10 Myths About the Common Cold and Flu

"Influenza ... is spread by aerosols, which is when the virus gets into the air. And so, when you're in a crowd with somebody who has influenza, your risk of catching influenza does go up," Turner said.

Your greatest cold risk may not be from strangers in a crowd but from little ones close to you.

"The types of interactions that are associated with colds are more typically the types of interactions that we have with children, where the interaction is more direct and maybe less guarded. And those situations are the situations in which you're most likely to catch a cold," said Turner.

Fact or Myth? Echinacea or zinc can help prevent or shorten the length of a cold.

Answer: Probably a Myth

Both zinc and echinacea have had a number of studies done on them, and neither has been shown conclusively to help battle colds.

"There have been a number of studies of echinacea. Some have purported to show some modest benefit. However, I think the weight of the evidence is that echinacea has no benefit, either on incidence of illness or severity of illness," said Turner.



He said the results for zinc have been similarly ambiguous.

"There are a number of studies that have been done looking at the effect of zinc, primarily on the severity of illness and duration of illness," said Turner. "Those studies have been split really between studies that show fairly dramatic effects and then an equal number of studies at least that show very little or no effect."

While the evidence is not entirely conclusive, Turner said, he wouldn't be rushing out to get his hands on some zinc.

"I think it's a little hard to know exactly what the final answer is on zinc right now, although, in my opinion, I suspect that it doesn't have a whole lot of impact on common cold illness," he said.

Fact or Myth? Putting on extra clothing or covering yourself in blankets can help you "sweat out" a cold.

Answer: Myth

Frustration with an illness we can't cure may lead to these attempts, explained Dr. Lisa Bernstein, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University.

"Unfortunately we haven't gotten smart enough in modern medicine to cure the common cold, so a lot of people are looking for their own way to do so. One of those is to possibly cover yourself with blankets and try to sweat out a cold."



But trying to sweat out a cold won't accomplish much, she said.

"Unfortunately, that's not going to do it. The cold is caused by over 200 viruses, and it just takes its time up to several days to several weeks for your cold to get out of your system."

However, feeling better may be just as important as getting better, Bernstein said, especially with an illness that takes time to get over.

"Do whatever makes you feel better -- whether it's putting more blankets on if you feel a chill, drinking warm liquids, or taking over-the-counter medication. It's just going to take time," she said.

Fact or Myth? "Feed a cold, starve a fever." Or "Starve a cold, feed a fever."

Answer: Myth

Regardless of which version you've heard, you won't be hearing either from your doctor.

"That's a very common old wives tale to say feed a cold and starve a fever. Unfortunately you really shouldn't do the extreme of either when you're treating a cold or the flu," said Bernstein.



Forcing yourself to eat won't accomplish much, she said.

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