Many common winter viruses are airborne, so if your child takes a breath within, say, 1 to 2 meters of someone who is sick, he can easily catch the bug himself. What’s more, most people stricken by winter viruses are contagious before they develop symptoms. So pulling your child away from a sniffling, coughing, or sneezing pal doesn’t guarantee that he won’t come down with similar symptoms himself.
Neither will bundling him up: Studies have shown that exposure to cold or damp weather doesn’t increase a child’s likelihood of catching a cold.
Still, don’t give up without a fight. There are several simple steps you can take to help fend off germs and keep your child as healthy as possible this winter.
So what should I do?
While it’s practically inevitable that your child will get a few colds this winter, no matter what you do, it won’t hurt to try these germ-fighting strategies:
Make sure your child washes his hands.
Regular hand washing is the simplest, most effective way to get rid of cold and flu bugs. Teach your child to wash his hands with soap and warm water after he uses the toilet, before meals and snacks, and as soon as he comes home from school, the playground, or a friend’s house.
You wash up, too, especially before preparing food and after wiping runny noses. No need to pay extra for fancy antibacterial soaps — any soap will remove germs from the skin’s surface.
Make sure your child’s teachers and babysitters are vigilant about hand washing, too. Ask what the official hand-washing policy is at school. If it’s less than satisfactory, don’t be shy about requesting a change and reminding teachers that this protects their health as well.
Teach your child not to touch his eyes or nose.
At any given moment, the unwashed human hand is covered with thousands of germs. When a child rubs his eyes or nose, he’s depositing those germs directly onto his mucous membranes, where they’re rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
In addition to having your child wash his hands frequently, remind him not to touch his eyes or rub his nose. Instead, teach him to use a tissue — or at least a clean sleeve — to dab at teary eyes or an itchy nose.
While you’re at it, teach your child to use tissues when he sneezes or coughs — or to ‘catch’ his coughs and sneezes in the crook of his arm. This won’t prevent him from getting a virus, but it will help keep him from giving one.
Make sure your child’s vaccines are up to date.
You can help protect your child from some viruses and bacteria simply by making sure his vaccinations are up to date and that he gets a yearly flu shot.
Do what you can to boost your child’s immunity naturally.
Offer your child a variety of healthy foods so he gets the nutrients he needs. Make sure he gets plenty of sleep each night as well as lots of physical activity every day.
What to do when your child gets sick
Since kids this age average six to eight colds a year, it’s a good bet that your child will bring home a few bugs this winter — no matter how hard you try to prevent it. When that happens, the best you can do is make him comfortable until the virus works its way out of his system. A few tips:
Teach your child to blow his nose.
Encourage your child to blow his nose frequently to get rid of all the extra mucus his body is producing while he has a cold.
Make sure your child gets enough rest.
While this may be easier said than done, the more rest your child gets, the sooner he’ll feel better. So encourage a siesta or two each day.
When your child’s not resting in bed, set him up on the couch with some quiet activities, like a few new books from the library, a children’s video or book on tape, puzzles, drawing or coloring supplies, or board games.
Hook up the humidifier.
This is especially important at night and during naps, when a persistent cough or difficulty breathing can prevent your child from getting the rest he needs. The moist air from a humidifier or vaporiser will thin your child’s mucous secretions, helping to calm his cough and relieve congestion.
Urge your child to drink up.
Children lose body fluids quickly when they’re sick — especially if they’re running a fever or have diarrhea. To replenish these fluids, encourage your child to drink plenty of liquids, such as water, juice, an electrolyte solution, or milk. (There’s no scientific proof that dairy products make congestion worse.)
If your child balks at slugging down a tall drink, try offering extra-juicy fruit (such as watermelon or orange) or even a frozen juice pop. One old wives’ tale that is worth taking to heart: Warm chicken soup helps relieve cold symptoms by soothing a sore throat and thinning nasal secretions.
Try vitamin C.
Although there’s no proof that taking vitamin C can prevent a cold, there is evidence that it helps make cold symptoms less severe and may shorten the duration of a cold.
Be careful not to ‘mega-dose’ your child — kids should have no more than 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C a day. (A cup of orange juice has about 120 mg, while many chewable vitamin C tablets have 500 mg.)
Know when to call the doctor.
While most winter viruses clear up on their own within several days, some can turn into more serious conditions that require prompt treatment. Call the doctor if your child has any of these symptoms:
- Ear or face pain, which can signal an ear infection or sinus infection.
- A very sore throat combined with a fever (it could be strep throat).
- Wheezing or trouble breathing (a possible sign of a bronchial infection or pneumonia).
- Diarrhea or vomiting, which can lead to dangerous dehydration.
- A fever of 103 degrees F or higher, or a milder fever that lasts for more than three days.
Make time to snuggle.
When kids are feeling under the weather, they need a little extra TLC. So in addition to cooking chicken soup, running for the tissue box, and keeping a constant watch on your child’s temperature, make time to simply snuggle with him.
Cozy up while you watch a video together, give him plenty of hugs during the day, and if you normally have a ‘no kids in the big bed’ rule at night, think about temporarily relaxing the policy. (Of course, you may soon be sniffling yourself, but such is the price of parenthood.)
Keep it all in perspective.
When you’re taking care of a sick, miserable child, try to remember that most winter illnesses pass in a week or so — and all of them will ultimately help strengthen your child’s immune system.
As your child gets older and builds up immunity to viruses, including many of the 200 that cause the common cold, he’ll log fewer and fewer sick days. In the meantime, keep up the hand washing — and stock up on tissues.
Visit our primary health clinics, where we all work towards getting you well this winter.