5 Winter Health Myths: Separating Fact and Fiction

woman in winter clothes sneezing

The rumors have been circulating since your grandma was a kid:

  • Cold weather gives you a cold.
  • Don’t leave a turkey out to thaw: Food poisoning for everybody.
  • Tilt your head back to stop a nosebleed.

Fact or Fiction?

Is there any truth to these winter health proverbs? We did some digging to sort out fact from fiction.

Fiction: Dress warmly or you'll get a cold, influenza or pneumonia

No, you don’t have to worry about catching pneumonia if you head outside without a hat and gloves. You’ll just be very uncomfortable. It’s germs that create illness, not cold weather per se.

However, we tend to catch more illnesses in the winter because we spend so much time inside with other people. Protect yourself against colds, the flu, and other germ-based illnesses by following these commonsense steps:

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Decrease your stress level.
  • Get the right amount of sleep (7 to 9 hours a night for most adults ).

Fiction: Winter brings nosebleeds, and if you get one, tilt your head back to stop it

Nosebleeds are more common in the winter because of cold viruses and drier indoor air.

You should tilt your head back to get rid of them, right? Wrong. That can cause blood to drain into your stomach, potentially making you sick. In rare cases, the blood could even make its way into your airways and cause choking.

Instead, follow these steps to stop a nosebleed:

  • Sit straight up and tilt your head forward slightly.
  • Take your thumb and forefinger, and firmly pinch the soft part of your nose shut.
  • If you have an ice pack, apply that to your nose and cheeks to constrict blood vessels.
  • Continue pinching for a full 10 minutes.
  • If your nose is still bleeding, pinch for 10 more minutes.
  • Once the bleeding stops, you can use saline or an antiseptic nasal cream. Also, try not to blow your nose for a few hours.

For more information on nosebleeds, read Nosebleeds: What Causes Them and How to Stop Them.


Fact: Don’t leave a turkery out to thaw

There’s truth to this age-old advice. At room temperature, bacteria can grow fast , and contaminated meat will sicken everyone.

Instead, thaw meat, poultry, and seafood using these methods:

  • In the refrigerator (the safest way)
  • In cold water (thawing will go faster, but be sure to change the water every 30 minutes, and cook the food immediately once it’s thawed)
  • In the microwave (follow what it says in your owner’s manual, and again, cook the food as soon as it’s thawed)

You can also cook frozen meat —but remember to increase your cooking time by about 50%.

Fiction: Hand sanitizer doesn't really work

It’s true that hand-washing is the best way to eliminate germs on your hands, however, alcohol-based hand sanitizers do work, as they can quickly lower the number of germs on your hands. Here are the caveats:

  • They don’t kill every type of germ.
  • They might not work as well on dirty or greasy hands.
  • They also might not clear your hands of other harmful substances, such as heavy metals or pesticides.

If you don’t have access to soap and water, here are some recommended steps to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer :

  • To determine the right amount to use, read the label.
  • Squirt it into the palm of one hand.
  • Rub your hands together, then spread the sanitizer over the rest of your hands and fingers. Let it dry.

Fact: Raw cookie dough can make you sick

This one’s true. Raw cookie dough can make you ill in two ways :

  • The eggs, which might carry Salmonella bacteria.
  • The flour, which might carry e. Coli and other bacteria.

Flour comes from grains grown in the field that are exposed to animal waste. Those grains aren’t treated for bacteria . Why? The assumption is that you’re going to cook or bake the flour.

In 2016, General Mills voluntarily recalled 10 million pounds of store-bought flour when dozens of people nationwide were sickened by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121 , according to the US Food & Drug Administration. The bacterium was linked to a sample of General Mills flour .

Salmonella bacteria, meanwhile, are found in eggs that are lightly cooked or raw .

Play it safe when you’re baking or working with raw food ingredients by following these steps:

  • Don’t let kids play with raw dough or batter, and avoid eating it.
  • Bake or cook food at the right temperature, for the right amount of time; follow the directions in the recipe or on the package.
  • Don’t use cake mix or other raw-flour ingredients in milkshakes.
  • Love cookie-dough ice cream? The store-bought kind contains cookie dough treated for bacteria. But don’t attempt to make the homemade kind using raw cookie dough.
  • Put a physical distance between flour, eggs, and other raw food, and the foods you’re going to eat. Flour, especially, can spread easily because it’s a powder.

While there are many winter health myths, a healthy winter doesn’t have to be a myth for you. Maintain smart health habits and good hygiene, and you can stay strong and healthy during the cold stretch. You’ll lay a foundation for a spring that’s better than ever.

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