Before there was "Dr. Google," there was "Dr. Grandma." Even though these women didn't typically go to medical school, they often had good advice -- such as "eat your vegetables," and "go out and play." But when it came to health advice during the winter months, it's a mixed bag.

1. Wet Hair Day
Whenever I give my toddler son a bath, it's a battle to get him to dry his hair! And lately I've been trying to convince him that he's going to catch a cold if we don't dry his hair. (And he has a lot of hair!) Turns out though I'm wrong about getting a cold. I kind of already knew that but everything is a negotiation with a toddler! Going outside with wet hair may not be very comfortable on a cold winter day, but you should find comfort knowing it is unlikely the cause of the common cold. Now I bet you didn't know that you can actually get a dreadful headache, if exposed for to the cold with a wet head, but colds and the flu are mostly caused by viruses. These viruses are most commonly passed from contact with those who are sick and not because you forgot to blow-dry your hair. Although these virusescirculate more during the winter seasons, you're actually more likely to pick them up inside than outside. As a matter of fact, getting out and building that snowman may increase physical activity and actually help prevent sickness. So grandma was right about encouraging us to have fun in the snow!

2. Color of Snot
Fridays are often the busiest clinic days for me - especially starting in early winter. Often, the patient has been uncomfortable for several days and doesn't want to go the weekend without some medicine. Just last week, a patient declared to me he had a bad infection because he noticed his mucous and nasal discharge was green. "Doesn't that mean I need an antibiotic?" he asked me. Well, not really. There are a bunch of factors, including lab tests, that help doctors decide whether you or not you have a bacterial infection and need an antibiotic. Green or yellow mucus is slightly more common in certain bacterial infections, but it's not a sign that you have one. After all, a sinus infection may cause mucus to be clear and the common cold can cause it to turn green. However, neither color really indicateswhether or not you need antibiotics. Simply put, it doesn't really matter what color the snot is despite the fact my grandmother always wanted to know what color I was putting out. And didn't the color of our snot help our moms decide whether we got to stay home from school? Good intent but lacking in science. Most respiratory infections are viral and are not treated by antibiotics. However, if your symptoms have not improved after 5-7 days, it may be time to see a doctor. Otherwise, hunker down and your body should fend off the infections on its own.

3. Always Have a Hanky Handy
Feel that sneeze itching in the back of your nose? You could always count on grandma to have some tissues on hand. She kept it in her purse ready to whip out at a moment's notice. But after using, she would fold it in a neat little square and stash it up her sleeve! Believe it or not, Grandma's "hanky" might actually be the best way to keep others safe from your cold. But if the idea of keeping a small treasure chest of "boogies" in your pocket or purse grosses you out, you're not alone. Hygienically, it is actually very unsanitary to keep reusing tissues or even one of those old-fashioned handkerchiefs. Instead, use disposable tissues and toss them out after each use. But if you're using a handkerchief for more than just a fashion piece, be sure to give it a proper washing and use a clean one every day. No matter what anyone tells you, letting your handkerchief soak through your pocket is NOT a fashion statement. That's just gross! Whatever you do, be sure to cover your mouth with a tissue or a handkerchief if you have one. If not, use the nook of your elbow and always be sure to wash your hands!

4. VapoRub Socks
Although I'm talking about grandma's advice, it seems grandfathers seem to believe in the magic properties of vapor rubs (kind of like the use of Windex by the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding). My grandfather always took out Vicks vapor whenever anyone got congested. Wow - just thinking of that smell generates a powerful memory! And men don't seem limited to just putting it on chest. My good friend's father during grade school used to put Vick's Vaporub on his feet and socks. A very popular thing to do back in the day! Although the rub may provide some symptomatic relief, there actually isn't any evidence that this treatment can stomp out the cold or flu. If you're having a pesky cough or congestion at night, try placing an extra pillow under your head to keep your sinuses from clogging up. Sleeping at an angle promotes drainage and reduces all that early-morning buildup.

5. Feed a cold, starve a fever
Despite hearing it from my mother and my grandmother while growing up, I can never remember which one it is -- "feed a cold, starve a fever" or is it "starve a cold, feed a fever". And they don't ask it on medical boards -- because neither are completely true. Being sick typically suppresses your appetite, but it is even more important to get enough food and liquids. No need to overdo it though. Some studies suggest food may help your body activate cells in your immune system, but there is never any need to overeat. As for fevers, nutrients are just as important in fighting off infections as they are in the common cold. Make sure your body has plenty of nutrients and energy to fight off your illness. Drink plenty of water and eat healthy vegetables and warm broths, and save the dieting for your New Year's Resolution.


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