Sore throat, runny nose, sneezing — these are some of the symptoms of the common cold. This viral infection is often harmless, but it can be uncomfortable. Some of us use tricks or home remedies to prevent the infection or treat the symptoms if we do happen to catch it. It is, after all, an illness that’s been around for generations. However, among the many truths also come a few fallacies about the common cold, which is why it’s important to verify the information first before accepting it as a fact. Here are some myths about the common cold that you should stop believing.
5 Myths About the Common Cold
1. Exposure to Cold Temperature Causes You to Catch a Cold
This is one of the many myths about the common cold. Exposure to cold temperatures will not make you catch the illness. Experiments done in relation to this common belief — like the acute cooling of the body surface from wet clothes and hair — failed to demonstrate any effect (1). The common cold is caused by a virus and not the cold weather. However, exposure to low temperatures may suppress some of your body’s immune responses, thus weakening your immune system and making you susceptible to viruses (2). So, if you plan on being in colder temperatures, it's best to dress accordingly so that your immune system can properly do its job.
2. You Need to Take Antibiotics to Treat Your Cold
Some people believe that taking antibiotics can help alleviate the common cold. This is untrue. Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections that are caused by bacteria (3). Since a common cold is caused by viruses, antibiotics will not help cure it. Furthermore, overuse of antibiotics may cause antimicrobial resistance — preventing antibiotics from working against it in the future. Always use antibiotics appropriately and under the guidance of your doctor.
3. Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever
This saying has been passed around for ages, but it may have been misinterpreted along the way. For instance, eating junk food, which lacks basic nutrients, will not benefit your body. Although it’s true that eating healthy food may help you get better faster, forcing yourself to eat in order to improve your cold may not be the best course of action. The popular wisdom “feed a cold, starve a fever” may still require further studies (4). Instead, you should simply focus on nourishing your body with wholesome foods, eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full.
4. Exercising With a Cold is Bad
You have a cold. Thus, you should take the day off from the gym and rest at home. This is yet another one of the myths about the common cold. Whether or not you should continue with your fitness routine (or go outside and resume your normal day’s tasks) depends on how your body feels. It’s important to listen to what your body is telling you. In general, it’s safe to work out with a common cold.
However, you must keep the following in mind: cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough and wash your hands properly before and after you exercise to prevent the spread of the virus. Generally, the rule of thumb is that when your symptoms are above the neck — like a runny nose — it's safe to work out. When they're below the neck — like chest congestion or a stomachache — you should skip the gym. To be extra cautious, talk to your doctor first before you go on with your regular workout routine.
5. Hot Steam Can Help Treat the Common Cold
You’ve probably heard about inhaling steam or humidified air to clear congestion. Although it may work for some people, research shows that this method doesn’t have any effect on the disease – neither relieving symptoms nor curing the disease (5). Knowledge is power. The more you know about the common cold, and how to manage it, the better you'll feel.
- “Acute cooling of the body surface and the common cold.”, Eccles R., (2002).
- “Cold exposure and immune function.”, Shephard RJ., et. al., (1998).
- “Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever?”, van den Brink GR., et. al., (2002).
- “Heated, humidified air for the common cold.”, Singh M., et. al., (2017).