Health Watch -- Cold Season Myths

Health Watch is a Public Service of the  Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

The common cold is so common that it has its own folklore. How many cold "truths" are actually true?

Your mother may have warned you not to go outside without a coat or with wet hair, for fear you'd catch a cold. Although it's not normally nice to argue with your mother, in this case, doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say Mom was wrong. Colds are caused by viruses that are passed from person to person, according to Dr. Daniel Skiest, a UT Southwestern infectious disease expert. Colds aren't caused by exposure to low temperatures. Exposure to the cold can give you the chills, but it won't leave you with sniffles and sneezes.

One thing that Dr. Skiest says will protect you from a cold is washing your hands often. Cold viruses are often spread by person-to-person contact. Someone with a cold sneezes. Then you shake hands with that person or touch something that person has touched. Then you touch your face or put your hands near your mouth.

And then you come down with a cold.

Washing your hands several times a day and keeping your hands away from your face can help you avoid infection.

Another misconception about colds is that antibiotics will help make them go away. Worried parents take their sick children to the doctor and expect an antibiotic prescription, or else they feel it's a wasted visit. But antibiotics don't do any good against illnesses caused by viruses, such as colds or the flu. Taking antibiotics when you don't need them just means they're less likely to work when you do need them.