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by Sue Castle

Related: Mother Knows Best by Sue Castle, common health misconseptions, old wives' tales about health,

True or False: Put Steak on a Black Eye, Avoid Taking Baths When Sick, and Feed a Cold, But Starve a Fever. Do you know what is an old wives' tale and what is the truth when it comes to health cures? Take our quiz, and test your knowledge.


little girl with cold drinking hot liquid

1. Put Butter on a Burn Right Away.

2. Chicken Soup is the Best Medicine for a Cold.

3. Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever.

4. Put Steak on a Black Eye.

5. Never Take a Bath When You’re Sick.

6. Milk is Good for an Ulcer.

7. If You Get Stung, Put Some Mud on the Spot.

8. Soothe an Earache with a Few Drops of Warm Oil.

9. You Have to Suck the Poison Out of a Snake Bite.




1. False. Rubbing butter, oil, or ointment immediately on a burn only helps to keep the heat in and increases the damage to tissue and blood vessels. The first thing you should do is to cool the area. Remember, even if the skin looks only a little red, burns are usually worse than they first appear because the heat is till penetrating below the surface of the skin.

2. Maybe. Colds and fevers tend to dehydrate the body, and cause chills; therefore hot liquids help. Even with the fat skimmed off (current recommendation) chicken soup delivers protein, carbohydrates, some vitamins and other helpful nutrients in an easily digested form. This makes it an excellent “first food” during illness. A study made at Mt. Sinai Medical Center found that hot chicken soup, either the smell or the taste, “appears to possess an additional substance for increasing the flow of nasal mucus,” this helps remove germs from your system and gets you on the way to recovery.

3. False. If you need one simple answer to this it should probably be “drown’em both.” Because both colds and fevers are helped by liquids. Fever can be caused by a variety of things. Whatever its cause, it is a condition that dehydrates the body, and therefore fluids should be usually ingested.

4. True. The best treatment for a bruise is an immediate application of anything cold, preferably something with a bit of flexibility that can conform to the contours of the face. Cold works in two ways: it keeps the swelling down, and it helps stop the internal bleeding (the source of that mottled coloring) by constricting the broken blood vessels.

5. False. Baths and even shampoos are perfectly fine, for children as well as adults. Not only does it make you feel better, but it also helps lower a fever. Just be sure to dry off in a warm room.

6. False. Until fairly recently, generations of people suffering the pain of gastric ulcers were advised, even by doctors, to regularly drink milk as part of the treatment. However, research has now shown that, instead of soothing an ulcer, milk actually aggravates the condition. An ulcer occurs in the stomach or duodenum when acid secretion wears away an area of the protective mucous lining. Milk, actually stimulates the production of gastric acid…which only increases the irritation and pain.

7. True. Since mud is likely to be cool it can help relieve the pain and swelling of a sting. Ice—or anything cold, like a soda can—is much more effective and less likely to cause infection than mud.

8. False. Warm oil is not the answer. Most doctors warn this treatment is at best useless and could be dangerous if the eardrum is perforated. Instead, doctors recommend using a painkiller like aspirin (or an aspirin substitute for children); elevating the head to help relieve pressure on the ear. Then get to the doctor, because middle ear infections respond best to antibiotics. Left untreated, they may cause burst eardrums and loss of hearing.

9. False. Save your saliva, here is just another old wives’ tale…perpetuated by, who else? Hollywood. Someone is always saving his best friend by making quick cuts around the bite and then sucking out the venom. Doctors point out that cutting just enlarges the wound, and applying your mouth to the area only increases the risk of bacterial infection. It’s actually the worst thing you can do. For any bite, the best advice is to get medical care as soon as possible.


—Sue Castle uncovers the truth on age-old advice in her book “Mother Knows Best?” Castle is a TV producer and mother who lives in NYC.




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