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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices


30 common Myths about Children debunked!


The dictionary defines a "myth" as an unfounded popular belief that has developed over the years about something or someone. They are usually passed on from generation to generation and persist until replaced by knowledge or facts. With this in mind, here are some common pediatric myths that continue to linger on in the folklore of parenting.

1. Feed a cold, starve a fever

When your child is sick, they need calories to help their body fight the infection. So let them eat if they are hungry. Always encourage liquids, since both colds and fever can cause dehydration.

2. Cold or wet weather causes colds

Only indirectly. Colds are infections of the upper respiratory tract caused by viruses. They are not caused by getting wet or cold. They are caused by coming in contact with the infected nasal secretions of other people who have colds. Getting wet or cold does not weaken the immune system to the point that it would cause a child to catch a cold. Colds are more frequent during cold or wet weather, simply because children stay indoors, in closer contact with each other, at these times of year. This creates a breeding ground for viruses to spread from child to child.

3. Thick yellow-green discharge from the nose during a cold is a bacterial infection and needs antibiotics.

This is not necessarily true. It can be the normal end stage of a cold running its course. Nasal discharge from a cold generally starts out clear and watery and can become more cloudy and thicker and finally turn green or yellow at the end of the cold. In an era of antibiotic overuse, it is important not to over treat a green runny nose. Treatment should be considered for a green runny nose that does not clear after seven to 10 days or the cold symptoms do not go away by 10-14 days.

4. Children get ear infections because they do not keep their ears covered.

Ear infections are not caused by not wearing a hat or getting water in your ear. Ear infections occur in a small area behind the eardrum called the middle ear cavity. This space is connected to the back of the throat by a small tube called the eustachian tube. When a child is congested, either because of a cold or allergy, the eustachian tube doesn't work properly, and fluid builds up in the middle ear space. This fluid acts as excellent culture medium for bacteria, which then multiply causing a middle ear infection.

5. High fever causes brain damage.

Fever itself is not likely to cause brain damage. This myth got started because one cause of fever, meningitis (an infection of the brain and spinal cord lining), often results in brain damage.

6. Sugar causes hyperactivity.

It certainly would be nice if this were true. We could then treat hyperactivity with special sugar reduced diets instead of medication. Repeated research published in medical journals, however, tends to disprove this theory. These studies find no discernible difference in behavior between children eating sugar and those who are not. This myth probably started as a "self-fulfilling prophecy." Parents believe that sugar affects behavior, so when their child becomes overly active, they blame the sugar. Children ingest higher amounts of sugar during exciting events such as holidays and parties and therefor it is common for adults to blame a child's behavior changes on the increased sugar intake. More than 100 research studies done on this subject all point to little if any effect of sugar on children. There is also no difference between the effect of sugar on ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactive disorder) children and non-ADHD children with regard to behavior. Furthermore, Sugar does not cause ADHD,

7. Standing will bow a baby's legs.

This myth originated years ago when children suffered from rickets, a Vitamin Deficiency that caused softening of the bones and bowing of the legs. Today, rickets has all but disappeared and there is no danger that standing will bow your baby's legs. The legs of most babies are already bowed at birth from being wrapped tightly around their bodies inside their mother's womb. It takes years for them to straighten out but allowing a baby to "stand" on their legs does not cause the bowing

8. Children must eat their vegetables.

Vitamin deficiencies are extremely rare, and it's unlikely that children will harm themselves by not eating vegetables. It is important to serve well-rounded meals, but you don't have to fight daily battles about eating all your vegetables. In fact, perhaps if parents did not make an issue of eating vegetables, kids would be more inclined to try them. They might find that broccoli is not so bad!

9. Mothers who are breast-feeding should not eat garlic, onions or chocolate.

It used to be believed that eating highly flavored foods while breast feeding made an infant more fussy and caused gas and upset stomach. Simply not true. In fact, a study that monitored the eating habits of nursing mothers showed babies seemed to prefer milk when their mothers ate garlic and they even nursed for longer periods of time and actually gained more weight!

10. Iron-fortified formulas cause constipation

No studies have ever found a difference in the number of stools per day, type of stool, the number of days without stools, the frequency of colic, spitting up or vomiting between infants fed either un-supplemented or iron-supplemented formula. Babies need iron fortified formulas and constipation is not a reason for switching to an un-supplemented type.

11. Going outside with wet hair can cause a cold

See Myth #2, Actually, viruses, not water, drafts, or cold weather, causes colds.

12. Feeding infants cereal at night makes them sleep longer

Research has consistently shown that giving solids before bedtime will not change when an infant will start sleeping through the night. Most babies will not develop a dependable sleep cycle until somewhere between 3 and 6 months of age. When a child sleeps through the night is more dependent on how they are put to sleep, where they are put to sleep, and how parents respond when they do wake up at night. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, cereal and other solids should not be started until 4 to 6 months of age in order to reduce the risk of allergies

13. Teething often causes a fever

Medical "experts" since Hippocrates have blamed fever, diarrhea, and colds on teething. Recent research has not shown a relationship between teething and the onset of such symptoms. If teething does cause a fever, it is never more than 101 degrees F

14. Acne is caused from not washing your face.

Acne is not related to dirt on the skin or greasy foods. It is caused by inflammation under the skin, not dirt on the skin's surface. Keeping the face clean is always good, but scrubbing could make acne worse.

15. Okay, if acne is not caused by dirt, then it is caused by chocolate and other foods in the adolescent's diet.

This is one of the oldest myths. Extensive scientific studies have not found a single connection between diet and acne. In other words, chocolate, french fries, pizza and other fast foods do not cause acne. It does make sense to limit fatty foods to prevent obesity and cardiovascular disease, however. Studies have shown that foods with a high iodine content (such as shellfish) may aggravate existing acne, but does not cause it.

16. Vitamins will provide children who have poor appetites extra energy.

Vitamins cannot supply extra energy since they contain no calories. Unless your child has a specific vitamin deficiency, their energy level will not change if you give them vitamin supplements.

17. When children crack their knuckles, it will cause arthritis.

There is no evidence that cracking joints will impair joint development or lead to arthritis.

That annoying popping sound is caused by the breaking of the vacuum in the joint and bubbles of nitrogen gas form in the joint fluid. The cracking noise happens when those bubbles collapse.

18. Children's aspirin is best for treating children's fevers

Taking aspirin is not recommended any more for children unless recommended by the youngster's doctor. Aspirin has been linked to serious medical problems, such as Reye's Syndrome.

19. Going barefoot causes flat feet

Going barefoot is probably best for kids. It allows their feet to develop naturally. There is no evidence that children's feet develop any differently with or without shoes. The only real reason kids should wear shoes is to protect their feet from injury and cuts.

20. A baby's eye color at two months is their adult eye color.

It has always been thought that no changes in a baby's eye color occur after 2-3 months of age. A recent study, however, disputes this widely held belief. The research found that eye color did not become stable until age 6 in 90% of children. Of the remaining 10%, half continued to show changes, either lighter in shade or darker). Therefore, it looks like parents will have to wait a little longer in order to find out their child's final eye color!

21. Don't give milk when a baby has a cold. It will increase mucus production

Many parents believe that drinking milk when a child has a cold will increase mucus production in the respiratory tract. A number of recent studies have concluded that there is no association between milk intake and the amount of respiratory tract mucus produced during a cold. Children need milk for both its protein and calcium and to withdraw such an important food item during a cold makes no sense. While some children prefer other fluids when they are sick (fruit juices, for example) parents can give milk if the child wants it without worrying about making their child worse. (Milk allergies, on the other hand, may produce a stuffy or runny nose.)

22. Rubbing the skin with alcohol will help bring down a child's fever.

This widely held belief could make the child sicker. Alcohol evaporates so quickly that it can bring on chills, which signal the body to raise its temperature even higher. Furthermore, there have been cases of alcohol intoxication if too much is applied and it is absorbed into the skin of a child. Remember that fever is a symptom, not a disease. In fact, fever may be helpful in fighting infections. If the fever is making your child not feel well, parents can make them feel better by giving (on the advice of their doctor) acetaminophen (such as Tylenol or Tempra) or ibuprofen (such as Motrin or Advil).

23. Putting a baby to sleep on their back increases the chance that they will choke if they spit up at night.

Babies are now put to sleep on their backs instead of stomachs to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Many grandparents, who did just the opposite with their children, worry about their grandchildren spitting up and choking while sleeping on their backs. In all the research studies done on infant sleep position and SIDS (and there has been a ton of them), there have been no incidents of babies choking on "spit up" in their sleep since the "Back to Sleep" campaign was introduced in 1992, millions of babies have been put to sleep on their backs without choking in their sleep.

24. The brain is fully developed at birth.

The brain is the last organ to be fully developed in a human body. Most of the brain development happens in the first three years of life. 75% of the development is finalized by age seven.

25. The child should not be vaccinated if they have a fever, cold and cough.

There is no proof for that this widely held belief is true. Unfortunately, many parents still believe it and their child falls behind in their immunization schedule. In case of mild fever, cold, or cough a child can be safely vaccinated along with symptomatic treatment. Immunizations are only contraindicated when the illness causing the fever is severe. A mild illness (such as an ear infection) is not a reason to withhold a vaccine, even if the child has a fever.

26. Walkers will teach a baby to walk sooner.

This myth is not only false but dangerous. Many infants have been injured tipping over or falling down stairs. In addition, the infant can now reach things that are up higher than she could normally reach. Furthermore, walkers may actually delay walking since the muscles used in scooting around in a walker are different from the ones used in walking.

27. A baby is "constipated" if they do not have a bowel movement at least once per day.

No where is it written that a child has to have a bowel movement every day. As long as the bowel movement is soft, a baby can go every two or three days. Babies that are solely breast-fed sometimes have a bowel movement as infrequently as once a week! A baby is not constipated when they grunt, squirm, turn red, or cry while having a bowel movement. If the result of these gyrations is a soft stool, the baby is fine!

28. It is safe for young children to ride in the front seat of cars without air bags or the air bag turned off.

Compared to children seated in the front seat, the risk of a child dying while seated in the rear is 41 % less. If there were passenger seat airbags and children sat in the rear there were 46% less deaths, thus confirming previous studies. Rear seating was found to provide the best protection in front end collisions and rollovers. Even a child sitting in the front seat of a car without airbags but who is properly belted in is in more danger than a child sitting in the back seat with the same restraints.

29. Children must be made to eat what's good for them whether they want to or not.

Study after study has shown that very young children will eat what's good for them even when surrounded by unhealthy, rich foods, if they are left alone. It serves no purpose to force kids to eat things they dislike or to eat more than they want. Rather such practice cause food to become a tool used for resisting authority and sets kids up for eating disorders later on in life. Pressuring a child to eat has been implicated in causing anorexia, bulimia, or obesity later in life. While it is always appropriate to limit kids' consumption of junk foods, it is best to let the child's appetite be your guide. Children are the only humans that use food for the right reason: fuel. They eat more when they are growing and less when they are not in a growth phase. Don't make mealtime a battle ground.

30. White spots on fingernails mean a calcium deficiency

White spots on your child's fingernails are not a sign of calcium deficiency. The technical term for those marks is leukonychia. They are harmless and will grow out as the nail grows. They are usually caused by a bump or minor trauma to the nail. White spots can also be the sign of temporary illness. If a person is sick, the cells that make the nail may not be working properly.

 

As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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