SciTech

HealthTalk: Medical Myths

Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor Credit: Maria Raffaele/Art Editor

“Dress warmly or you’ll catch a cold! Stop cracking your knuckles or you’ll get arthritis when you’re older!”

Since we were young, we have been subjected to a multitude of medical myths that many of us take as truth. After all, they sounded fairly reasonable. It seemed like winter always was the most common time for people to catch a cold. Cracking knuckles is accompanied by a loud popping sound that sounds like something breaking. While these warnings are merely myths, the truth behind the fallacies may be important to learn.

Catching a cold

The common cold, according to www.bbc.co.uk, is the most common infectious disease in humans. Over 200 different viruses can cause a person to show symptoms of the common cold. The most effective route of infection is through direct contact with an infected individual. This may happen by shaking hands, touching a doorknob, or using a phone that was touched previously by someone with the cold virus.

The cold virus is commonly caused by a rhinovirus, which enters a human through the respiratory system, where it can infect the body. Our respiratory system is lined with special cells called respiratory epithelial cells. Using cellular receptors, the virus detects and binds to these cells just 15 minutes after entering the respiratory tract. When the body reacts to the infection, it releases inflammatory molecules to the affected site. In addition, it produces extra mucus to remove foreign particles from the body, resulting in sneezing and coughing.

Colds may be more common during the winter not because of the temperature, but rather because people spend more time indoors. This makes it easier for the cold virus to spread, since people are in closer proximity for much of the time.
Because there are so many types of viruses that cause colds, there has been no vaccine developed. Luckily, symptoms do not usually persist for longer than 10 days.

Cracking knuckles

Many movable joints of our body are lubricated with synovial fluid, which is surrounded by a capsule between the bones of the joint, according to www.howstuffworks.com. Popping a knuckle in the finger is caused by pulling the bones in the joint apart. This, in turn, increases the volume of the capsule in which the synovial fluid is held. Chemistry dictates that an increase in volume causes a decrease in pressure of the synovial fluid; this causes gases that are dissolved in the fluid to form a bubble.

When the joint is pulled significantly far apart, the pressure decreases enough for the bubble to pop. This produces the characteristic noise heard when we crack our knuckles.

In contrast, arthritis is an inflammation and stiffness of the joints. It can be caused by the gradual wear and tear of joints, which reduces the amount of cartilage between joints. Decreasing cartilage causes joint bones to rub against each other. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means the body will mistakenly attack its own cells, specifically the cells that line the joints, according to www.mayoclinic.com.

While cracking knuckles may not directly cause arthritis, its effects on the body can be detrimental and exacerbate the damaging and weakening of joints over time.

However ridiculous some medical myths may be — “Don’t swallow gum; it will get stuck in your body forever!” — many are created to prevent us from doing something unreasonable, while providing a plausible rationale. It is a good idea to follow medical advice, but it is also wise to use good judgment.