7 Most Common Health Myths

Daily Health Solutions, Featured Article, Power to the Patient
on March 29, 2011
Mark Boughton Photography /styling by Teresa Blackburn

Myths about common health complaints and conditions can spread faster than the flu itself. We help debunk some of the myths medical professionals say their patients perpetually repeat.

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Myth: You can get the flu from the flu shot.

Fact: Influenza vaccines contain an inactive, or dead, virus that can’t possibly infect you. “Patients may get some mild aches and low-grade fever as the body’s immune system is activated, but they cannot get active disease from the shot,” says Dr. Bryan Stuchell, chief medical officer for MedExpress, a chain of walk-in clinics.The immunity you get from a shot isn’t instantaneous, though—it takes several weeks to be fully activated. So it’s possible to be exposed and catch the flu after your vaccination but before you’re completely immune, leading some to associate the two.

Myth: Eating honey from your hometown will help fend off seasonal allergies.

Fact: Unfortunately, there’s no basis for this sweet home remedy. Consuming honey that contains local pollens will not help increase your tolerance for the allergens, says the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Honey is made from flowers, but the pollen that triggers your sniffling is from trees and grass. In fact, if you’re especially sensitive to pollens, eating raw honey could cause a severe reaction, so look for more processed versions.

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Myth: Use vinegar to soothe a burn.

Fact: The best treatment for a minor burn isn’t found in your kitchen pantry (or fridge, for those who still believe butter will help). “Vinegar provides a cooling sensation when it evaporates from the skin,” says Dr. Stuchell, “but it also severely dries the skin, which is already dehydrated from the burn.” Instead, you should wash the skin with soap and water, pat dry, and apply a bacitracin ointment. A lotion containing aloe will also help with dryness and promote healing.

Myth: Watching movies, TV or video games in 3-D is bad for your eyes.

Fact: Though Nintendo recently appended a warning to its 3DS handheld 3-D game that it’s not recommended for children under 6 due to developing vision, the American Optometric Association says there’s no evidence that 3-D is a danger to vision at any age. Like computer usage, it can cause discomfort in the form of temporary eyestrain and headaches, but no permanent damage. If you find watching 3-D to be incredibly disorienting, it may be a sign that you have an undiagnosed vision problem like lazy eye, so check in with your doctor.

Myth: You can’t exercise if you have arthritis.

Fact: Though joint pain may make a workout unappealing, in the long run exercise is one of the best forms of pain management for arthritis. “Muscles act like shock absorbers, taking stress off the joint cartilage,” says Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery, Weil-Cornell Medical College. Try low- or no-impact exercises like swimming, stationary cycling or the elliptical machine—and take it slow at first.

Myth: Root canals are a long and unbearably painful procedure.

Fact: The technology involved in this dreaded dental procedure, which removes and replaces a tooth’s infected innards, has improved substantially over the years. Surgical binoculars, operating microscopes and smaller, ultrasonic instruments have all increased accuracy, reduced or eliminated pain and cut the average procedure time to under an hour. If you’re apprehensive, ask your dentist to refer you to an endodontist—a root canal specialist who undergoes several years of additional training.

Myth: You can catch a cold from being too cold.

Fact: Moms are right about many things, but this conventional wisdom just isn’t true. “Colds are caused by viruses, and the contact with these viruses usually occurs inside from air droplets,” says Dr. Stuchell. “These droplets may be floating in the air or stuck on various objects, such as doorknobs, telephones or countertops.” Since cold season is primarily in the wintertime, we tend to associate being cold with catching a cold, which leads us to believe there’s a cause and effect.