19 April 2018

Stop believing these 7 health myths

Does the colour of your snot mean you need antibiotics? And is pooping daily a sign of a healthy digestive system? We bust seven common health myths.

It's often difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially when it comes to our health. Here are seven health myths you need to stop believing.

1. The myth: Green snot means you have a bacterial infection.

The truth: We produce about a litre of mucus a day so when you notice a sudden strange shade of green, it’s okay to panic for a second and assume you need antibiotics. However, the colour doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bacterial infection.

Dr Robert H. Shmerling, faculty editor at Harvard Health Publications, writes, “When the white blood cells in the mucosa encounter an irritant or infectious organism, they respond by producing enzymes to repel the invaders.”

He explains that these enzymes contain iron, which is what causes the green colour. “And if the mucus sits around (as when you’re sleeping), it becomes more concentrated and so may appear darker yellow or green. This is the natural order of things, whether the offending agent is a virus (the most common cause of sinus infection) or a bacterium.”

Girl blowing nose on tissue

2. The myth: You can get sick from a toilet seat.

The truth: Ladies, do you squat or sit on public loos? Well, it doesn’t really matter – toilet seats are pretty clean compared to door handles and bathroom floors when it comes to E. coli, norovirus and the flu virus.

Studies have shown that toilet seats may harbour dangerous strains of antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus, norovirus, E. coli  and could, in theory, also transmit Ebola. However, the microbes are excreted in faeces or vomit – and you’re more likely to choose another stall if you see any evidence of that.

Your skin also offers some protection against germs as long as you don’t have any cuts or scrapes. More good news is that you’re unlikely to pick up an STI from a toilet seat – most disease-carrying ogansims don’t survive for long outside the body.

The flu virus can live for up to 48 hours on certain surfaces, so make sure you practise good hand hygiene and cover your hand with a paper towel before opening doors.  

Public toilet

3. The myth: People who have Tourette's syndrome all yell swear words.

The truth: Tourette's syndrome is a chronic neurological disorder named after the doctor who first described it, and common tics include involuntary throat clearing, blinking, jerking of the head, grimacing or repeating words, making meaningless noises, snorting or laughing. These tics, often occurring in bouts and on an almost daily basis, are hard to suppress.

Only about 10% of Tourette's sufferers shout out obscene or embarrassing comments. This is called coprolalia.

Woman with imaginary loud speaker

4. The myth: If you touch a toad, you'll get warts.

The truth: You cannot pick up warts from frogs or toads – but touching someone who has warts is another matter.

Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus, which is unique to people. So while you can catch HPV from another person, you definitely won’t pick it up from a frog or toad.

Frog on hands

5. The myth: Sitting too close to the TV will ruin my eyesight.

The truth: Televisions have been around for many decades, and over the years technology has improved.

This claim did perhaps contain some truth before the 1950s when TVs emitted some radiation. Dr Norman Saffra, the chairman of ophthalmology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, told the New York Times that repeated and extended exposure to this radiation could have increased the risk of eye problems. 

However, today’s TVs are built with proper shielding, so we no longer need to worry about the radiation. "It's not an old wives' tale; it's an old technology tale," Dr Saffra said. "Based on the world our grandmothers lived and grew up in, it was an appropriate recommendation."

Someone watching tv with remote

6. The myth: You should poop at least once a day.

The truth: This one depends entirely on the person. Dr Danie Pauw previously told Health24 that it’s considered normal if you go one to three times per day, or only a few times a week. “But it should not be less than three times per week!”

He says not to worry too much about your frequency unless it changes after the age of 50.

“Certain foods can change one's frequency, but each person is different. In general, caffeine stimulates the bowels. Those who are lactose intolerant will experience looser stools after ingestion,” says Dr Pauw. “It’s important to be aware of which foods affect your bowels. And if you ignore your body's signals [to go], they will become weaker over time.”

Toilet paper

7. The myth: Your blood turns blue when it runs out of oxygen.

The truth: Blood gets its colour from the red blood cells that carry oxygen. However, even if it isn’t carrying oxygen it won’t turn blue – it will turn a darker shade of red instead.

If you still think it’s a bluish hue you’re seeing, remember that you’re viewing your veins through several layers of skin and tissue, which may distort the colour. 

Close up of blood on finger

Image credit: iStock