Ask a Doc: Child Health; Top Ten Myths and Fairy Tales

March 02, 2016

“Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction after all, has to make sense.” - Mark Twain

This month’s pediatric article is meant to be a little less serious than some of the previous topics. I thought it might be fun to voice my opinion on some misconceptions about childhood health issues. It is surprising how persistent these health myths are among those well-meaning folks caring for children. I have selected ten common pediatric medical beliefs that I assert are not true yet, still circulate and get taught as if they were “Gospel truth.” Some are downright dangerous.

Myth #1: If the child has a fever they should get fever reducing medicine.

Not necessarily, it appears that a low grade fever may be beneficial to the child in fighting a common viral illness by slowing viral replication. Therefore, we do not routinely recommend antipyretic medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for temperatures that are low-grade. Of course, there are exceptions; if the child’s fever is 102 degrees or more or if your child has had a prior history of febrile convulsions then an pyretic is appropriate, but check the dose for the child’s weight, too often parents will under dose the medication.

Myth #2: The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine such as Gardisil will enable or encourage teenage sexual activity.

The HPV vaccine is one of the shots we now recommended for guys and girls as part of their 11-year-old series. The vaccine does not promote, nor condone promiscuity nor imply that they will become sexually active. It is an incredibly effective cancer prevention vaccine and already has reduced the burden of human papilloma virus infections in young women. Since the vaccine was introduced, the observed rate of HPV infection has dropped 64% among women between 14 and 19 years of age. That’s remarkable considering how few actually get the full series. Imagine, a safe vaccine to prevent cancer, I think that’s the take home message, it’s not about sex.

Myth #3: The flu vaccine always makes me ill.

Influenza vaccine does not cause influenza-like illness. Often we observe patients will get a cold or flulike illness during the same time period that they have received a flu vaccine and attribute their illness to the vaccine. It’s not the vaccine; rather, it is more likely that the patient had an exposure to an aerosolized cold virus.

Myth #4: Food additives and sugar cause hyperactive attention deficit disorder (ADHD).

There've been numerous rigorous control studies of children looking for any evidence that food additives cause hyperactivity. None of these studies have demonstrated a solid evidence based link between food additives and hyperactivity. High sugar intake does tend to cause some children to become more active, but this effect is often short lived and often followed by a grumpy mood.

Myth #5: Infant exposure to peanuts will lead to severe peanut allergy.

Peanuts are not recommended for infants because of the choking hazard. But peanut protein introduced early in life may actually prevent peanut allergy. A recent study has actually indicated that early exposure to peanuts and peanut butter in infants less than 11 months of age as a preventative step to avoid peanut allergy. This can be a good discussion to have with your pediatrician about carefully introducing peanuts early in your child's life.

Myth #6: Teething causes fever.

Teething does not cause temperature elevations that reach febrile heights. Teething does not cause infant illness. Teething causes fussiness and crankiness and perhaps some loss of sleep, but teething does not cause fever.

Myth #7: Drinking milk will make a runny nose worse and mucus thicker.

There is no evidence that drinking milk will make mucus thicker. A clinical study was actually done in cold suffering patients with the observation of daily respiratory symptoms in two groups, those given milk and those diary- free and observed the quantity and quality of mucus. These researchers found no significant association between milk products and the cold symptoms.

Myth #8: Vaccines cause developmental disorders children.

This misconception just will not go away despite many exhaustive studies in the United States and Europe which shows no relationship between vaccines and autism or other developmental delays. Because of this vaccine conspiracy theory states like California have experienced significant outbreaks of whooping cough. Suffice it to say, vaccines do not cause developmental delays and not getting vaccines puts children at significant risk.

Myth #9: Feed a cold and starve a fever.

This was a favorite of my mother. Actually, there is no evidence that starving of fever will help in any way. The most important thing in any illness, whether it is a common cold or fever, is to stay hydrated. If the illness is also associated with diarrhea then the liquid of choice should be an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte. Children often will not eat when they are ill so it is not helpful to push food on them. They will catch up when they become well.

Myth #10: Getting wet and cold will cause you to get the flu.

This myth may be as old as George Washington and it has been reported that his fatal and final illness began after a day riding in a cold downpour. The common viral illnesses do occur more frequently in colder wetter seasons and that is really the only association between being cold and wet and catching a viral illness.

JordanMichaelMichael Jordan, MD, MS-HQSM, CPE, FAAP, Chief of Pediatrics at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital is board-certified in Pediatric Medicine. He attended the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University and completed his residency training at the University of Rochester. In addition to his leadership role as chief of Pediatrics at Newark-Wayne, he is the medical director of Rochester Regional Medical Group and is also chair of Rochester General Medical Group’s Quality Committee. He works in the Sodus Rochester General Medical Group Pediatric office. To send questions on children’s health, please email Wendy Fisher, Pediatric Practice Manager at and write “Ask a Doc” in the subject line. To schedule an appointment, call (315) 483-3214.