Surprising Health Myths That Don’t Hold Up To Science

You might be surprised at the number of health myths many people continue to believe, despite a wealth of scientific evidence that disproves them. Here are five health myths that have been thoroughly debunked by science.

 1) Flu shots cause the flu

Some people avoid getting the flu shot every fall because they mistakenly believe that receiving the flu shot can cause them to contract influenza. Because the flu shot does not contain live viral particles, it’s incapable of infecting someone with the flu. Getting the flu from a flu shot is physiologically impossible.

The flu shot can activate your immune system, causing mild body aches and a low-grade temperature for a day or two.

Also, it’s possible to contract the flu despite receiving the vaccine, because there are more than 100 strains of influenza and the flu shot only protects against the four strains most likely to hit the U.S. during our cold and flu season.

 2) The color of your mucous matters

Multiple studies have confirmed that the color of mucus you cough up does not correlate with whether the cause of your cough is allergies, a virus, or a bacterial infection. Lots of patients believe that if they’re coughing up yellow or green mucus, they have a bacterial infection that requires treatment with antibiotics, but that’s simply not the case. The color of mucus is irrelevant and doesn’t help your provider diagnose and treat you correctly.

The symptoms that can indicate a serious lung infection like pneumonia include fever, low oxygen saturation, fast heart rate, fast breathing rate, and abnormal breath sounds on the lung exam.

3) Pediatric vaccines cause autism

In 1998 a dozen researchers published an article in the Lancet medical journal claiming they had evidence that children who received the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine were at a higher risk of autism.

However, the study only included 12 children and was poorly conducted. Ten of the 12 scientists later disavowed their article. The primary author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was investigated and found to have committed fraud and a breach of medical ethics. He was eventually stripped of his medical license and is barred from practicing medicine.

Though many subsequent larger, well-conducted studies since then have shown no evidence linking pediatric immunizations to an increased risk of autism, the Wakefield study did significant damage to people’s confidence in vaccines, and this health myth Wakefield purported continues to circulate to this day.

4) Antibiotics cure colds, sinus infections and bronchitis

Antibiotics only have an effect against bacteria. They have no effect on viruses. It’s important to appropriately use antibiotics because overuse can cause antibiotic resistance as well as serious side effects like allergic reactions and gastrointestinal issues.

Contrary to what many people believe, antibiotics are not indicated for patients with viral upper respiratory infections like the common cold.

Also, even though sinus infections are the 5th leading reason for antibiotic prescriptions, more than 90% of sinus infections are viral. Unless a patient has a prolonged infection, a fever, facial pain, or pus draining out of their nostrils, antibiotics are not indicated.

Similarly, most patients with bronchitis do not need antibiotics either, since 95% of cases of bronchitis are caused by viruses. Several studies have shown that antibiotics do not improve symptoms or shorten the duration of viral bronchitis.

5) Breaks are different from fractures

There’s a popular health myth that fractures are different from, and less severe than, broken bones. But these two terms mean exactly the same thing. Fracture is the medical word for a break.

Other descriptors like hairline, nondisplaced, displaced, comminuted and open are used to classify what type of fracture a patient has.


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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant