Damp hair? Don't care. Science doesn't support these classic old wives' tales.

By Naomi Barr
March 19, 2020

We've all heard them: But the old wives' tales surrounding feeling under the weather are just that—the stuff of myths. These adages are so pervasive, though, that it's easy to confuse fiction for fact. Ahead, some of the most common health myths, debunked.

Credit: Handemandaci / Getty images

Feed a cold, starve a fever.

Though preliminary research out of Yale University suggests that "starving" a fever caused by bacteria might help (they found the opposite is true with a virus), there's currently not much backing for either claim. "Here's the truth: When you have a cold or fever, stay hydrated and well-nourished so your body has the strength to fight off the infection," says Jennifer Caudle, DO, a family physician and an associate professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, in Stratford, New Jersey.

Green means go to the doctor.

Verdant mucus doesn't unequivocally mean you need antibiotics. "The color is caused by an enzyme in white blood cells that gets produced when they encounter an infectious organism like a virus or bacteria," says Dale Amanda Tylor, MD, an otolaryngologist and head-and-neck surgeon in Santa Barbara, California. "But it can also occur when they confront an irritant like pollen or dust."

Don't forget a scarf!

This one's a doozy: Exposure to cold weather won't get you sick; only exposure to a virus or bacteria will. A Yale animal study did show that rhinovirus, the main cause of the common cold, thrives better in environments slightly cooler than our core body temperature, which is about the temp in our nose. That means keeping your nose a cozy 98.6 degrees could, theoretically, thwart germs. But no one has shown that wearing a scarf over your nose can do that, says Tylor. Also okay: Going out with wet hair.


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