woman, snowball, hat

Winter Health Myths, Busted

How many of these winter health myths do you believe?

Myth: Allergies go away in the winter.

Actually, allergies might the real source behind your stuffy nose and scratchy throat. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, one in five people suffer from indoor/outdoor allergies, and the indoor variety can be worse in the winter. If your symptoms last longer than ten days, it might be time to visit an allergist.

Myth: I wash my hands all the time with hand sanitizer, so I should be fine.

Hand sanitizer will kill most viruses, but not all. You must make sure you use the right amount of hand sanitizer and let it dry completely. Some viruses, like norovirus, which causes vomiting, are not killed by hand sanitizer. Soap and water work best to get rid of all bacteria and viruses, but hand sanitizer is better than nothing at all.

woman, sunscreen, winter, mountains

Myth: It’s cold out. I don’t need sunscreen.

The  sun’s rays are just as strong in the winter as they are in the other seasons. Snow and ice can reflect even more sunlight. Grab the SPF 30 and put it on, regardless of the temperature. Don’t forget those sunglasses to keep your eyes safe as well.

Feed a cold, starve a fever?

Myth: I’ll just drink some alcohol to keep myself warm.

Although  it may feel that drinking alcohol is making you warmer, it does not. When you drink, the blood vessels dilate or get bigger, and blood flows to your skin and away from your internal organs. So it may feel like you are getting warmer, but you are not.”

Myth: The flu shot gives you the flu.

According to a new survey from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, 44 percent of American women view the flu as a serious threat to their health. Yet nearly half (49 percent) do not intend to get a flu shot this year because they believe the vaccine can give them the flu. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu shot for anyone older than 6 months of age. The shot doesn’t contain a live virus, so catching the flu from it is impossible.

Myth: Winter weather makes you store fat and gain weight.

Our bodies don’t go into some kind of winter hibernation mode, stockpiling every ounce of fat to use for the lean times. It seems logical, like a throwback to our days living in caves foraging for food, but in reality, any weight gain comes from our winter habits. “We tend to exercise less in winter. We eat more hearty meals and comfort foods, including more sugary snacks and desserts, especially around the holidays.”

Myth: You lose the most heat through your head.

You’ve heard that we lose 90 percent of our bod.y head through the head. But a 2006 study found that the head accounts for about 7 percent of the body’s surface area, and that heat loss is fairly proportional. Your head is another extremity, and it’s susceptible to cold, so you should wear a hat, but it doesn’t lose any more heat than another part of your body.

chicken soup, bowl, bread

Myth: Chicken soup will cure colds.

Many cultures teach us to drink warm liquids like tea, hot apple cider, and soups when we’re dealing with colds. It’s true that something like chicken soup may help soothe and ease congestion, but much like vitamin C, hot soup won’t do immediate wonders. Myth: Chicken soup will cure colds.

Myth: Being cold will give you a cold.

No matter what your grandma might have told you, spending too much time in the cold air doesn’t make you sick. One study found that healthy men who spent several hours in temperatures just above freezing had an increase in healthy, virus-fighting activity in their immune systems. You’re more likely to get sick indoors, where germs are easily passed.

woman, sneezing, winter, outdoors

Myth: Feed a cold, starve a fever.

This comes from a time when people didn’t understand the science of body chemistry. The thought was that if you had a cold, food would warm you up. Conversely, if you had a high fever, not eating would cool you down. This is bad medical advice. In both cases, good nutrition gives your body the fuel it needs to fight infections and recover from an illness. By all means feed your cold, but also feed your fever or any other illness. Even if you have stomach issues, find a way to take in lost fluids and electrolytes.

Dr. Niket Sonpal, a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist in New York City, is a a clinical instructor at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Brooklyn. Dr. Sonpal has completed his fellowship in gastroenterology and hepatology at Lenox Hill.  He now serves as the associate program director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Brookdale University Medical Center, Brooklyn.




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