I’m a Pediatrician and Here Are the Top 5 Myths I Want to Debunk

Maskot/Getty Images

Parenthood is a wild ride full of uncertainties, joys, worries and surprises. And because people have been raising children since the dawn of time, there are many, many beliefs about best practices and child welfare out there. And it can be difficult to sift through all those opinions, superstitions and precautions to get to the evidence-based truth. With that in mind, here are five of my favorite pediatric wellness myths to debunk.

1. Swallowed Gum Stays in Your System for 7 Years

My grandmother resolutely believed in this one, but I am reporting in to let you know that it is false. Of course, I am not advocating for serving Hubba Bubba for dinner here, but if your child accidentally swallows bubblegum—do not panic! Gum base, the main component of chewing gum, is non-digestible, meaning it will pass through the system at about the same speed as food without causing harm. It will travel through the intestines and come out intact with a bowel movement; your child might not even notice it.

The only precautions I want to highlight regarding chewing gum are the choking risk associated with having a small object in one's mouth and the potential of tooth decay if consistently choosing sugary options. Remind children to spit out gum before engaging in physical activity and encourage opting for sugar-free brands—gum should not be viewed as candy.

2. Being Cold and/or Wet Can Make You Sick

This is a popular belief mostly because the viral infection known as the common cold is named as such. It was likely called “cold” initially due to the symptoms of chilliness experienced when the body is fighting off a virus. However, colds are caused by viruses and have nothing to do with the temperature outside. So, while it may not be comfortable to be underdressed or go outside with wet hair, these actions do not cause illness.

There has been some data that suggests that immune cells work less effectively in cold temperatures, but there is not enough definitive evidence to support a direct link between being cold and getting sick.

3. You Shouldn’t Drink Milk If You Have a Cold

Another cold-related myth claims that milk thickens mucus, making the symptoms of a cold, such as coughing and runny nose, worse. Several studies have examined this issue, particularly in the context of respiratory conditions like the common cold or asthma. These studies generally find no significant difference in mucus production or thickness after consuming milk or dairy products compared to consuming water or other beverages.

That said, a warm glass of milk mixed with honey can be a great way to soothe a kid’s sore throat, and it’s delicious, too! (Just remember that babies younger than 1 year’s old should not have honey.) Subjectively, if your child feels better drinking clear liquids during a cold, then let them. For a few days it’s OK to focus more on the hydration aspect and less on the nutrition/calcium/calorie aspect.

4. All Allergies Are Directly Inherited

Allergies are no joke and can be quite dangerous for some people, so it’s natural for parents to worry about passing their allergies on to their children. However, I’m here to remind you that specific allergies are not inherited—if you are allergic to peanuts, it does not automatically mean that your child will be. While allergic tendencies can be hereditary and thus passed down from one generation to the next, this does not guarantee the child having the exact same allergy as the parent.

The reason this information is important is because we don’t want to unnecessarily limit a child’s exposure to potentially useful medicines or nutritious foods. For example, penicillin can be a life-saving drug, and preventing a child from having it on the assumption of inherited allergy can cause a big problem.

5. Green Snot Means Bacterial Infection

Green or yellow snot can mean a bacterial infection, but not always. If your child’s nose runs green or yellow for over a week, and they have a fever, it could be a bacterial infection like sinusitis. But if they just have a cold or the flu, their snot might turn green or yellow as their body fights off the virus. Sometimes, things like pollution, smoke, dry air or allergies can make snot look green or yellow, too. Always consult a medical professional for diagnoses and treatment of illnesses.

Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S.

Ask a Pediatrician: My Kid Refuses to Put His Coat On. Will He Get Sick If He Doesn’t Layer Up?

purewow author


Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S. She received her undergraduate degree at...