(Read this before you pee on that jellyfish sting.) Popular old wives' tales and first aid remedies – do they really work?

Take a milk bath for sunburn, toothpaste for acne, onions on your feet for a cold, peeing on a jellyfish sting, ice on a burn, garlic on a bee-sting, honey for allergies or a sore throat ... the list of old wives tales' and folk remedies for first aid is long and, frankly, quite imaginative.

We looked at the five most common old wives' tales of first aid and word-of-mouth remedies that get passed around to see if there's any truth behind them.

1. A milk bath for sunburn.

milk for sunburnI

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This one is a widely spread home remedy for reliving and soothing the pain of a sunburn. The claim is that the milk soothes the burnt skin, as well as applies a protective layer of protein on the skin. There are those who recommend mixing in other kitchen ingredients such as oatmeal, honey, and lavender. Some say to dab whole milk right on your skin, others substitute evaporated milk, and then there are those who recommend a cold milk-soaked gauze compress.

While we found a lot of websites and blogs that recommend this remedy, we could not locate any reputable scientific research to back it up. So, while this may be an effective method for some people, it does not look like this method has been proven by doctors or has any truth to it, other than by word of mouth.

2. Peeing on a jellyfish sting.


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Of course, we had to investigate this one! We have all heard of it and it's been featured on plenty of TV shows and movies, and everyone has a friend who swears it happened to them. Jellyfish have long tentacles covered in stinging cells called cnidocytes, which pack a painful venom that causes a sting victim to experience very intense stinging and sudden pain. Scratching and picking at it will only make things worse, as more venom gets released.

While the widespread advice to pee on a jellyfish sting may seem so weird that it works, the truth of it is that urine has ZERO healing qualities when it comes to a jellyfish sting. Rinsing a jellyfish sting off with saltwater, scraping/shaving the affected area, and seeking an appointment with a doctor is the best bet, according to Dr. T. Glenn Piat from the University of Arkansas for Medical Science.

Most experts agree urine is pretty much worthless as a remedy after a jellyfish sting and could even make things worse – it's similar to freshwater, which makes the nematocytes send out more venom in reaction to the change in their environment. Although it may have worked for Monica in that classic Friends episode, it is not advisable or effective from a medical standpoint.

Seek medical attention and keep an eye out for signs of an allergic reaction; nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing, pain in the area, swelling, anaphylaxis, shock, swelling of lips tongue and throat, dizziness, severe headache, fever, hives, or other adverse symptoms. Call 911 and seek immediate help if you or someone you know experiences these symptoms after a sting.

3. Ice on a burn.

ice on burn

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This one makes sense, at first. A burn is caused by intense heat so cold ice should counter that and help the burn heal ... right?

Wrong. Ice on a burn, even a sunburn, may feel good and have some soothing effect. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, putting ice on a burn can cause further damage to the skin tissue, possibly even causing frostbite and will impede the healing process. Mayo Clinic recommends cooling the burn with cool, not cold, water or wet compress, then let dry and cool. Once cooled, apply lotion, burn crème Aloe Vera, etc., then bandage loosely to avid pressure on the skin. Ointment or lotion before the skin is cooled will trap the heat in the burn and cause further damage.  Depending on the severity of the burn, further medical attention may be needed.

4. Onions on your feet for a cold or flu.


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Onions in your socks sound the like the perfect way to snag an ogre boyfriend, but seems a bit stinky to us when it comes to curing a cold or the flu.

The National Onion Association says this folk remedy dates back to the early 1500s, when the thought was that cut-up onions around one’s home would protect those on the inside from the bubonic plague. The onions were believed to suck up poisonous air that people at the time believed to spread the plague. Science has proven the plague did not spread through poison air, and that the onion theory had no merit.

Onions do have a lot of health benefits, as they contain Vitamin C, dietary flavonoids, and add a depth of flavor to savory dishes. While onions have some health benefits, they only work if you eat them. No one has yet scientifically studied whether putting them in your socks will cure a cold and the flu, and it's likely this will never be the subject of a research study. So, if you want the bed all to yourself for a night, we recommend the onion in the sock method, otherwise, stick to some more conventional uses for those onions – some crunchy onion rings sound good to us!

5. Honey for a sore throat or allergies.

honey, medical treatment, cold remedy

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Honey has a lot going for it; it's sweet, all natural, a favorite of Pooh Bear, and has been used for thousands of years as a healing agent. Widely used in the holistic world, honey is a probiotic, said to help with digestion, soothe pain, and even help with acne.

Anyone who has ever had a sore throat will tell you a spoonful of honey by itself or in a cup of hot tea with lemon will coat the throat and soothe some of that irritation. The Mayo Clinic says that honey can be used as an effective natural cough suppressant, even mentioning that it is shown to help nighttime coughing and aid in sleep. So, in this way, honey is an effective treatment for some symptoms that accompany colds and flu.

There is a belief that honey can aid in fighting allergies since it contains traces of allergens from pollen, so by ingesting those pollens and exposing oneself to the allergens, it can reduce the negative effects. While there is some truth to this theory of treatment, it's not likely that honey would contain high enough levels of any allergens to be effective, and a lot of allergy sufferers are allergic to wind-carried pollens, not flower pollen carried by bees.

So, the verdict on this one is that while honey is beneficial to the health and can be useful as a treatment for cold and flu symptoms, it alone is not a cure for either, nor is it a miracle allergy medication that you never knew you had.

Well, there you have it! These five well-known old wives' remedies for common first aid needs and what they really do when it comes to being used as medical treatment. A quick note, we checked into the toothpaste for acne folk remedy, as well, and can report that it's one not worth trying. While it may, in some cases, dry out the pimples, the fluoride and whitening agents can trigger an allergic reaction, making things far worse than the pimple that started it all. WebMD recommends never trying this method, so keep the toothpaste on your teeth and off your face.

What do you think about all this? Let us know if you have an unusual remedy that always works for you, or if you know of one that's backed up by research. Also, please share your stories with us in the comments section.