I’ve had trust issues ever since I found out that swallowed chewing gum doesn’t actually sit in your gut for seven to eight years. But have you ever dismissed something as an old wives’ tale, only to discover it was actually true — that science, maths, and reason were actually on the old wives’ side (go feminism)? Here are some common pieces of advice that are actually useful, and the science behind them.
Don’t shower during a thunderstorm
I always assumed my dad was just trying to spook me with the idea that I could get electrocuted while taking a shower during a thunderstorm. And it looks like I’m not alone. But apparently, my dad wasn’t joking around: The US National Weather Service officially recommends avoiding taking a bath or shower during a storm. Just like you should unplug your electronics before a thunderstorm, you don’t want to put yourself at risk of an electrical surge through the water.
However, looking at a specifically Australian perspective, Dr Karl recently told the ABC that if your water pipes are earthed properly, you should have no issues taking a shower.
“You have water coming into your house, you have electricity coming into your house and the earth of the electricity is tied to the earth of the water pipes,” Dr Karl told the oulet. “They’re both going to a stake, the size of the diameter of your thumb that’s hammered into the ground, so definitely [showering during a storm] should be safe.”‘
Going outside without a jacket? You might catch a cold
We’ve all heard that you need to bundle up, or else you’ll catch a cold. The fact is that being cold does not cause a cold (and neither does going outside with wet hair). This misconception might come from the fact that colds and the flu do make the rounds every winter, which happens to be when it gets… well.
However, some research does suggest that cold temperatures weaken your immune system, and thus your ability to fight off infections. But to get sick, you must be also exposed to a germ; colds strike when viruses make their way into your mouth, nose, or eyes (usually after you’ve been in close proximity to someone who’s infected).
So even with that research in mind, the bottom line is that you won’t suddenly get sick from being outside without a proper jacket, but that it’s a good idea to wear one anyway. To protect yourself from germs, check out our guide to prepare for cold and flu season during a pandemic.
Don’t stick a cotton swab in your ear
It turns out there’s such a thing as cleaning your ears too well. According to Healthline, sending that cotton swab deep into the canals can lead to complications like injury and infection. Not only are your ears self-cleaning, but also, your precious earwax serves a lot of purposes and shouldn’t be scraped away indiscriminately. It keeps your ears from getting too dry, traps dirt, and prevents bacteria from reaching deeper into your ear. So you might want to rethink that Q-tip’s next trip.
The five-second rule is technically untrue…
…but you’re probably fine anyway. This widespread and controversial “rule” that you can safely eat food off the ground within five seconds is not in any way scientifically backed. At the same time, you’re likely going to get away with it as long as the floor in question is relatively clean. So after you order your large pizza, you can drop it on the floor and eat it too. And personally? The five-second rule is integral in my war against food waste.
Now, with science as my witness, it’s time for me to try and conquer my fear of swallowing watermelon seeds.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.