• January 4, 2018
  • Emily Vyverberg, Pharm.D., Pharmacist
  • Healthy Living

There is no shortage of common misconceptions when it comes to treating or preventing the common cold. We’ve all heard plenty of old wives’ tales or maybe it was some new information you came across in a Facebook post, let’s set the record straight.

I have a really bad sore throat and a fever, so I definitely need an antibiotic.

Not so fast. A sore throat can be caused by a virus or bacteria. If it is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help. As the name suggests, an antibiotic will only fight bacteria.

If your sore throat persists or it continues to worsen, a rapid strep test can be administered by your doctor. He/she can help determine if the sore throat is bacterial. If the strep test comes back negative, then it typically means that it is a virus that is causing the sore throat.

The good news is that the infection and your sore throat will resolve itself on its own. You can treat symptoms with lozenges or throat sprays, by gargling warm salt water, drinking warm tea with honey or taking over-the-counter medications (such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen).

You should not try taking antibiotics to treat a viral infection. Taking unnecessary antibiotics isn’t just a case of overkill; it can put you at risk of developing a resistance to antibiotics which will make treating any of your future bacterial infections more difficult. Never take antibiotics unless you’ve they have been prescribed to you for an infection that is confirmed to be caused by bacteria.

Is it “feed a fever, starve a cold” or “starve a fever, stuff a cold”?

Well, neither. Don’t try to stuff or starve either of them, rather drown colds in plenty of fluids.

As for feeding or starving yourself, eating has no negative impact on your body when you’re sick. Food provides your body the fuel it needs to fight your illness.

Listen to your body. Eat well if you fell hungry. Refrain if you don’t. No need to starve or stuff yourself. Simply take it easy and try to eat a bowl of chicken soup when you feel ready.

“Bundle up or you’ll catch your death!”

Contrary to what your mother may have told you (and what you have probably caught yourself telling your own children), chilling and dampness have nothing to do with how susceptible you are to catch the common cold.

This old myth dates back to before we knew as much as we do now about microscopic organisms such as bacteria and viruses. Before that, we needed to come up with some explanation for why people became sick and it was easy enough to blame exposure to the elements

Now we know that in order to catch a cold, you have to come in contact with one of the hundreds of viruses known to cause colds. But that doesn't’t mean your mother was completely on the wrong track when she told you to wear your coat.

Prolonged exposure to harsh, frigid conditions can weaken your immune system somewhat; making it harder to avoid catching the cold if and when you are exposed to germs.

Once I have symptoms, I’m not really contagious anymore.

Let’s dispel this one once and for all because it is myths like this that help spread the cold and flu-causing germs—this is totally false.

While you are your most contagious about a day before you might actually start experiencing symptoms, you can still spread your contagious cold germs even for a couple of days after the symptoms seem to subside. 

Viruses are very good at what they do—spreading from person to person. Even if you don’t feel sick any more, you can still pass along that sickness to those around you. Once come down a cold, it is best stay home and while you get plenty of rest. You should also cover your cough and try to stay away from vulnerable persons like newborn or those with chronic heart or lung disease. Make sure you are washing your hands with soap & water frequently throughout the day to help prevent the further spread of viruses.

After you no longer have a fever and feel like you are on the mend, it is okay to start going back to school or work, but you should continue to drink plenty of fluids while you cover your coughs and wash your hands frequently. Doing this will help you avoid getting sick again and will help you avoid getting those around you at home, work or school sick with what you just had.

Remember: you should always contact your doctor if you or your child has a fever higher than 100.4°F, if symptoms last longer than 10 days or if you find the symptoms are severe or unusual. As always, we encourage you to ask your doctor and/or your pharmacist if you have any questions about how you should be treating or preventing coming down with the common cold.

For more information on how you can protect yourself and others from the common cold this winter, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here

(Images courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 

Emily Vyverberg, Pharm.D., Pharmacist

Emily Vyverberg, Pharm.D., Pharmacist

Emily has worked at Hartig Drug for over 10 years (2 years as a pharmacy intern and now as a pharmacist).

She graduated from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy in 2009.

Emily lives in Dubuque, IA, and enjoys traveling, running, biking, kayaking, and cooking.