus. And the mere act of going outside in cold weather will not give you a cold.  Staying indoors is not a full-proof concept either, since contact with an infected person is the way you catch a cold. The more people you’re around, whether indoors or outdoors, the greater the likelihood of catching a cold.

Here’s How Colds are Really Spread
Colds are spread when mucous droplets from an infected person’s nose or mouth enter another person’s body. This can occur through direct contact or through the air from a sneeze or cough. Good hygiene can help kill cold germs before they can enter the bodies of healthy people, especially washing your hands thoroughly and frequently.

Another myth that parents still promote is providing their children with vitamin supplements to prevent colds. According to the new survey, half of parents (51 percent) reported giving their child an over-the-counter product, such as a vitamin or supplement, to prevent colds. The most common product that parents gave their child in the past year for cold prevention was vitamin C (47 percent); less often, parents gave zinc (15 percent) or Echinacea (11 percent), the Michigan study found. About 25 percent of parents had “tried giving their child products advertised to boost their immune system,” the survey’s authors write.

There is no scientific proof that vitamins can help prevent a cold or flu. Generally, over-the-counter products have no or very limited effect in preventing colds. Taking supplements for some may result in side effects like nausea and gastrointestinal issues, and some can interact with other medication. Consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.

The National Poll on Children’s Health yielded some good news. Almost all parents (99 percent) reported that their overall strategy to help their child avoid colds involves developing good personal hygiene. Proper strategies mentioned included encouraging children to wash their hands frequently (99 percent) or use hand sanitizers (70 percent), trying to teach children not to put their hands near their mouth or nose (94 percent), and encouraging children to avoid sharing utensils or drinks with others (94 percent).

“The best strategy is for parents to focus their preventive efforts on decreasing the spread of the cold viruses through strong attention to hand washing and avoiding direct contact of people with colds,” researchers said in a statement.

When Should You See Your Doctor When You Have Cold or Flu Symptoms?
If you are having a high and persistent fever, or if you are having a cough that does not go away, you should visit your primary care physician or go online to consult with a Board-certified doctor via an app like Baptist Health’s Care On Demand [2].

“There are some important things to keep in mind,” says Melissa Franco, D.O. [3], a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “I usually tell patients, especially older children and adults, if you’re having a fever that’s running high and that’s not getting better within three days, it’s a good time to seek care with your physician to make sure there isn’t a more serious infection going on.”

Dr. Franco adds that you should consult with a physician if you have a history of any type of asthma or other lung disease or if you are not getting better in few days.

“If you’re having a cough that’s persistent and it does not allow you to resume your normal activities, then that’s a concern — particularly if there is any associated shortness of breath,” she says. “Of course if symptoms are severe, you should seek care at an emergency room. In general, if you have a history of asthma or lung disease and your cough is more than your normal kind of symptom, you should definitely seek care with your doctor.”

More people with colds, or potentially the flu, are first turning to services like Care On Demand, which allows you to see a physician on a mobile device or PC anytime, said David Mishkin, M.D. [4], medical director for Baptist Health’s Care On Demand [2].

“We can always provide patients with an evaluation based on their symptoms and give recommendations as to whether we can treat patients via the platform by giving them good, sound medical advice or providing them with a prescription, or redirect them to the next (brick-and-mortar) site of care if necessary,” said Dr. Mishkin.