What Is Your Favourite Medical Myth?
When you do a search of ‘medical myth’ it’s easy to see why doctors have a hard time convincing patients of the science behind medicine. For every medical claim out that’s argued as being inaccurate or incorrect there is still a large amount of material to support them. In the end, it is hard to know what to believe, with our decisions influenced either by the cold hard facts of science or our own intuition.
From a medical perspective, science is what underpins diagnosis and treatment. So asking your doctor about these medical myths will inevitably turn to the factual evidence of a peer-reviewed study. These studies are often dry to read and far less appealing compared to an article read in the newspaper that insists that chocolate cures *insert ailment here*.
In that regard, it could be said that doctors are in the profession of telling us what we need to know, as opposed to what we would like to hear.
Myth: Don’t go outside in winter with wet hair or you’ll catch a cold
Reality: Although being a bit cold can be uncomfortable, it does not have a direct effect on the immune system. To get a cold there has to be exposure to a virus.
Cold weather can turn some odds in favour of the virus though, as they can live longer and replicate faster in colder temperatures. Prolonged cold weather may, however, reduce a person’s immune response and by doing so make it harder for the body to fight off a virus.
Myth: Starve a fever, feed a cold
Reality: Best to feed both, as the body needs both for nourishment to fight the cause of fever or cold. This is especially so for fever, as it raises body temperature which increases metabolism and results in more calories burned.
Further to that refusing water and food will just make the dehydration from a cold or fever worse. Solids may be hard to stomach if feeling nauseous or a sore throat is involved, so soup may be a better option.
Take note though, as chicken soup is often stated as a cure for a cold. Symptoms may be eased, breathing passages may be clearer, but regardless of whether the soup is bean, chicken or leek, there currently is no cure for the common cold.
A nice hearty soup can contain lots of healthy nutrients, and the fluid will help increase hydration. Staying hydrated will keep mucus production up and as it is expelled so too are the germs it contains. At the very least a choice of some warm healthy food can provide a little creature comfort.
Myth: Vaccines cause autism
Reality: With no credible evidence to back up this claim and much autism research in the last few decades, this medical myth affects us all.
Reducing vaccination reduces the benefits that come with ‘herd immunity’, opening an opportunity for viruses and bacteria to become established and spread. More importantly a loss of ‘herd immunity’ exposes those who have weakened immune systems to these preventable diseases.
A quick look at history will illustrate what life was like before vaccines, and the toll taken by diseases such as measles, smallpox, whooping cough, or rubella.
Myth: Drink at least eight glasses of water a day to stay hydrated
Reality: This recommendation comes from 1945 and was not based on any research. It was recommended however that most of the water come from food sources.
So how much water should be consumed? The basic rule is that if you are thirsty, have a glass of water and if it is hot or you have been exercising, stay ahead of the curve and have some more.
As the thirst reflex tends to fade as we age, this is especially true for those who are older. Note that the water supplied by food will vary, so a meal of soup, fruit, and vegetables will require less of a top up to stay hydrated, than one of pizza, chicken and chips.
Also, there is no evidence to support claims that drinking more water offers any benefit in terms of kidney function or disease prevention.
Myth: Shaving cream can be used for treating jellyfish stings
Reality: Fortunately it does not, especially as most people will not have this handy when down at the beach. Baking soda, soap, lemon juice, methylated spirits, alcohol, cola, and urine won’t work either and may make matters worse.
In the tropical oceans around northern Australia, box jellyfish stings can be treated with vinegar to neutralise any unfired stinging cells. The Irukandji jellyfish which is found as far south as Fraser Island can be treated in the same manner. In both cases, this will prevent further venom release, and after applying vinegar the tentacles can be safely removed. The area can be immersed in water of 45C or have a hot pack applied for 45 minutes, which will result in fewer red blood cells being killed.
In the southern waters of eastern Australia the treatment of a sting from a Bluebottle, otherwise known as the man o’ war jellyfish, is different. Vinegar should not be applied as it may cause further pain by stimulating stinging cell discharge. Instead, wash the sting area with sea water and remove any tentacles. Following this hot water can be applied for about 20 minutes, once again at around 45 degrees in temperature, will help relieve pain. If hot water is not available an ice pack may help with pain relief.
Myth: Mosquitos are more attracted to sweet blood
Reality: Skin temperature and odours produced by microbes on our skin are most likely what mosquitoes use to differentiate one meal from another.
Mosquitoes are also able to smell dinner from up to fifty meters away from the carbon dioxide we exhale, which must explain why they buzz around our heads just as we are about to go to sleep.
This myth may come from the fact that mosquitoes feed on plant sugars, with only the female biting us, as she needs the protein hit to develop fertile eggs.
Myth: Warts can be caused by handling frogs or toads
Reality: The lumps found on these amphibians are glands and are not contagious. Common skin warts are contagious and occur when broken skin comes in contact with the human papillomavirus.
There are many supposed home remedies for warts, but they cannot be removed by rubbing them with a penny or turpentine. This is because these lumps often disappear naturally on their own, with such things as a penny or turps taking the credit retrospectively.
Myth: Stay out of the water if you ate in the last 30 minutes
This comes from the theory that blood is diverted away from your arms and legs after a big meal and that it can cause cramps that limit the ability to swim. It is true that some of the blood from muscles redirected to aid the digestive process, but the truth is that we have plenty of blood to keep all body parts working after a big meal.
Alcohol and drugs are more of a concern when mixed with swimming, rather than food. Impaired judgement and physical ability are more likely to be the cause of drowning than merely cramping, which can arise from dehydration or fatigue.
Sometimes gut instinct is good to practice, but when it comes to things that are medically related, good science is best used to provide a reality check.
In medical research, the gold standard of these checks is called a double-blind randomised controlled trial. A ‘double-blind’ is where neither the patients nor the researchers know who is getting a placebo and who is getting the treatment. This provides the ability to produce knowledge through unbiased scientific methods, so that knowledge can be applied in the real world with confidence.
However applying this level of scientific scrutiny to statements that we are told are the truth, may make life a little less interesting.
One example would be when phone data drops out, some people will try waving it around to improve the phone signal. This in fact, makes the signal worse but can provide some entertainment for those watching.
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