When it comes to keeping kids healthy & well this winter season, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Sniffles and sneezes are a normal part of childhood. Research even suggests that kids who have regular minor illnesses in the early years actually grow into healthier adults. But the flu – a contagious viral infection of the nose, throat and lungs – is another beast, and extra caution is advised when dealing with this common wintertime virus, warns the Centers for Disease Control.
Children, whose immune systems are incomplete, are two to three times more likely to get flu than adults, and winter is a prime time for the virus, thanks to the extended periods spent in cramped quarters.
You know the flu prevention party line: wash hands frequently, sneeze into the elbow, and get good rest. But there are plenty more smart ways to prevent and cure the wintertime cruddies.
Boost their immunity with foods and herbs. Alternative health expert Dr. Andrew Weil suggests battling winter illnesses with daily doses of vitamin C as well as the herbs echinacea and astragalus, both available at health food stores and vitamin shops in kid-friendly forms. Weil also recommends adding extra garlic to the diet and minimizing an ill child’s dairy intake.
Fly smarter – or not at all. Think before you schedule that wintertime flight: airplane cabins are petri dishes for germs, and pressure changes can wreak havoc on already embattled respiratory systems, according to WebMD.com. Bolster your child’s immune system with vitamins and lots of sleep the days before a trip, then carry on chewing gum, a decongestant and a saline nose drops for the flight in case of stuffiness, WebMD.com suggests. And if your child is looking ill, strongly consider rescheduling the flight to avoid spreading illness – your fellow passengers will thank you.
Make bedtime more bearable. Keep sheets freshly laundered during flu season to banish lingering germs, and install a cool-mist humidifier to ease nighttime breathing, suggests Dr. Weil. WebMD.com also recommends adding a second pillow to elevate a stuffy child’s head, allowing nasal passages to drain and clear.
Consider the herd. Flus and colds often bounce around social groups. A flu vaccine is a great way to keep your kids and their friends healthier, and the CDC recommends an annual, early-season shot for everyone six months or older. Even if you don’t vaccinate, you can protect the herd by keeping kids home for at least 24 hours after a fever abates, even if it means missing out on fun activities. You’ll avoid spreading flu to other kids, who could later pass it right back. What goes around comes around!
Heal better. In addition to flu shots, antiviral drugs are sometimes recommended for serious cases of the flu in children under age 5, but it’s essential to finish the course of medicine prescribed, even if your child seems completely well. And control for lingering germs around the home: keep a frequently emptied trash can near your child’s bed to catch used tissues before they end up on the floor, and throw out those germy toothbrushes after the illness passes.
Centers for Disease Control
Families Fighting Flu http://www.familiesfightingflu.org
Dr. Andrew Weil: http://www.drweil.com
Erin J. Bernard is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer from Portland, Oregon. Before becoming a writer, Erin worked as a nanny and an ESL classroom teacher. She taught English at a Montessori school in Mexico and then ran an after-school language program in South Korea. Erin is the editor of the parenting guide, “Instructions Not Included: A Pediatrician’s Prescription for Raising the Best Kids on the Block,” written by Irwin H. Berkowitz, MD.