Will going outdoors in the cold with wet hair give you a cold? Should you drink milk when you have the flu? We explored the research and uncovered the truths behind the most common cold and flu myths.

The cold and flu season is starting in South Africa. Now’s the time when we remember the advice our moms and grandmothers taught us about avoiding and treating colds, from ‘feed a cold and starve a fever’ to the perils of going to bed with wet hair. Were they wrong? Unfortunately, some of those old adages are cold and flu myths. Others are based on solid and useful information.

1. Never go out in the cold with wet hair or insufficient clothing.

Myth. Being cold, or cold and wet, has nothing to do with contracting the cold or flu virus, says US medical professional Dr Jon Abramson. One of the principal cold and flu myths, this belief has come about simply because the flu virus generally circulates during autumn and winter. ‘While the viruses are more common during these times of the year, the consensus among physicians seems to be that this is caused by people staying indoors to avoid the cold, and not from the cold itself,’ he explains.

2. You are more likely to get a cold or flu if you’re stressed.

Possible truth. The jury is still out when it comes to the effects of stress on health. However, says Dr Erica Brownfield, an associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, ‘while we don’t know if stress increases the risk of catching a cold or the flu, stress can make either of those conditions worse once you have it.’

3. A cold can turn into flu.

Myth. Colds and flu are both viral infections, but they are caused by different viruses. So, although many symptoms of colds and flu are similar (congestion, sore throat, sneezing and coughing), one does not lead to the other. However, don’t be careless if you have a cold – it can lower your resistance enough to make it far easier to catch the flu if you’re exposed to the virus. Rather stay home if you are feeling ill.

4. Feed a cold and starve a fever.

Partly true. It’s natural to lose your appetite when you have a fever. In fact, a loss of appetite is a natural defence mechanism that helps your immune system focus on fighting pathogens. Don’t starve yourself though – try to eat normally and drink extra fluids. 
Colds, on the other hand, generally last longer than bouts of flu and you need energy to fight the virus. Eat normally and make sure your foods are healthy and nutritious.

5. Consuming dairy when you’re sick will make phlegm worse.

Myth. Excess phlegm is an unpleasant side effect of a cold. Can you make it worse by drinking milk? This item on the list of cold and flu myths was discredited in the 1990s when Australian research revealed that dairy products have no effect on nasal secretions and symptoms of congestion. The researchers involved in these studies concluded that the combination of saliva and a high-fat beverage (such as milk) may mimic mucus, leading to the false assumption that drinking milk during a cold is bad.

6. Rest when you’re under the weather.

Truth. It’s important to rest when you are ill, but a little exercise such as a brisk-ish walk may help you feel better. Don’t try intense workouts – they can actually weaken immunity.

7. Overloading on Vitamin C will stop a cold in its tracks.

Myth. Numerous studies show Vitamin C to be ‘somewhat’ effective against fighting colds. Don’t stop taking vitamin C though – it’s a vital immune booster.

8. Chicken soup will help ease your aches and pains.

True. Studies confirm that grandma’s old-favourite cure-all chicken soup can indeed ease inflammation and help you get well faster. Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that chicken soup prepared with lots of veggies helps get rid of some of the inflammation responsible for cold symptoms, like a runny nose and congestion.

9. Cover your mouth with your hand when you cough.

Myth. Does sneezing or coughing into your hand prevent you spreading your germs? No. Cold viruses exist in large quantities in the nasal fluid of sick people and are easily transferred from their hands after even the briefest contact with doorknobs, telephones, ATMs. Instead, sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow or into a tissue, and make sure to wash your hands often. Another of the cold and flu myths debunked!

What’s Your Take Away?

Did you try any of the above myths or folklore remedies that didn’t work? Now you know why. Do you have other remedies or folklore tips you wonder about or have tried? We’d love to hear your experience – share with us on Facebook.

Related Blogs

Check out our related blog articles: ‘Colds and flu: the natural way to avoid them or recover quickly’ will help you stay well this winter. ‘10 Foods to boost your immune system’ gives invaluable information about diet and the best foods to eat.

Need natural Cold & Flu remedies?

Strengthen your immune system this winter and protect yourself against colds and flu with Flora Force all-natural remedies Anti-Flu™, Immune™ and Echi-Mune™.

We love herbal teas, and our latest favourite is made with black cumin (Nigella sativa) seeds. Compounds in black cumin help fight diseases such as colds and flu by boosting the production of bone marrow, natural interferon and immune cells. Read more about this therapeutic herb in our herb library.

Acknowledgements & Photo credits

Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.


  1. Gelman, L. 6 Cold & Flu Old Wives’ Tales, Debunked. Prevention magazine. Jan 2015. www.prevention.com/health/health-concerns/cold-and-flu-myths
  2. Huffpost Healthy Living. 7 Cold And Flu Myths That Need To End Right Now. Oct 2014. www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/24/cold-and-flu-myths_n_5983736.html
  3. Pinnock CB, Graham NM, Mylvaganam A, Douglas RM. Relationship between milk intake and mucus production in adult volunteers challenged with rhinovirus-2. Am Rev Respir Dis.. 1990, Feb;141(2):352-6. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2154152

Photo credits

  1. Original image by Alexandr Litovchenko from Pixabay