When it comes to summer, urban health myths abound. We know better than to believe everything we hear, yet sometimes advice learned in childhood has a way of sticking around inside our heads as half-truths. As a fan of traditional home remedies, I generally find myself defending the truth behind what some people call old wives tales. However, summer is the time to set the record straight on the following health myths.
Brain freeze is harmful. If you love downing ice cream, shave ice, or slushy frozen drinks on a hot summer day, you have probably experienced what some call brain freeze or ice cream headache. Seconds after gulping something chilly, sufferers may experience a sharp pain in the face or head. The discomfort usually peaks after a minute and fades within a few minutes, yet it can be agonizing. When something cold suddenly hits the roof of the mouth, it makes certain nearby blood vessels constrict. When those blood vessels relax and open up again, it causes a sudden rush of blood that creates the temporary pain. The good news is that it has nothing to do with the brain, and is not dangerous. Although the pain disappears within a minute or two, a sip of room-temperature water or resting the tongue at the back of the palate may be soothing. To prevent an episode, let the cold treat melt a bit in your mouth before swallowing.
Swallowed watermelon seeds will sprout inside. No matter how much of a green thumb you have, you can't make watermelon seeds grow into plants inside your stomach or intestines. Even though some watermelon seeds are small and sharp, a couple of swallowed seeds are not likely to damage the bowels. Some have suggested that watermelon seeds, like other hard to digest material, could clog the appendix, causing appendicitis. While theoretically possible, it is very unlikely. Most people with appendicitis do not have identifiable plant material as the cause. Recent research suggests that small seeds and nuts are not a problem for people with diverticulitis in fact, a high-fiber diet that may contain nuts and seeds may help such patients. Still, it is better to chew nuts and seeds to release the nutrients. So enjoy this refreshing summer fruit, and your body will enjoy its vitamin A and C, lycopene, potassium, and fiber.
It's fine to drink water from any garden hose. When you are out in the yard on a hot summer day watering the garden, it's tempting to take a quick drink from the hose yourself. The water itself flowing from a hose poses no more of a health risk than other sources of water around the house. However, if the mouth of your hose has been in contact with the lawn or garden, it could be contaminated with animal feces, including germs unseen by the naked eye. Some garden hoses are made with materials that contain lead, which is used to stabilize the PVC in the hose. You can buy hoses that are labeled as drink-safe; even so, let the water run for a few minutes to clear out the standing water before taking a drink. Out of courtesy for the next drinker keep your lips off the hose!
Urinating on a jellyfish sting will soothe the pain. Late summer is peak jellyfish season, as warm waters draw the mysterious creatures to beaches. If you find yourself stung, get to dry land for safety; if a jelly tentacle is wrapped around your arm or ankle, use a stick or long object to remove it. Do not rub the area, as it could activate more stingers. Avoid pouring fresh water on the skin, as it could cause the stingers on the skin surface to fire more. Acids can deactivate the stingers, so dousing with vinegar or dabbing the skin with a cloth soaked in it makes for good first aid. While some Australian beaches have vinegar stands for this purpose, most of us do not carry vinegar in our beach bag. Since urine has some acids in it, some have tried this approach, however, it's never been proven to help. If you don't have vinegar, try lemon or lime juice, or plain rubbing alcohol, as they are reasonable choices. Once the stingers are inactivated, they can be scraped off the skin with a flat-edged object like a shell. Soothe the area with ice. A rash is possible afterward; soothe it with baking soda paste or hydrocortisone cream. Some people experience an allergic reaction to stings, with nausea, lightheadedness, or dizziness, requiring emergency attention.
Wishing you a happy and safe summer,