Dr. Douglas Paauw debunked a variety of medical myths during a lecture Thursday at the Kirkpatrick Family Care Clinic in Longview.
Paauw practices, and teaches, internal medicine at University of Washington in Seattle. According to Paauw, one of his favorite topics to research is medical myths. He said there are many misconceptions in the medical field among both patients and doctors.
Paauw said he’s been interested in researching medical myths since he was a resident, when he asked why something was done a particular way and got the answer, “That’s just the way we do it.” Paauw said he has found that answers and common practices evolve.
“There are many ways to the right answer,” Paauw said.
The doctor said it can be difficult for people to change their minds once something is taught so strongly. The fear of not following common practice can also turn people off from changing, Paauw said.
“We can learn a lot from facts, but if anything has a specter of a horrendous outcome, people are really skeptical to do it,” Paauw said.
One common myth Paauw said is important to know about is the idea that prescription pills become toxic after their expiration date. Paauw said the date required by the manufacturer guarantees 90 percent potency, and doesn’t mean the pills are not safe after that date. He said the dates don’t get extended because there is no motivation for pharmaceutical companies to test drugs further.
Paauw said a study published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2008 showed the average life extension of the 122 drugs examined was five years.
This rule generally applies to pills, Paauw said. Liquid medications, like EpiPens, are different. The physician said liquid medications can crystallize, but in an emergency situation, he suggests patients use any EpiPen available, even if expired.
Paauw said another common misconception is that people with egg allergies shouldn’t or can’t get a flu shot. There is some concern that because the vaccine is grown in eggs, it could contain egg protein and cause a dangerous reaction in patients with egg allergies, he said. But, Paauw said, multiple studies show this fear to be unfounded.
Paauw said even though allergen experts now say it is safe to give flu shots to those with an egg allergy, not all patients will comply.
“The reality is, it’s a battle,” Paauw said. “Not all patients will just accept the new information.”
Many people, whether they’re patients or medical professionals, are resistant to change, he said, adding that people are often convinced more by anecdotal stories rather than data.
Paauw said another common misconception is that a cough from a cold only lasts about a week, when the average length is 17 days. He said many people will go to the doctor thinking they have a more serious illness if cough lasts longer than a few days.
Another widespread myth, he said, is that all-natural products are automatically good for you. While many supplements and natural remedies can be helpful, that doesn’t apply to everything, Pauuw said.
“We want to do what’s safe. Not everything in nature is safe,” he added.
His advice for doctors is to always practice the best care you can, whether that means following the common practice or trying something different.
To avoid falling for a medical myth, Paauw recommends that patients keep their eyes and ears open, question doctors and be curious.
“Things are evolving in medicine,” Paauw said. “We have to keep adapting.”