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Winter Old Wives’ Tales: Separating Fact From Fiction

The Doc Smitty on health advice you should (and shouldn’t) ignore

If you are staying at the grandparents during the holidays, warn your kids to be ready for the winter checklist from them before they go outside and play.

  • Make sure your hair is dry.
  • Wear shoes outside.
  • Put on your hat.

But does any of this really matter?

Between well-meaning friends and family members and the wealth of websites devoted to health, parents are bombarded with tips and tricks to their kids healthy year round, but especially during the winter. This can make separating fact from fiction difficult.

“Not all old wives’ tales are fictitious – some are grounded in truth. However, if you have questions or hear health advice that doesn’t make sense to you, always ask your children’s pediatrician before acting on the information or simply believing a statement is true,” said Justin Smith, M.D, a pediatrician and medical advisor for Digital Health at Cook Children’s.

And now, let’s let Dr. Smith give us the facts on these five winter health myths.

Myth 1: If children go outside with wet hair or without shoes during winter months, they’ll get sick.

Many people believe that cold temperatures are responsible for the spike in illness that typically occurs during late fall and the winter months. According to Dr. Smith, people get sick in the winter because they spend more time in close proximity to one another – not because they’ve been exposed to cold weather.

The truth is it’s not really going to matter that much if your kids go outside without socks and shoes – except maybe if you don’t want dirty feet or if it’s extremely cold, your child runs the risk of frostbite.

“It’s true that we do see more colds, flu and flu-like viruses during the winter,” Dr. Smith said. “Both the life cycle of common viruses and the fact that people are more likely to be clustered inside their homes and schools when it’s cold outside, which causes viruses to circulate, contribute to this increase.”

Myth 2: People lose most of their body heat throughout their heads, so children should wear hats while playing outside in cold weather.

This tale originated in response to several studies conducted by the United States Army in the 1950s. Further research has since debunked this claim, but it’s true that your face, chest and head get colder faster when you’re exposed to winter weather.

“Your face is particularly sensitive to the cold,” Dr. Smith said. “If your children’s faces are cold while playing outside, they should wear warmer clothes. But colds come from germs – not cold temperatures – so children aren’t going to get sick if they don’t wear a hat.”

Myth 3: Feed a cold and starve a fever.

According to Dr. Smith, there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that children should fast when running a fever. Children who are sick should eat when they feel up to it and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

“Even if children don’t feel hungry, we ask parents to encourage their kids to drink as many liquids as they can,” Dr. Smith said. “I’ve also heard an old wives’ tale that says you shouldn’t drink milk if you’re running a fever, but milk works as well as other fluids when it comes to keeping kids hydrated. Other good choices include water, Pedialyte and Gatorade.”

Myth 4: All fevers should be treated with medicine because high fevers are dangerous.

As parents, it’s only natural to rush to the medicine cabinet at the first sign of a high temperature, but fevers aren’t always a cause for concern. In fact, they help your child’s body fight infection. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children’s demeanors are often better indicators of illness severity than the numbers on the thermometer. If children aren’t fussy or complaining of feeling badly, there’s no need to treat a fever unless their doctor says otherwise.

Myth 5: You can’t prevent your child from catching a cold.

While there’s no cure for the common cold, you can take steps that will reduce your child’s risk. In this case, grandma is right. These are the same steps she told you. Wash your hands after you sneeze. Wash your hands after you blow your nose. Wash your hands after you eat. See a theme? Children should sneeze into the crook of their elbow and not their hands. They should blow their nose to get rid of the mucus. For children too young to blow their noses, parents should use a blue bulb syringe and drain the child’s nose with salines. If a cold lasts longer than a week, bring your child in to see his or her pediatrician. It could possibly be a sign of acute sinusitis and may need to be treated differently than the common cold.

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