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The Truth Behind Mom's Cold and Flu Advice

Experts separate myth from fact in 10 common cold tips.

5. "Don't go outside with wet hair."

Another pointless piece of advice. Well, maybe not entirely pointless, as a clammy coif could freeze in winter. But venturing outside with damp hair won't make you more vulnerable to colds. Then again, if your hair looks really scary, it might help guard against colds by encouraging other people to give you a wide berth.

6. "Are you sure you're getting enough sleep?"

Studies show that adequate bed rest boosts immune function and reduces the risk of catching a cold. One study, conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, shows that people who sleep less than seven hours a night are three times more likely to catch a cold than people who sleep at least eight hours a night.

And it's common knowledge that extra sleep helps cold sufferers feel better. "Colds make you weary, and it's important to listen to your body," says Schaffner.

7. "Drink lots of fluids."

As long as she didn't mean mai tais, mom was on target with this advice. "It's terribly important to stay hydrated," Schaffner says, adding that what you drink is less important. Water and fruit juice are great, he says; despite their diuretic effect of caffeine, so are tea and coffee. 

8. "Take vitamin C."

Some studies suggest that the "sunshine vitamin" can help prevent the common cold and speed recovery from it. Other studies suggest the opposite. Hendley says that vitamin C's "modest" anti-inflammatory effect could make cold sufferers feel a bit better. Schaffner says he advises his patients to take extra vitamin C only if they think it works for them.

9. "Take a shower."

Another good one, mom. A hot shower helps loosen clogged nasal passages and moistens your mucous membranes.

10. "Cover your mouth when you cough."

Good manners, for sure, and a great way to protect others when you have a cold (though blocking a cough or sneeze does nothing to ease your symptoms). The usual approach -- covering your mouth with your cupped hand -- isn't the best one, says Schaffner. It's better to cough into your sleeve. That way, your hands stay relatively germ-free, so you won't infect others when you shake hands.

By the way, avoiding shaking hands with others helps limit your exposure to cold viruses -- but don't assume that it's safe to shake hands with someone who has no obvious symptoms of a cold. "People with colds shed virus particles for days before they show symptoms," says Schaffner.

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Reviewed on October 01, 2009

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