young woman with skeptical expression

Fact or Fiction: The Truth Behind 7 Old Wives' Tales

By Jaclyn Bollettieri, MD, Primary Care Physician, Virtua Primary Care - Lindenwold 

It's Saturday morning, circa the 80s or 90s. It’s been a long week of vocabulary words, long division, and learning how the Liberty Bell got its crack. You just filled a bowl of Lucky Charms, and oh yes, they are magically delicious.

With no plans in sight, you park your tush in front of the TV for a marathon of the best cartoons the universe has to offer. And as you're about to take that first delicious bite of sugary marshmallow milk, your mom walks in and says, "You'll go blind sitting that close to the television."

UGHHHHHH, mom, could you not??

There's no rhyme or reason why these universally accepted principles made their way into our cosmos. But the question remains: are they actually true?

Will I go blind from sitting too close to the TV? Will I get sick if I go outside with wet hair? Do I really need to wait 30 minutes after eating to go swimming?

It's time to set the record straight, once and for all by shedding some light on popular old wives' tales about health superstitions and being sick.

  1. You'll get sick if you go outside in cold weather with wet hair.

    To be fair, we tend to get sick in the colder months, but it has nothing to do with the actual temperature or your hair. Viruses thrive in cold weather. And since we spend more time indoors with people during the winter, we're more likely to spread infection.

  2. Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.

    Crack away, friends, if that's your thing. You won't get arthritis from cracking your knuckles. At worst, you might experience temporary swelling or a feeling of weakness in your hands.

  3. Wait 30 minutes to swim after eating.

    There's some truth to this. You might have a little stomach pain when swimming on a full tummy, and will want to avoid a long distance swim. But it is unlikely to be dangerous – just a bit uncomfortable.

  4. Eating watermelon seeds will cause a watermelon to grow inside you.

    Nope, so much nope. Watermelon seeds are generally harmless and will likely travel through your body undigested.

  5. Swallowed gum stays in your system for 7 years.

    It's true that your body can't break down gum during the digestion process – but it will likely pass through your system a few days after you swallow it.

  6. A little "hair of the dog" cures a hangover.

    Look, there are few things we cherish more than a mimosa or Bloody Mary during brunch – but it will do nothing for your hangover. Take a nap, hydrate, and maybe order an egg and cheese sandwich (it won't help, but it won't hurt either).

  7. Sitting too close to the TV will make you go blind.

    Sorry mom, but there's no truth behind this tale. Sitting close to the TV will not damage your eyesight. If anything, it might cause temporary eyestrain, a common condition that happens when your eyes get tired from overuse.

Well, there you have it, friends. To be clear, we're not saying to live recklessly – swallowing an endless supply of watermelon seeds 5 inches away from your flatscreen. But perhaps use this as a chance to one-up your friends with your newfound health knowledge.

Updated April 18, 2022

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