Reality: If you’re a Baby Boomer, you may remember your mother giving you a cotton ball dipped in warm oil to place in your ear to help an earache. And chances are it helped. Applying a cotton ball with a few drops of warm (not hot) olive oil to the ear a couple times a day can lessen irritation in both the outer and inner ear, open the Eustachian tubes to reduce infection, and soften earwax.
Reality: While there’s still no cure for the common cold, chicken soup really does relieve cold and flu symptoms—and there’s some science behind it. According to the Mayo Clinic, chicken soup inhibits the movement of neutrophils, which are white blood cells that fight disease, and accelerates the movement of mucous, which relieves congestion and may limit the time the virus is in contact with nasal membranes.
Reality: It’s hard to tell with certainty what, if anything, really remedies hiccups, since they usually go away on their own and may do so while you’re trying one of the scores of available “remedies.” But there is some real evidence that a spoonful of granulated sugar can stop hiccups in their tracks. In a 1971 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the treatment proved effective in 19 of 20 participants. It is believed that sugar stops hiccups by stimulating the vagus nerve.
Reality: Your dentist may not tell you this without a little prodding, but placing a warm, wet teabag—steep a teabag in hot water and let it cool first—directly on an abscessed or infected tooth can alleviate the pain quite a bit and often keep you relatively comfortable until you can get professional care. Black tea works best, but peppermint tea provides a mild numbing effect, too. The astringent tannins in the tea help draw out the toxins and provide a calming effect. But remember: It’s a temporary fix until you can get (as quickly as possible) to the dentist.
Reality: Onychomycosis, better known as toenail fungus, is a common problem that causes the nail bed to discolor and thicken, often pushing the nail away from the toe. What to do? Try some Vicks VapoRub. Grandmas have sung the praises of this 125-year-old concoction as a toenail-fungus treatment for decades, and research supports their claims. According to a 2003 article in Phytotherapy Research, ingredients in Vicks VapoRub—camphor, menthol, eucalyptus oil, and thymol—were each found, in a laboratory setting, to inhibit the growth of various species of fungus. In a clinical trial published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (February 2011), 15 out of 18 participants experienced either a cure or improvement of symptoms.