When I was a little squirt, my mom forced me to wear a hat in cold weather. But according to the experts at University Health Services, my mommy was wrong: keeping one’s extremities covered in cold weather fails to prevent the common cold.

Exposure to chilly air and catching a strand of the common cold virus are unconnected. The common cold is more prevalent in the winter months because people tend to congregate indoors, mostly in enclosed rooms with little or no ventilation, making them more susceptible to the cold virus. The drier air in this type of environment is a breeding ground for germs associated with the common cold.

“These viruses, including influenza, are very infectious and are transmitted from one person to the next by touching something that has had the respiratory virus on it and then touching your eye or nose or mouth. Some believe that the lower humidity during the winter allows these viruses to persist longer in the environment,” said Robert Bradsher, M.D., director of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences division of infectious diseases on the UAMS Medical Myths website. “Washing your hands or using an alcohol-based hand washing solution is a good way to avoid getting a cold.”

As a nation, we have collectively experienced a projected one billion colds according to PBS News Hour. But despite medical advances, we still haven’t pinpointed the exact cause of the more than 220 different cold viruses. While many depend on their doctor or over-the-counter medicines to alleviate symptoms, more than half of common cold viruses are mysteries to the medical field and are therefore untreatable.

Nonprescription drug companies have made billions on products that claim to suppress or treat the symptoms. Hundreds, if not thousands of medicines, claim to comfort a stuffy nose, itchy throat, dry mouth, aches and pains. Annually, Americans spend over $3 billion to relieve cold symptoms, despite little evidence as to the effectiveness of these products.

Making numerous trips to Walgreens to buy sugar-based cough syrups and other medicines to alleviate symptoms will not lessen the length or severity of the common cold. University Health Services asserts that because a cold is a mystery virus, such remedies are ineffective, are often waste of money and in some cases, are harmful to one’s health. Many multi-symptom cold remedies contain antihistamines that cause drowsiness and have an undesirable effect on the mucus. Others contain unneeded medication or individual ingredient doses that may be too low to be effective.

Craig Roberts, the Clinical Services manager at University Health Services, recommends self-care remedies including additional sleep and avoiding exercise. He advises that cold suffers drink at least one 8 ounce cup of water every two hours, refrain from smoking and drinking and eat well-balanced meals.

As a busy, sleep-deprived college student, I often forget that health should take priority over school. University Health Services recommends “self help” remedies, many of which are unrealistic — we have no extra time to sleep, we need to exercise to maintain our physique and we have trouble passing up alcohol.

But when we are sick, we must take care of ourselves — if we don’t we will only become more ill, develop more complicated health problems and potentially suffer academically.

So next time you catch a cold, forget about your stress level, drop your books and just sleep for an abnormally long period; in a few days, you will feel better.

Rachel Alkon ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in English/creative writing.