Wet Socks and Potatoes—Can Viral Hacks Help Cure Your Child's Illness?

There's an endless amount of viral hacks and advice on Instagram and TikTok about how to make your child feel better. But do they work?

A mom helps her daughter put on socks

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Before becoming a parent, it's very easy to underestimate the number of coughs, colds, and fevers kids get. Parenting can feel like a non-stop rollercoaster of stuffy noses, sleepless nights, and sick days off school—with the double headache of your kids being unwell and you being fairly likely to catch it, too.

Social media is full of hacks and advice for how to ease or cure bugs, with one of the latest to go viral claiming wet socks can help alleviate fevers and colds. Instagram feeds and TikTok "for you" pages have been full of posts singing the phrases of sending your sick kids to bed wearing a pair of soaking wet socks. According to the posts, putting cold, wet socks on a child coming down with a bug overnight can help nip illness in the bud and make them feel better.

What is Wet Sock Therapy?

Wet sock therapy is said to work by stimulating circulation to help the body heal itself. According to these social media posts, when feet are wet, the body tries to warm them up, which increases blood circulation. In theory, this stimulates the immune system, helping to move illnesses to the bloodstream, so the body can get rid of them.

If you want to try it, just before bed, warm up your child's feet while soaking cotton socks in ice water. Wring out the socks and put them on your unwell child. Then put a pair of dry, wool socks on top. Send your child to bed, and according to many posters, they will wake up with dry socks and feel better in the morning.

Using wet socks to cure a fever is a form of hydrotherapy—or water therapy. Hydrotherapy has been used for many years around the world to treat illness and improve well-being. It's still popular—from invigorating cold water plunges to the restorative effects of a hot bath.

Using socks as secret weapons against colds is a growing trend, but if wet socks aren't your thing, what about putting potatoes in them instead? Recently, TikTok has also been full of videos about how putting a slice of raw potato in your socks overnight can help 'draw out' colds and fevers. According to these posts, the potato will come out black in the morning, having pulled toxins from the body, leaving your child feeling healthier.

Do Wet Socks Really Help Kids Feel Better?

Like many parenting hacks on social media, these sound pretty good, but can wet socks or slices of potatoes help your children feel better. Or will these tricks just leave them annoyed? Turns out, there is no scientific evidence that wearing wet socks to bed cures a cold, or that potatoes can pull toxins from your body.

"The body's immune system already does a great job of responding to viruses, bacteria, or inflammatory situations," explains Laura Purdy, M.D., a Nashville, Tennessee-based physician. "I don't think that cold, wet socks on the feet would stimulate the immune response more than what would already be happening."

So what about the people who swear this works? Dr. Purdy suggests hacks like this could be triggering a placebo effect, meaning if you think they will work, they might do. The placebo effect could work on both parents and children, especially if they are seeing their symptoms are being taken seriously and receiving care and attention from their caregivers.

The trend isn't harmful, but it could be uncomfortable and disruptive to a child's sleep, says Dr. Purdy. She also warns parents to look out for the softening or break-down of the skin when it's exposed to moisture over a long period of time. "This isn't necessarily dangerous, it's the same thing that happens when you get out of the bathtub and your skin is wrinkly," she says.

While wet socks and potatoes aren't likely to cause too much trouble, as we all get more information online it's hard to know what to believe, especially when it comes to our children's health. Viral hacks can be led by hype rather than science—and that can become dangerous if they lead to an avoidance of proper medical treatment.

"I have seen viral information on social media that I would actually consider to be dangerous and would never recommend," says Dr. Purdy. "The problem is that people who do not have medical licenses are not subject to any sort of regulation [and can't be] held accountable for the information that they put out there."

Viral hacks might be helpful sometimes, but it's useful to meet them with common sense. Illness is often a part of parenting, and while a cold sock or (hot) potato might sound like a magic cure, you and your kids might just need some time and TLC to feel better.

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  1. Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the bodyNorth Am J Med Sci. 2014.

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