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Winter Weather, Your Health: Are They Connected?

Winter weather brings lots of misery. But do cold temperatures actually cause us to get sick with colds?

On "The Early Show" Wednesday, CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton separated fact from fiction about winter weather and illness.

Video Series: Dr. Ashton's Health and Wellness

Claim: Cold weather brings on colds.
Ashton: FICTION. Colds brought on from being indoors is one of the most common misconceptions. Many people think because most colds occur between November and April it's because of the cold or getting chilled. But it's really because people spend more time indoors in close proximity to each other, making it easier for viruses, the cause of common colds, to spread. Kids in daycare and classrooms are close to one another and are real spreaders of viruses and can get 3 to 8 colds a year.

Solution: Wipe down remote controls, phones, computers etc. often. Another reason colds may be more common in winter is that cold viruses like dry winter conditions, not like the humidity of the summer. Also: You might try getting a humidifier to counteract those stuffy noses and dry scratchy throats. But, be sure to change the water daily to keep mold and bacteria away.

Claim: Echinacea can stop a cold.
Ashton: FICTION Echinacea may slightly reduce duration. Echinacea is one of the most widely used herbal supplements. It's been thought to help symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, but the evidence has been shaky. A new study out this week found that echinacea is no better than taking dummy pills. According to a study out his week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, more than 700 people were randomly assigned to take echinacea or a placebo. For those who got the echinacea, symptoms subsided slightly, seven to 10 hours sooner. On the other hand, echinacea is considered safe, so if you'd like to give it a shot, begin taking it at the beginning of your symptoms.

Claim: Exercise wards off colds.
Ashton: FACT. Exercise revs up immune system. A good way to keep colds away may not be in a pill, but in sweating. Researchers have shown that exercise, even a brisk walk five times a week, can reduce colds up to 46 percent, and if you do get a cold, the severity of the symptoms dropped by up to 41 percent for the fittest. One explanation is that exercise activates the immune system at a higher rate than normal and causes immune cells to circulate around the body and attack the viruses.

Solution: Another reason to exercise especially in these cold winter months!

Claim: Antibiotics can treat a cold.
Ashton: FICTION. Antibiotics not effective against viruses. No matter how much we would like them to work, antibiotics do not fight colds. Antibiotics are only able to fight bacteria, not viruses, which cause the common cold. Many of us go to the doctor and ask for an antibiotic to treat our cold symptoms, but there is a danger to taking antibiotics when they are not needed. Each time you or your children take an antibiotic, it can create a resistance, making them less effective when you really need them.

Solution: A cold typically gets better on its own, so it's better to wait it out with fluids and rest.

Claim: Chicken soup reduces cold symptoms.
Ashton: FACT. Hot fluids relieve congestion and inflammation. It's not just what our grandmothers have been telling us, hot soup and drinks may help you when you're fighting a cold. Researchers in England tested hot versus room temperature drinks and found that the warmth in the cup had soothing effects. Hot fluids keep the nasal passages moist, thin out the mucus and prevent dehydration. One research study out of University of Nebraska found that chicken soup with veggies may contain substances that have an anti-inflammatory mechanism to ease congestion, stuffy nose and sore throats.

Solution: Have plenty of old-fashioned chicken soup!

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