Myths about common cold

“Cold” viruses are actually many different types of Rhinoviruses viruses dumped together. They have different transmission capabilities. There are more than 100 different varieties of rhinovirus. Most viruses cause a person to be ill only once. However, due to the large number of viruses, a person can have a cold multiple times throughout his or her lifetime. The average adult experiences two to three colds per year, while children average 8 to 12 colds per year.

“Most cough, cold and flu viruses are thought to be passed from person to person by contact with respiratory droplets.

Direct contact — People with colds typically carry the cold virus on their hands. The virus may remain alive on the skin and capable of infecting another person for at least two hours. Thus, if a sick person shakes someone’s hand and that individual then touches his eye, nose, or mouth, the virus can be transmitted and later infect that person.

Infection from particles on surfaces — Some cold viruses can live on surfaces (such as a counter top, door handle, or phone) for several hours.

Inhaling viral particles — Droplets containing viral particles can be breathed, coughed, or sneezed into the air by a person with a cold. The virus can be transmitted to others if another person is standing close (a few feet) and the droplet touches that person’s eye, nose, or mouth. Covering the mouth while coughing or sneezing reduces this risk.
We all grow up with a variety of beliefs about the common cold that often differ from home to home, but the fact is, most of them are wrong. With this list I will help to educate everyone about the myths relating to the cold and flu and hopefully help us to be better prepared to cope with it in future.

  1. Cold Causes a Cold.
    Colds are not caused by cold climates or being exposed to cold air. However, some viruses cause more colds during certain seasons (eg. spring and winter). Most people here have been told, at one time or another, not to go out with wet or damp hair, or to wrap up warm so you don’t catch cold. In fact, the body temperature (or ambient temperature) makes no difference at all. You catch a cold when you come into contact with the cold virus – once the virus gets into your system you will get sick. It doesn’t matter if you are hot, cold, warm, or dry.
  2. Most colds are caught in the winter.
    Colds are caught in the Spring/Fall seasons also and not only in winter at all. Yes Colds occur more frequently in the winter, perhaps because more rhinoviruses and other cold viruses seem to become largely dormant in the winter and early spring. Other possible reasons are that transmission of viruses is more likely to occur in winter when people are indoors and in closer proximity to one another, that droplets from sneezes and coughs may travel farther in cold, dry air than in humid weather, and that viruses may stick more to dried nasal passageways (which occur more in winter).
  3. Don’t Treat Cold Symptoms.
    Many people believe that the symptoms of a cold (running nose, coughing etc.) are designed to help us get over the sickness quickly – therefore they don’t believe that we should treat the symptoms with medicines. But the truth is that the symptoms not only make no difference to the duration of the cold, they can help spread the bug to other people – through nose blowing and coughing. You should take comfort in knowing that pain killers and other cold medicines will not only make the illness more tolerable, they will help to keep it contained.
  4. Weak Immune System.
    A weakened immune system does not heighten the risks of catching a cold. Healthy and unhealthy people exhibit the same amount of susceptibility to colds in studies that have been done. Interestingly, the same study found that 95% of people who had the cold virus directly applied to their nasal membranes became infected, but only 75% of them exhibited any symptoms of the cold. This is called an “asymptomatic infection”.
  5. Sweat it out.
    We have all done it – or at least seen others do it: covering up with extra blankets, sticking your head over a bowl of hot water – all in the hopes that we will sweat the cold out. Unfortunately, this does not work – it is completely ineffective. The only benefit this may have is to make you feel a little better (because it addresses the symptoms).
  6. Don’t Drink Milk.
    A lot of people think that drinking milk while you have a cold is a bad idea because it causes more phlegm (mucous) to build up. Milk and mucus may look alike, but milk is digested like any other protein and is not specifically converted into nasal mucus. Actually, milk does not cause a buildup of mucous at all while it’s true that dairy can make phlegm thicker and more irritating to the throat. So feel free to drink milk while you’re sick, but do so in moderation if you develop a sore throat.
  7. Cold Kissing causes cold.
    There is a popular myth that kissing a person with a cold will cause you to catch it. Firstly most cold viruses are not spread by saliva. Secondly the quantity of virus on the lips and mouth are miniscule and a much larger dose would be required for you to become infected. Thus, kissing itself is not likely to transmit the common cold, but close direct contact can. It is the nasal mucous you have to worry about – so no nose-kissing.
  8. Vitamin C cures cold.
    It is a myth that loads of vitamin c and zinc help to cure a cold. While it is often a good idea to take vitamin and mineral supplements, they have no effect on the cold virus. Once the cold hits, you are better off taking painkillers and waiting it out.
  9. Starve a Fever.
    Possibly everyone has heard the phrase “starve a fever, feed a cold.” The fact is, it is completely untrue. Eating has no negative impact on the body when you are sick, in fact, the opposite is true. Food provides the body with fuel to cope with illness – so when we are sick, it is a good idea to eat healthy and well.
  10. Flu Shot Dangers.
    This is a particularly odd myth – many people believe that you can catch flu from the flu injection. This myth comes about from the misconception that the flu vaccine contains a weakened form of the flu virus. The vaccine actually includes only components of the virus, and not a complete version of it. Therefore, you won’t catch the flu from a flu shot.
  11. Chicken soup will speed your recovery from the flu.
    Hot liquids can soothe a sore throat and provide much needed fluids. But chicken soup has no other specific qualities that can help fight the flu.
  12. Antibiotics are the cure for the common cold and flu.
    Colds are caused by viruses, and no antibiotic in the world can fight one. Antibiotics are prescribed for illnesses caused by bacteria, not by viruses. The common cold and flu are caused by viruses, not by bacteria. Antibiotics do not work against viruses. It might not seem like you’re doing any harm if you take a medicine even though it doesn’t treat your cold, but it can cause some side effects.

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics for viral infections is one of the single biggest drivers of the increase in antibiotic resistance worldwide.


By -Swati Sharma
Department of MLT
Uttaranchal (P.G.) College Of Bio-Medical Sciences & Hospital