Thursday, November 24, 2011

Keep Your Child Healthy and Happy this Cold and Flu Season

Being sick is no fun, especially when you’re too little to blow your own nose! While you can’t (and probably shouldn’t!) keep your little one in a bubble this cold and flu season, there are plenty of things you can do as a parent to keep them fairly healthy and avoid serious complications.

1. Frequent hand-washing is a must. Many of the most common winter illnesses are primarily spread by germs traveling from a child’s hands to his or her mouth, eyes or nose. Have your child wash his or her hands every time they use the toilet and before eating or drinking. Don’t worry, this won’t cause them to have a weak or insufficient immune system but could prevent them from coming down with nasty viruses like influenza or rota-virus.

2. Teach your child to keep his or her hands away from their face. Again, this can help them from bringing germs directly to the mouth, nose and eyes. Don’t expect over-night success, after all, thumb-sucking and nose-picking seem to be almost instinctive behavior. Just be firm and consistent about redirecting them.

3. Avoid crowded public places, especially if your little one is at high risk because of prematurity, asthma or other conditions. If you have no choice, consider having them wear a facial mask and use some sort of barrier to keep well-meaning strangers from touching them. Many parents of young infants have found that a sling type carrier that keeps infants close to the parent’s body is a good way to keep curious hands and faces from getting to close to vulnerable newborns. Don’t be afraid to be assertive and stop people from reaching into your child’s stroller or baby carrier.

4. Use a humidifier to keep your child’s sleep environment comfortable. Most homes suffer from dry air in the winter from heating. While dry air won’t cause a cold, it can cause nose-bleeds, dry eyes and painfully chapped and cracked lips. Adding moisture to the air can also be helpful if your child does come down with a minor cold as it will help them breathe easier and may keep secretions thin so that they can be expelled more easily.

5. Be aware of the possibility of indoor allergies. What seems like a never-ending cold might be an allergy to indoor pollutants such as mold, dust and pet dander. If your child seems to have a constantly runny nose, red eyes or cough, do schedule an appointment with your pediatrician to discuss the possibility of allergies and appropriate treatments. In the meantime, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for mold, regularly change all filters and keep a clean, uncluttered home.

6. Eczema is another common health complaint in the winter. While it’s not contagious like the cold, flu or stomach viruses, it can be very uncomfortable for your child and any cracked, bleeding areas of dry skin can be vulnerable to infection. Again, keeping home moisture levels in the optimum range can help. Bathe your child in cool water and use only the most gentle cleansers and shampoos. Switch to using dye and fragrance free household cleaning and laundry products. There are many over the counter creams that you can try for eczema, however if those do not help, it’s important that you talk to a pediatrician or dermatologist.

7. Change your child’s toothbrush frequently and keep it clean between uses. If you have multiple children, develop a system, such as each family member having a distinctive color brush, to make sure that brushes aren’t accidentally shared. An ultraviolet toothbrush sanitizer can help ensure that nasty bacteria from the bathroom don’t grow on your family’s toothbrushes. It’s also a good idea to make sure family members know to flush the toilet with the lid down and to wash their hands before brushing their teeth.

8. Keep a well-stocked first aid kit in the house, including a thermometer, fever reducer and Benadryl (generic or store brand is fine). A small handheld flashlight and a otoscope can also be handy, especially if your child is prone to strep throat or ear infections. This will help you monitor your child’s symptoms so that you can make a wise decision on when to take them to the pediatrician. In general, it’s best to avoid going to the pediatrician for minor, self-limiting illnesses like the common cold or mild diarrhea and vomiting, both because there isn’t much the doctor can do and to avoid exposing your child to more serious illness. When in doubt, do call the doctor’s office or a nursing line to find out if taking your child in is advised or not.

9. Make sure he or she gets enough sleep. It’s not just grownups that are sleep-deprived these days. Too little sleep leaves everyone more open to coming down with an illness after exposure and can slow down recovery. If your child does get sick. try different comfort measures to help them get a full night’s sleep. This can include saline nose drops, air humidifiers, elevating the head of the bed and in more serious cases, doctor-recommended medication that can ease symptoms long enough for them to fall asleep.

10. Don’t stress out too much! Even children with the most conscientious parents will get sick occasionally. In most cases, the illness is soon forgotten and the child reaps the benefit of a more experienced immune system. Do practice good health and hygiene practices, but don’t let a fear of illness hold you back from letting your child experience their childhood. If your child is particularly vulnerable because of prematurity or a chronic health condition, talk to your doctor about any extra precautions you should take but do look for ways that you can still let your child enjoy being around others even during the peak of cold and flu season.

By Shannon Hernandez
About the Author:
After serving as a pediatrician for more than 14 years in her home state of Texas, Hernandez chose to devote her time to blogging about her full-time fight against her seasonal allergies. After detailing her struggle, Hernandez went on to conduct high-level research on allergens and the types of products that could be used to combat the side effects.