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The Truth Behind Common Sick Myths

Whether you've heard them from your neighbors, friends or even your own parents, there are myths surrounding kids' health issues that have been around for years. While these myths might be common fodder, continued belief in them when it comes to your child's health can be a cause of needless worry, or even downright dangerous. We spoke with pediatricians and experts to get the real facts behind these common issues, so you can be as safe and prepared as possible when it comes to your little patient.

MYTH: Fever Is a Sign That Something Is Terribly Wrong

While a fever is a sign that a child is sick and fighting an infection, it does not rank high on a doctor's list. "Breathing pattern, hydration, hours awake and crankiness all outrank fever in importance among things we want to know about a sick child," says Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky, a pediatrician based in Brooklyn. Fever can be one component of illness, but it doesn't tell everything. That being said, always take your child to the doctor if you feel something is wrong, if your child has a fever spike, or his fever has not gone down after a couple of hours.

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Kids in Daycare Get Sick More Often

This one might actually be true, but there's a catch: "While it may seem that kids in daycare get sick more often, it's actually a good boost to their immune system," says Dr. Greissman. Exposure to common viruses help kids develop natural antibodies, thereby boosting their immune system. They're going to be exposed to viruses sooner or later so whether it happens in day care, kindergarten or later in life, it doesn't really matter.

MYTH:Vaccines Cause Autism

Belilovsky believes vaccinations are the only way to keep your child safe from serious diseases such as measles, diphtheria, pertussis, rubella and mumps. "Not only is there no evidence for [vaccinations causing autism], but my own experience points in the absolute opposite direction: With the latest figures suggesting 1 in 85 rate of autism in the general population, I have seen, among fewer than 50 unvaccinated children in my practice, 3 definite cases of autism."

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MYTH:Asthma Can Come and Go

"Asthma acts like a hostile submarine that surfaces to fire torpedoes but does not leave the area between attacks," says Belilovsky. Those children with asthma (to a certain severity) need to be on appropriate medication to prevent attacks, and parents need to understand the tools to predict attacks. Both of these require an ongoing discussion with your physician.

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MYTH: Chubby Babies Are Healthier

Those little rolls on your baby can be totally cute, but they can also be hazardous to your little one's health. Obesity can be a real problem for babies, potentially causing developmental delays and high cholesterol and blood pressure into adulthood. "The extreme rise in childhood obesity can be linked to genetic reasons, as well as being overfed in infancy and childhood," says Dr. Allan Greissman of Pediatric Critical Care of South Florida. Make sure to have weekly check-ins with your doctor to make sure your baby is a healthy weight, and don't get sucked into the parenting trap of using food as comfort. "Giving a bottle to a baby every time they cry may stop the crying, but will lead to an overweight baby, which can have long-term consequences," explains Greissman. Need to soothe your little one? Swaddling, cuddling or a pacifier should be used before resorting to more formula or food.

MYTH:Being in the Cold Can Cause Illness

Cold can cause an illness, but there's more to it: "Cold air and respiratory disease are connected, but the connection is more complicated than just 'cold causes colds,'" says Belilovsky. While simply stepping outside in cold weather without a jacket doesn't cause a cold, hypothermia (the lowering of the body's core temperature) suppresses immunity, which can lead to colds. Most cold symptoms are produced by the body's immune system physically responding to the rhinovirus.

MYTH:A Runny Nose with Clear Mucus Means Your Child is Healthy; Green and Yellow Means They're Sick and Have a Sinus Infection

Pretty gross, right? While you may have heard this one a few times, that doesn't make it true. A sinus infection is commonly defined as having a green or yellow runny nose that lasts for more than a week, without any improvement. It could be that your child has a cold, allergies or some other irritant—and, nope, color isn't a strong determinant of illness, according to Belilovsky.

MYTH:All Children With a Fever Require Antibiotics

Pediatricians know that the vast majority of febrile illnesses (illnesses that suddenly occur with a fever) in children are caused by viruses—and antibiotics have no effect on viruses, says Dr. Greissman. "The overuse of antibiotics has caused significant bacterial resistance to common antibiotics, creating stronger bacteria that are harder to treat," he says. Even worse? Antibiotics also can cause stomachaches and diarrhea, so they should only be used when a physician recognizes bacterial illness and prescribes antibiotics.

MYTH:All Children With Wheezing Should Get a Round of Antibiotics

"Bacterial infections are a rare cause of wheezing," says Dr. Greissman. Fever is typically due to viruses that trigger wheezing, or it's due to congestion. Neither of these is reason enough for antibiotics.


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