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Top 10 Overused and Bogus Medical Treatments

by Gregory Myers
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Medicine has come a long way since history was first recorded, and even farther in the past hundred years or so. People are living longer than ever, medicine is breaking new ground all the time, and technology is gaining ground even as we speak. More and more new medical treatments are being experimented with, and many old ones are being upgraded as we get better at keeping people healthy and strong. However, while we have come a long way, medicine still has some things to improve upon, and some medical treatments are either overused or just plain bogus—a few of which are still in use today.

Related: Top 10 Horrifying Ancient Medical Practices . . . We Still Practice

10 CT Scans Are Being Overdone for Profit

Overuse Of CT Scans

First, we should be clear about what a CT scan is for those who aren’t too familiar with it. A CT scan basically uses ionizing radiation to create an image of the internals of a part of the body that doctors need a better look at. While it may not be able to tell you what is going on if you just have a muscle strain or something of the like, in more serious matters, it can give doctors critical details. When you get one in the hospital, you probably think it is very important and accept the small amount of radiation exposure.

However, you might be alarmed to know that studies have found that hospitals are overusing CT scans and billing you, the state, or your insurance for a procedure you don’t need. This is especially problematic because it isn’t just low-level insurance fraud; it is harmful to others. CT scans expose people to radiation, so they are only supposed to be used on high-risk patients. Still, studies are finding the opposite. Worse, for those who think their part of the world might be exempt, studies have found it is a global problem.[1]

9 Smoking Cigarettes to Improve Your Health

How Americans Got Sold on Cigarettes

Today, we know that smoking cigarettes is really bad for your health and often leads to lung cancer and other health complications. They have become less and less culturally acceptable, more and more taxed, and many think they should just be banned entirely. Even those who smoke them regularly and make no excuse about it have no illusion as to the unhealthiness of their chosen habit.

However, it wasn’t that long ago that things were very different. In the early 1900s in the United States, people did not yet know that cigarettes were so unhealthy, and cigarette companies advertised to doctors directly. And they were not just trying to be stealthy about it either, as they would advertise directly to the consumer, stating that their brand was the best for treating affiliations such as sore throats. This may seem outrageous to us today, but at the time, the health information we have now was simply not common knowledge.[2]

8 Children Were Once Given Liquid Heroin for Coughs

Bayer: Need Some Heroin for Your Cough?

While today’s opioid crisis is quite serious and is affecting many parts of the world at the moment, at the very least, the world is currently taking it seriously. Everyone agrees that opioids are a problem and that we should be trying to restrict their use to only the most important medical uses for pain that cannot be resolved another way. However, it wasn’t long ago that heroin was sold as an over-the-counter cough remedy, and no one really cared.

Now, while it is actually an effective medical treatment for coughs, it is not recommended today for most coughs as it is incredibly addictive. For this reason, especially for children, most doctors recommend dextromethorphan instead. However, back in the early 1900s, Bayer was openly selling liquid heroin to be used for adults and children as a cough suppressant. Nowadays, we would never imagine giving liquid heroin to a child. Still, in the early 1900s, it was as normal as breaking out the children’s cough syrup because that was children’s cough syrup.[3]

7 Tonsillectomies: Overused and Unnecessary in Most Cases

When is a Tonsillectomy Necessary? – The Doctors

If you lived a few decades ago, there is a pretty reasonable chance that you got your tonsils taken out. Not long ago, at least in the United States, it was an extremely common procedure that was routinely performed on children. Parents would have the operation done on their kids due to things like frequent sore throats—which the procedure was supposed to help—and sometimes used as a matter of standard medical procedure.

Today, the number of tonsillectomies has gone down greatly, but it is still way too high. A study found that nine in ten tonsillectomies are actually not necessary at all. Many people are still doing it for things like frequent sore throats, but doctors say your children will grow out of this and that the risks of the operation often outweigh the benefits unless it is an extreme situation. This overuse is a problem because the complications can be an issue. Some are the normal ones, such as the risks of being put under, bleeding, and swelling, but infections are also common.[4]

6 Phenylephrine Proven to Be an Ineffective Decongestant

Why useless decongestants are still for sale

Even those who claim they “never get sick” at least get a minor cold once in a while, and we all find ourselves in a situation where we may need to buy some medicine for congestion. If nothing else, even if you don’t get sick much, most people have occasional seasonal allergies and need a decongestant for that reason.

With the old stuff falling out of favor because you don’t want people to think you are making meth, most people now buy over-the-counter products with phenylephrine instead. Unfortunately, this is a problem because an FDA advisory panel recently concluded that phenylephrine is not actually an effective decongestant. Now, you might imagine that it still works a little bit, but it is just not enough to be legally effective, or they wouldn’t have sold it for all these years. However, to make matters worse, the board also unanimously concluded that it was no better than a placebo.[5]

5 Hydrogen Peroxide Causes More Harm Than Good on Wounds

Should You Use Hydrogen Peroxide to Clean Wounds?

While it is now falling out of favor due to more knowledge about the practice, it used to be quite common just a few years ago in many parts of the world to use hydrogen peroxide on wounds that are in need of cleaning. The bubbling and stinging is something most of us figured was killing the germs really well, and the visible sign of a product working has a powerful psychological impact on most people.

Now, you shouldn’t blame those who have used this practice recently, as this knowledge only came to light in 2010. Like rubbing alcohol, which you also should not use for wounds, it takes a few minutes to really kill the germs effectively. Hydrogen peroxide is corrosive and damages the skin, actually slowing healing and not helping it. If you want to disinfect a wound, soap and water should be used first, followed by a safer disinfectant like Neosporin.[6]

4 Vitamin C Is Good for You but Not as a Cold Medicine

No, Vitamin C won’t cure your cold

Vitamin C is one of the favorite cold remedies of many people around the globe. There are countless products designed to give you a hefty dose of vitamin C all at once, often being sold as a catch-all cold medicine. Some people will wait until they have a cold and then start freebasing orange juice like it’s their favorite drug and they haven’t had it in a week. Others will drink orange juice constantly, take supplements, and claim that by doing so, they are avoiding the pain of having colds altogether.

Now, like most things that people misunderstand, there is some truth behind it. Studies have shown that if you take vitamin C on a regular basis, then you can decrease the length of colds by up to 8% in adults and 14% in children. However, the rest of the claims people make about vitamin C are completely false. If you wait to take it until you already have the cold, there is no evidence it will have any effect at all. Also, while taking it regularly can lower the length of colds, there is no evidence that those who take it often have a lower incidence of colds.[7]

3 Loose Stools? Reach for the Opioids

How do opioid medicines cause constipation?

Today, we think of heroin and other opioids as one of the worst things on the planet and something that should only be used in extremely important medical situations when no other pain reliever will work. However, as we mentioned earlier, it was once treated in a more cavalier way by most of the world, to the point people gave it to kids for coughs or to help them sleep. Nowadays, we would find any use of it for minor maladies to be a gross misuse.

However, back in the day, starting with ancient Arabic doctors in early Iraq, opium was once used as a treatment for loose stools. This may sound strange, but remember that many people who use heroin or other similar drugs complain of having constipation, so this is where the idea came from—to use it as a fix for diarrhea. Now, while this does provide a rationale for the treatment of heroin for loose stools, that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. With what we know about addiction today, it is like lopping off your leg to clip your toenail.[8]

2 Mercury as a Medical Treatment?

Revealed – Mercury Bottle

Today, we know that mercury is not at all safe for human consumption and should be avoided in all ways—from touch to inhalation and everything in between. We are so concerned about mercury today that countries have health advisories to avoid eating too much fish, especially bigger ones, to prevent the ingestion of too much mercury as a byproduct. However, the truth is that knowledge about the dangers of metals and heavy metals is really more recent, as it was only in the 1970s that leaded gasoline and paint fell out of favor.

Now, while it did take the world a bit less time to figure out the dangers of mercury than it did to figure out the issues with lead, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a blight on civilization for a long time. The use of mercury as a medicine started to fall out of popular use in the mid-twentieth century. Still, its use goes back to the earliest days in recorded history. And its history is of a medicine that people thought cured basically everything. It was used for syphilis, as an anti-parasitic, and as an anti-inflammatory and was even considered by some people to prevent aging.[9]

1 A Large Portion of Antibiotics Are Wrongly Prescribed

Why Taking an Antibiotic Is Dangerous When You Don’t Need It

Antibiotics are an important part of medicine, and while they were only discovered in the last few hundred years as a fully understood and synthesized item, that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before that. People have been using items like honey and oregano as natural antibiotics for years, even if they didn’t understand exactly what they were doing. This means that many humans have a cultural idea about antibiotic medicines that often makes them think they are for colds in general, as it was common practice for so much of human evolution to use them as needed on an almost intuitive basis.

Unfortunately, this misunderstanding leads people to request antibiotics from their doctors way more often than they should. It causes doctors to overprescribe them as well. The data on antibiotic overuse estimates that about one in three prescriptions are actually not necessary at all. The problem here is that antibiotics are really only for serious bacterial infections, not for viruses or minor bacterial infections like colds. Overusing them makes bacteria more resistant and creates superbugs that are much harder to kill.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen