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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Cold and Flu IQ

Our guide to the most common misconceptions about what causes colds and flu's -- and how to prevent and treat them.

Will I Get the Flu from a Flu Shot?

The flu vaccine does not cause the flu. "You won't get sick from it," Tallman says. However, it is possible that some people who get vaccinated for the flu develop flu-like symptoms, such as aches or a fever -- but only for a day or so. That's a small price to pay for a vaccine that prevents an average of five days of fever, headaches, sore throat, and other symptoms caused by actual flu, which can also cause complications such as pneumonia. Those who are most vulnerable to such complications include anyone over the age of 65, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing conditions like asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and weakened immune systems.

Should I Starve a Cold?

Starve a cold and feed a fever? Or is it the other way around? The answer: neither. Tallman's not sure where this erroneous piece of advice originated, but he is sure of this: What you eat when you have a virus makes no difference in the length or severity of your cold. He does recommend you drink a lot of fluids while you are sick to avoid becoming dehydrated. And he refutes a related myth, that drinking milk increases the mucus in your nasal passages. "It has no effect," Tallman says.

Home Cough Remedies

Look to your pantry to calm a cough. Maybe Grandma's shot of whiskey or hot toddy won't help a cough, but you've probably got some items on hand that will. Tallman mentions onion and garlic juice, lemon juice, cloves, and ginger. Coughs that accompany a sore throat and sinus trouble respond well to soothing treatments such as hot tea and honey, he says. "It would be difficult to debunk honey as a cough suppressant. The bottom line is people use whatever they think provides symptomatic relief." (However, never give honey to children younger than age 1.)

A Cure for the Common Cold?

There's no cure for the common cold. This is not a myth, just a reminder. Cold medications can only relieve symptoms, not speed up recovery. As Tallman says, "There's nothing you can do but ride it out." You can take measures to ward off colds, however. Keeping your hands clean is one of the most effective ways to prevent germs from spreading. If you want to avoid the flu, your best bet is to get the vaccine.

Not everyone can be cured of false beliefs. Alas, this is not a myth either. Tallman says his approach when talking to a misinformed patient is to say, "That's silly, and let me tell you why." Is he convincing? Only about 50% of the time, he says. "Half will at least look at things differently after I talk to them."

Reviewed on January 04, 2011

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