New Think­ing on Old Ad­vice

Up­dated health wis­dom


We might have to burst your bub­ble on a few long­stand­ing health tropes. Here’s the real story on four you’ve heard (and maybe said!), and what you need to know to keep your fam­ily safe and well.

1 “Don’t go out­side with wet hair, or you’ll catch a cold”

You catch a cold when you are in­fected by a virus, not be­cause you are cold, ex­plains Sindhu Ader­son, M.D., a fam­ily medicine doc­tor at North­west­ern Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal. Hav­ing wet hair won’t make that virus ap­pear out of nowhere or even make you more likely to suc­cumb to one that you’re ex­posed to. Un­der­dress­ing in cold temps is a prob­lem, how­ever, when it comes to frost­bite and hy­pother­mia.

2 “It takes seven years to di­gest a piece of gum”

Don’t worry, a swal­lowed gum­ball isn’t go­ing to sit in your child’s stom­ach for years, says Carolyn New­berry, M.D., a gas­troen­terol­o­gist at NewYork­Pres­by­te­rian and Weill Cor­nell Medicine. Gum moves into the stom­ach, goes through the small in­tes­tine and colon, and gets ex­creted in your poop, just like other foods, she ex­plains. “It may stay whole dur­ing the process, though, be­cause gum is re­sis­tant to di­ges­tive en­zymes.” (For the record, the jour­ney takes about two to three days for all food.) While an oc­ca­sional swal­lowed piece of gum is usu­ally harm­less, an ex­ces­sive amount may cause block­ages. Par­ents should also be wary of giv­ing gum to small chil­dren, as it’s a chok­ing haz­ard, she adds.

3 “Crack­ing your knuck­les causes arthri­tis”

Stud­ies de­signed to see if there’s a con­nec­tion be­tween knuckle crack­ing and arthri­tis have found no link, says Stan­ford Shoor, M.D., a rheuma­tol­o­gist at Stan­ford Health Care. Some­times the rub­bing of the bones of the knuckle joint against one an­other causes small bub­bles to form in the fluid that lu­bri­cates the joints. Peo­ple “crack” their knuck­les to pop the bub­bles and re­lieve the pres­sure. The prac­tice is rel­a­tively harm­less, al­though one study sug­gests that it may re­duce grip strength and in very rare cases might have been re­spon­si­ble for lig­a­ment dam­age that im­proved with treat­ment.

4 “Sit­ting close to the TV can make you go blind”

Sit­ting too close can cause eye­strain (when eyes get itchy, sore, or wa­tery). But eye­strain, while un­com­fort­able, is usu­ally tem­po­rary and isn’t linked with long­term com­pli­ca­tions. Plus, it’s less of a con­cern for kids than adults, as they tend to be bet­ter at fo­cus­ing on things close­up. Bet­ter ad­vice, says Joseph Panarelli, M.D., an oph­thal­mol­o­gist at New York Univer­sity Lan­gone Health: Chil­dren should spend less time us­ing hand­held screens, as this may po­ten­tially lead to near­sight­ed­ness.

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