Here's a compendium of my favorite myths relating to child health:
- Teething causes:
- Fever. Does not. Period. Infection causes fever.
- Diarrhea. Ditto. Diarrhea is almost always infectious in origin.
- Runny nose. Colds and allergies cause runny noses.
- Pain. Yes, pain. Have you never wondered why teeny little baby teeth are supposed to cause such pain when erupting - and yet your six year old never says a thing about his permanent teeth erupting? I think it is another myth, legions of grandmothers and racks of teething gels notwithstanding!
- High fever damages the brain. Nope. The human brain can easily cope with any fever up to 107 degrees F. Fevers about 106 degrees F are never recorded with illness. 108 degrees causes irreversible damage - that is heat stroke. You can't get that without being locked in a hot place (car on a summer day) without access to fluids.
- Wind in the ear causes ear infection (otitis media). Piffle. Ditto for "going without a hat causes ear infections."
- Blowing cigaret smoke in the ear helps earache pain. No, smoking cigarets around your kids CAUSES earaches.
- Bathwater in the ear causes ear infection. Nope. It causes clean ears. Excessive water in the ear of an older child or adult can cause swimmers ear, but water cannot readily enter an infants ear in the bathtub because the little hairs and surface tension keep the air bubble trapped in the auditory canal and the canal stays dry.
- Babies can't go out in the outside air. Outside air is essentially sterile - from the intense ultraviolet rays of the sun - and perfectly safe for any person, young or old. "Fresh air is good for you," or at least safe.
- Megavitamins ward off colds/cancer/heart disease, etc. No proof of this at all. For all the talk and research, nothing really convincing has come out so far. There is certainly nothing wrong with ordinary vitamin or mineral supplementation for children, especially with iron.
- The soft spot can "fall." A sunken fontanelle in a healthy child is of no concern.
In South Texas, where I once practiced, the belief was held by some that not only could the baby's soft spot fall, but the cure for this malady was to promptly hold the baby upside down and massage the hard palate with the practicioner's finger. Of course, this always "works" in the healthy child... one of the few 100% cure rates in medicine.
- Fever makes milk curdle or "clabber" in the stomach and thus should not be given to a child with fever. Milk normally curdles in the strong acid of the stomach soon after it is ingested. People associate this curdling with fever only because kids with fever often vomit and milk - a fatty food - often seems to trigger vomiting.
- Sugar makes children hyper. Actually, sugar loading makes a person sleepy. Sucrose solution on a pacifier actually has a sedating effect on newborns. Ditto for food dyes or additives making children hyper. No good controlled studies have confirmed this.
- Tickling the feet of babies causes them to stutter later in life. That was a reader submission I had never before heard.
- We are passing the infection back and forth! No, your family is just sick a lot. Unless we are talking about bacterial infections, which generally speaking don't induce lasting immunity, once a person has a particular viral infection, that is it for that virus for a while. The same virus does not ping-pong back and forth among the family members, reinfecting them.
- Allowing a baby to bear weight on his legs will make him bowlegged. Actually, since bones ""remodel" themselves by load bearing, standing helps straighten them. That is why the legs really don't begin to straighten in earnest until the baby learns to walk.
- Cloth diapers prevent or cure diaper rash. As much as it will discomfit the American Cloth Diaper Association (or whatever promotional organization there is) research shows that the only thing worse than cloth diapers for causing diaper rash is cloth diapers with plastic pants, which is how cloth diapers are used anyway.
And I don't care what your Aunt Sally tells you 8-)
New myths are always welcome - I've just scratched the surface of a fertile field. Mail your myths to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.