Getting the lowdown on medical myths, hype

Can your eyes pop out if you hold them open when you sneeze? Surely not, say doctors, who give the l
Can your eyes really pop out when you sneeze, like in this photo illustration? Not according to ophthalmologists.
Can your eyes really pop out when you sneeze, like in this photo illustration? Not according to ophthalmologists.

Angela Corning was 9 years old when she bit into her first piece of bubble gum.

“It was one of those big, soft, flavorful chunks of raspberry Hubba Bubba. I’ll never forget it. As I chewed it, I actually started to drool because I was grinning so much,” said the Albany resident, thinking back to her childhood. “It was delicious.”

But the sweet moment soon turned sour when that wad accidentally slid down her throat.

“I swallowed it, and by the way my friends reacted, I thought I was going to have to be airlifted to the nearest hospital to have it removed. Everyone told me it would stay inside my stomach for 7 years. I couldn’t bear the thought. I went home crying.”

It was almost a week before Corning worked up the nerve to tell her parents what had happened.

“That’s when I learned the truth. Gum goes through the digestive system just like anything else — and comes out just like everything else. What a relief,” she said.

Despite attempts by gastroenterologists as well as the National Confectioners Association to set the record straight again and again, Susan Fussell, an NCA spokeswoman, said the myth persists.

So do dozens of other health-related falsities.

Here, doctors from around the Capital Region and beyond give the lowdown on some of the most perplexing of medical misunderstandings.

Wide-Eyed Sneeze

It’s long been circulated that sneezing with one’s eyes open could force the eyeballs to dislodge from their sockets.

But, fear not. According to leaders in the field of ophthalmology, while the eyes do bulge out a bit during a sneeze, they are pretty firmly anchored in place mostly by the muscles that control eyeball movement.

And, even if you wanted to test the open-eye sneeze theory, it would be next to impossible, because the eyelids automatically snap shut as a reflex. The reflex serves no purpose, so far as anybody knows; it’s just the way humans are wired. The nerves serving the eyes and the nose are closely intertwined, and stimuli to the one often triggers some response in the other.

And while we’re on the topic of sneezing, it is also untrue that one’s heart stops mid-sneeze. On rare occasions, the heart may beat irregularly as a result of a sneeze changing the pressure in the chest and altering blood flow to the heart, but it never stops.

This came as welcome news to Theresa Lee of Clifton Park.

“I’ve always worried about this, especially since I get sneezing spells that last for minutes at a time,” she said.

Antibacterial soap

Many people believe using soap with antibacterial properties is key to getting illness-causing crud off their mitts. But according to Dr. Kate Grossman,’s medical director, that is all hype.

“Good hand washing technique is the best way to kill germs and prevent infections, but it does not require the use of antibacterial soap, which does not kill any more germs than ordinary soap. Washing your hands with regular soap and warm water will do the job as well as you need,” she said.

Because most common colds are viral in nature, Grossman added, there is no reason to try to take aim against bacteria.

Dr. Maurice A. Ramirez, attending emergency room physician with Florida Hospital’s Flagler Division, noted that the Center for Disease Control recommends scrubbing one’s hand for two minutes with soap and water.

“Studies have found that the key is the time, not the antibacterial additives. In reality, when properly used, all soap is antibacterial,” he said. Just as important as washing is adequately drying, because studies also show that wet hands transmit germs much more efficiently than dry ones.

Spreading germs

It’s presumed by the majority that colds and flus are most contagious prior to symptoms rearing their ugly head.

But this is not the case.

“The incubation period — the time from exposure to the virus to the onset of symptoms — for the common cold is approximately 24 to 72 hours. During this time, the concentration of virus particles in your body increases and it is possible to shed these particles and pass them on to others,” Grossman said.

However, it is still more likely you’ll pass these particles on to others when you are symptomatic, because the nasal and respiratory secretions produced when you have a cold are packed with virus and are spread around far and wide. Studies, in fact, show that one is most likely to transmit the cold to others between two and four days after initial exposure, which is approximately the first one or two days after symptoms have appeared, she said.


More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to boosting your immune system.

While adequate amounts of vitamins such as vitamin C are vital for good health, nutritionists and physicians agree there is no evidence that ingesting large amounts has any added benefit.

“If you are meeting the daily requirement of vitamin C, which is readily achievable through a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, there is no need to take supplemental vitamin C,” Grossman said.

The best way to boost your immune system, she said, is to eat healthfully and make moderate intensity exercise part of your daily routine.

Flu shots

The flu shot is supposed to protect against the flu, but millions of Americans believe just the opposite.

According to Ramirez, however, there is absolutely no merit to the claim that the shot can give someone the flu.

“Some people experience a day or two of mild flu-like symptoms as a result of the flu shot, but this is very different from actually getting the flu. The flu shot is made from killed virus, which cannot produce symptoms,” Ramirez explained. “Those people who get a true flu-like illness after their flu shot most likely were exposed to the flu prior to their vaccination, and the vaccination probably ensures that is a less serious version. There are years when the vaccine is not as effective against the circulating flu strain as is hoped, and it is still possible to get the flu even when vaccinated. The fact remains, the shot itself will not give you the flu.”


Therese Bevers, associate professor of clinical cancer prevention at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, said while all the causes of breast cancer are not understood, there is no conclusive research linking the use of antiperspirants or deodorants to the development of breast cancer.

Some scientists have proposed that certain ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants may be related to breast cancer because they are applied frequently to an area near the breast, but The American Cancer Society is working to allay any fears.

“A number of thorough studies on breast cancer have been published in respected medical journals in the past few years and none suggest antiperspirants are among the known risk factors for the disease,” stated a release issued by the ACS on the topic.


What to do about cottage cheese thighs?

Word on the street is loofah sponges and other devices will break it up if you put in the time, effort — and in most cases — money.

But numerous dermatologists say trying to rub and scrub away the ripples and dimples will not do one iota of good.

“The body doesn’t work that way,” said a representative of the American Academy of Dermatology. “That’s fatty tissue. If you do some cardiovascular exercise and some strengthening routines and watch your diet, that might help a little, but it won’t get rid of [cellulite].

Ditto for massage. “It’s relaxing, but you can’t vibrate the fat away.”


Does cracking one’s knuckles enlarge them or make them prone to arthritis?

Richard Uhl, professor of orthopedic surgery at Albany Medical College, said there are no studies that make a correlation between increased risk of arthritis and knuckle-cracking, and the habit won’t make your knuckles any bigger, but he guarantees you’ll get on the nerves of those around you.

Still, before you crack, Uhl said you may want to think twice.

“The process of doing this does loosen up the ligaments a little and can result in decreased grip strength,” he said.

Warts and moles

Think having a wart or mole removed could cause it to turn cancerous?

You’re not alone. But you are quite mistaken, Grossman said.

“Having a wart or mole removed by a professional does not impart any increased risk of it becoming cancerous. In fact, it is vitally important to have any suspicious moles removed and examined to determine whether they already contain cancerous cells. It is important that you do not pick at warts or moles yourself. This can lead to increased inflammation and scar tissue, that in and of itself, is unlikely to cause cancer. The problem is that it may make it more difficult to diagnose cancer. Always have concerning skin lesions examined by a professional,” Grossman said.

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