Doctor's Orders

Medical MythBusters: Antibiotics, Coughs, and Cold Air

Joe Chow, MD


You may have believed these myths to be true for your entire life!  Now, our own Dr. Joe Chow takes on some common medical myths.


MYTH: The common cold requires antibiotics.

Truth: We can send a satellite to space and make self-driving cars, yet we can’t cure the common cold! What we do know is the cause of the common cold is viral, not bacterial, and therefore it does not need to be treated with antibiotics.  Viruses cannot be killed by antibiotics; only bacteria can.


MYTH: Coughing for longer than a week is not typical.

Truth: Ahem. This is false! Coughing for longer than a week when you are sick is typical. In fact, the average length of a cough from a viral illness is 20 days. Just be sure your doctor has excluded alternative causes for a lingering cough, such as bacterial infections, tuberculosis, cancer, etc.


MYTH: Cold air gives you colds.

Truth:  It’s actually viruses that give you colds, even though cold air often gets a bad rap for being a culprit.  However, there is growing evidence that cold air transmits virus particles easier and may lower your immunity. Also, people are more likely to stay indoors when it’s cold outside, providing even more opportunity to spread the viruses.