Popular culture is full of catch phrases, myths and old wives’ tales. None may be as popular as the medical myths that can get propagated. Some are harmless; like if you carry in the front you are having a boy (though I love to quote my husband who says either way you have a 50/50 chance of being right)!) However, some can be dangerous, providing parents with misinformation that can actually harm their children. Below are 5 common myths and what the evidence about the reality of these sayings is.
• Walkers encourage children to walk sooner
The opposite is actually true. Putting children in walkers can actually delay walking. The muscles used when moving around in a walker are different than the ones used for walking. In addition, many children are on their tip toes in the walker and don’t have the proper flat foot position to learn to walk. Prolonged walker time, prevents babies form developing muscle strength that comes with crawling and pulling to stand, developmental milestones that precede walking. Children should be allowed to explore safe areas barefoot until they are walking well. Finally, walkers can actually be very dangerous for children. Infants have been injured by walkers tipping over, bumping into walls with force, and falling down stairs. Walkers give children mobility before they are developmentally ready and may allow them to reach hot surfaces or dangerous objects that they could not reach otherwise. Bottom line: walkers don’t help your child walk faster and can actually harm your child; so why use them?
• Feed a cold starve a fever
Your child will not get rid of their fever faster by starving them. Nor will a cold improve by pumping your child full of calories. In fact, if you limit your child’s ability to eat or drink when they have a fever they can actually take longer to heal and get sicker, all while being at risk for dehydration. It is important with both the cold and the fevers to make sure your child is properly hydrated. Encourage your child to drink plenty of liquids. If you are having trouble getting your child to drink, try small frequent amounts of fluid and pain control with acetaminophen or ibuprofen (ibuprofen is only approved for children over 6 months). Your child can eat whatever they are up to eating, however most children with fevers and/or colds will have a somewhat decreased appetite.
• Flying/Swimming Causes Ear Infections
The classic ear infection that parents think of is called otitis media. That is medical jargon for inner ear infection. In this case, fluid builds up in the inner ear behind the ear drum and gets infected. Children are more likely to have ear infections because the Eustachian tube (the tube that drains fluid from behind the ear drum) is more horizontal where as in adults in is on a diagonal. Therefore, children’s ears cannot drain fluid as well so it is more likely to sit there and get infected. The most common reasons for fluid buildup are colds and allergies. Swimming can cause an infection known as swimmer’s ear. This is an infection of the ear canal (the outer ear) and is different from the ear infections discussed above. Similarly, flying does not cause ear infections. The Eustachian tube also help to equalize pressure in the middle ear as compared to the outside pressure. Pressure changes when flying and can cause ear discomfort in both children and adults. Children’s Eustachian tubes are smaller than adults and therefore, they may experience more discomfort or a popping sensation when flying. If your child does have an ear infection, flying can be more painful and you should discuss when it is safe to fly with your doctor. Getting on a plane in itself will not cause your child to get an ear infection.
• Getting the flu shot causes the flu
Many people worry that the flu shot actually causes the flu. There is no evidence to suggest this to be true. It is actually the opposite, the best way to avoid the flu is by getting the vaccine. The injectable vaccine contains a killed version of the virus so is not capable of causing the flu. The nasal flu spray contains a weakened version of the virus and also does not cause the flu. This means that the part of the virus that can actually make you sick is turned off in the vaccine version of the virus. When your child receives the flu vaccines, the weakened or killed version of the virus stimulates their body to make antibodies to the influenza virus. That way if your child gets exposed to the virus, the body can fight it off. The vaccine is not perfect so it is not impossible for children to get the flu after receiving the vaccine. The vaccine contains what is thought to be the 4 most common versions of the flu virus. Typically, if a vaccinated person gets the flu they will be less symptomatic then an unvaccinated person.
• EATING SUGAR MAKES CHILDREN HYPERACTIVE
There is no evidence that eating sugar causes children or adults to become more hyperactive. However, while this old wives’ tale may not be technically true, there are plenty of other reasons to limit sugar in your child’s diet. Eating large amounts of sugar or drinking sugary drinks can cause dental carries and obesity. Limiting your child’s sugar intake to special occasions and treats is much better. In fact, a recent study in Pediatrics, found that by avoiding sugary, sweet foods during the first year of life, children will eat more fruits and vegetables by age 6 years. Food preferences actually can start from infancy!
There are so many medical myth out there. These are some common ones and ways to help prevent harm in your child from myths. As always, if you are not sure about what is safe for your child, you should always consult your pediatrician. Stay tuned for another myth buster in the future!