It’s finally here! After a 42-degree Celsius (and worse) summer, the monsoons have arrived, though there are days when you doubt their intent. But soon there should be nothing to stop you from getting drenched in Mother Nature’s original “rain shower”—except the fear of catching a cold.
Of course, you could always down a few glasses of tulsi (holy basil) tea and dose yourself with pepper, turn off the fan and the air conditioner, and oh yes—take a cold shower as soon as you get in from the rain. Pragnya Pandey, senior executive, corporate marketing, HCL Technologies Ltd, who always gives in to the temptation of dancing in the season’s first rain, says: “I’ve grown up listening to my mother insisting that I take a shower immediately after coming back drenched, otherwise I’ll catch a cold. I don’t really know the logic behind this, but I just have been doing it any way.”
Childhood habits die hard, however. Pandey isn’t the only one still practising folk remedies and popular precautions of unknown, sometimes dubious, origin. There are several such grandmother-knows-best prescriptions, and the monsoons seem to flush a lot of them out into even the most futuristic office.
We talked to the experts to sort out the myths from the well-disguised facts.
If you get wet, you are sure to catch a chill
Not true, really. Getting wet actually has nothing to do with the cold virus. But temperature fluctuations can affect your immunity, and that is why the rainy season sprouts as many sneezes and sniffles as mushrooms. “If the temperature is as hot as it has been these last couple of weeks, and then it rains, the sudden change in temperature does make you susceptible to catching a chill,” says Arpit Jain, consultant, internal medicine, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon. But if the temperatures go down and the weather gets cooler, you will not be as susceptible to catching a cold—unless you insist on staying wet and sitting under the AC, which brings us to...
A cold shower as soon as you get out of the rain prevents a chill
No—a shower is good, but no need to make your teeth chatter. The second drenching or its temperature have no magical effect on the cold virus, but wash up anyway, says Arun Dewan, senior consultant and head, internal medicine and critical care, Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre. “You’re not only wet in the rain, but you also get wet with the slush and dirt that is outside, which you should definitely wash away. So take a shower to wash away that dirt,” he says.
Sitting under the fan or in an AC office after getting drenched will give you a fever
Well, it depends, and not just on the temperature difference. “With sudden changes in temperature, the immunity goes down and you are likely to catch a viral infection,” says Dr Dewan. And, of course, your skin chills as moisture evaporates off it in a low-humidity AC environment. So the solution is simple: Towel off. “As long as you dry yourself properly, sitting under the fan or AC will not cause you to catch a chill,” says Dr Dewan. However, the AC can give you a cold in a way that you may not expect. Dr Jain says, “An AC office means a closed environment, which is the ideal condition for the contagious coughs and colds to spread.” At home, he suggests, open the windows and air the rooms at least once a day.
Have a warm ‘tulsi’ -honey-pepper infusion or hot tea with ginger to avoid catching colds
Not quite. Once you catch a cold, any hot drink seems to help.
“Tulsi and ginger have anti-inflammatory properties, and honey helps protect against cough because of the soothing effect it has on one’s throat, so it’s always good to have them at regular intervals,” says Dr Jain. These kitchen-cupboard ingredients are credited with warming the body and certainly aid the immunity function, but they seem to do better as convalescence aids rather than as sureshot preventives, says nutritionist Seema Gulati, chief project officer, National Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol Foundation (N-Doc). She does not set much store by naturopathy, but notes that studies have proven tulsi has medicinal properties.” Other than that, “any hot drink will give the warmth to make the person feel better,” she says. So your chicken soup is my masala chai.
No raw vegetable, especially leafy green vegetable, is safe during the monsoon
No such thing. In fact, all the doctors concur that eating greens during all seasons, as part of a well-balanced diet, is a must. “But they should be really thoroughly washed,” says P.K. Sethy, consultant, gastroenterology, Apollo Gleaneagles Hospital, Kolkata. Sure, there is an abundance of germs during the monsoon, because “the temperature and humidity is ideal for their growth. And they are usually hidden in leafy vegetables, such as spinach and cabbage. But a good wash can take care of that,” Dr Sethy says.
Dr Gulati concurs. She suggests a salt rinse for vegetables. “The salt deactivates the bacteria, parasite eggs, worms, etc., through exosmosis,” she explains.
Swimming in the rains is bad for your health
Spot on. “During the monsoon, the rainwater and dirty water from the pool decks flow into the pool, which makes the water in the pool really dirty and one can get a host of water-borne diseases from there,” says Dr Dewan. Summer and monsoon are the two seasons during which conditions are ripe for diseases such as typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea, all of which become very common. Dr Jain adds, “Such diseases and cough and cold are anyway prevalent during the season, and the close proximity in the pool and changing rooms always adds to the chances of catching one of these.”
‘Outside food’ (read: street food) is especially unhygienic in the rainy season
That’s a fact. Street vendors hardly ever follow hygienic standards, and the avenues for contamination are many in the hot, humid weather, with standing puddles and drains overflowing everywhere. (Just think of a fly buzzing from puddle to panipuri...) Which is why E.coli, cholera, gastroenteritis and other intestinal infections become so common. “So try and avoid eating street food, unless you know that they’re using clean water and the place is clean—even if it is your regular joint for the rest of the year,” says Dr Sethy. And for those who absolutely must eat out, he suggests having foods that are served piping hot, “so that the bacteria has been killed... Boiled is definitely better than deep-fried, because frying will do away with the nutritional value of the food too”.
BATTLE THE DOWNPOUR
Here’s to more power to your rain shield
It’s still hot, though wet, so drink plenty of water to flush the toxins out and keep you hydrated, says Dr Jain. Dr Gulati suggests increasing your water intake to at least 10 glasses (250ml a glass) a day. All water must be filtered or boiled.
To strengthen your immune system, take powders of Triphala (10g) and Avipattikar (10g) on an empty stomach in the morning through the season, suggests Dr Rajesh Varier, deputy physician, Arya Vaidya Sala, New Delhi.
Improve your vitamin C intake with a glass of ‘nimbu paani’ (water with lime juice) every day, says Dr Gulati. Vitamin C fights viral infections such as colds.
Heat all food till piping hot before you eat—even if it was refrigerated. The humidity and warmth of the season are optimal for bacteria and mould.
For those who have a canine companion, S.K. Choudhary, owner of Dr Choudhary’s Pet Clinic, New Delhi, recommends sponging down your dog when you get back from a walk—before you enter the house. Otherwise your house will soon harbour the germs catching a ride on their fur.