Forget everything you know about cold weather and your well-being
There are endless winter health myths that we have heard from well intentioned grandparents and parents. They have become so ingrained in us that we take them as cold hard facts. Parenting Times turned to board-certified internist and gastroenterologist Dr. Niket Sonpal for tips on how to keep your kids healthy this winter.
Myth: Allergies go away in the winter
Allergies might be the real source behind your stuffy nose and scratchy throat this season. While one in five people suffer from indoor/outdoor allergies, and the indoor variety can actually be worse in the winter. Sonpal cautions that, “If your symptoms last longer than 10 days or ease up after taking an antihistamine, 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. Sonpal points out that, “some viruses, like norovirus, which causes vomiting, is not killed by hand sanitizer. Soap and water are best to get rid of all bacteria and viruses, but the hand sanitizer is better than nothing at all.”
Myth: I don’t need sunscreen in the winter
The sun’s rays are just as strong in the winter months as they are in the other seasons. Snow and ice can reflect even more sunlight, up to twice as much. Grab the SPF and put it on, regardless of the temperature. Don’t forget those sunglasses to keep your eyes safe as well.
Myth: The flu shot gives you the flu
Nearly half the population do not intend to get a flu shot this year because they believe the vaccine can give them the flu. Sonpal stresses that, “The shot does not contain a live virus, making catching the flu from it impossible.”
Winter weather makes you store fat and gain weight
Our bodies do not 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. Sonpal points out that, “we tend to exercise less in winter. We eat more hearty meals and comfort foods, including more sugary snacks and desserts .”
Myth: You lose the most heat through your head
As the saying goes, “we lose 90 percent of our body heat through our heads.” But a 2006 study found that the head accounts for about seven percent of the body’s surface area, and that heat loss in the region is fairly proportional, according to LiveScience. “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,” says Sonpal.
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: Being cold gives 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. In fact, you’re more likely to get sick indoors, where germs are easily passed.
Myth: Starve a fever, stuff a cold
Sonpal says that, “This is another myth that 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 just patently bad medical advice. In both cases, good nutrition gives your body the fuel it needs to fight infections and recover from an illness. When you have a fever, your body is burning energy at a rapid rate, and that needs to be replenished. So, 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.”
– Ottawa Parenting Times Staff