More Medical Myths
True or false? Here are some common myths related to your health
Medical myths are false beliefs about our health and healthcare that we pass on to each other with the best of intentions. Indeed, many doctors believe certain medical myths! Here are 9 common ones.
We have all experienced the common cold. It is an infection caused by one of a number of viruses, most commonly rhinovirus. Many studies have been done on this topic, and the result it clear – going out in the cold does not cause you to get a cold.
This myth brings up the very important issue of screening for illnesses. Screening is testing for an illness when one has no symptoms, in the hopes of catching it early and thereby curing it. Screening tests are important but need to be understood before you go ahead with them, because some have risks as well as benefits.
The PSA test is a blood test that measures Prostate Specific Antigen. An elevated PSA level is associated with an increased risk of having prostate cancer. There are two important things to note about this: (1) There are other reasons to have an elevated PSA so someone with a high PSA does not necessarily have cancer; (2) If you do have a high PSA your doctor will likely recommend that you have further testing, which may have some risks associated with it.
While commonly believed to be true, this is a myth nonetheless. Reading in dim light has not been shown to cause any permanent damage to the eyes. Some people feel that their vision is a bit blurred or have a headache after reading in dim light because they have strained their eyes — but this is temporary, not permanent. The same is true of watching TV too close to the screen: it causes no permanent damage to the eyes.
Most people need an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. But if you don’t get enough, can it be harmful to your health? There is some evidence that sleeping too little puts extra strain on your cardiovascular system, but there has also been at least one study showing that people who sleep too much live less long. So the jury is still out on this one. What is most important is to sleep enough so that you don’t feel tired and are able to function properly.
Green sputum means you need antibiotics.
The colour of your sputum (aka snot, phlegm — the stuff that comes out of your nose or that you cough up when you are sick) does not indicate whether or not you need antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications that treat bacterial illnesses, like strep throat and many pneumonias. They are not useful in treating viral illnesses such as the common cold or the flu. If you are ill and have colored sputum it is reasonable to visit the doctor to determine if you have a viral or a bacterial illness.
Natural is great, and in general if an illness can be treated without using medication then it should be. Many people are using natural products to treat their illnesses. What is important to remember is that nature is responsible for both our best cures and our most effective poisons. So it is important to know exactly what you are getting if you use natural products, which can be a mixture of a number of substances. (The positive thing about pharmaceuticals is that they are strictly regulated, so that you know exactly what is contained in the medication you are taking.) It is a good idea to explore all options, and it is equally important to know exactly what is contained in whatever product you decide to put in your body.
A healthy body detoxifies itself. The kidneys and liver are two of the organs that do this. This is why we get sick when these organs fail to work. For example, when the kidneys don’t work properly people get hemodialysis in order to detoxify their blood externally, doing what healthy kidneys do naturally. Some people do claim that they feel better after detoxification treatments. If you are considering doing something like this, discuss it first with your doctor and look at the potential risks and benefits.
Dementia is a permanent decline in mental function, including memory. The most common cause is Alzheimer’s Disease. Numerous studies have been done to see how to prevent this devastating illness. There is evidence that staying intellectually, socially, and physically active is associated with decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In addition there is evidence that controlling your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure may also be protective. And studies are ongoing about the effects of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, which are found in fruits and vegetables.
The most common vaccine given to older adults is the flu vaccine. It is formulated to prevent the flu, which is a serious infectious illness that kills thousands of people every year, especially the elderly, the very young, and people with chronic illness. The vaccine is therefore recommended especially for these people, as well as those who work with these populations (like healthcare workers). The vaccine is available by injection and by nasal spray. The injection is a dead virus, which cannot cause the flu but may cause a bit of muscle ache and, rarely, a temporary unwell feeling. The inhaled vaccine is a weakened virus, which, even if it causes a mild illness, will cause one much less severe than the actual flu.
Remember that it is always better to prevent an illness than to treat it, and there is no cure for the flu. So get the vaccine, and prevent it. You most likely will not get sick, and if you do, you’ll be much less sick than you would be if you caught the flu.
A few more quick myths
Hair and nails continue to grow after death: No they don’t.
Shaving makes hair grow in thicker: No it doesn’t.
You need eight glasses of water per day: Hydrating is good but you don’t need eight glasses per day.
Teething causes fever: Not really.
Sugar causes hyperactivity: It doesn’t.