Winter usually brings snow days, sledding and warm beverages, but along with the fun activities of winter come the cold and flu viruses.
It is miserable to watch your child have a cold. This is harder yet since most preschool-age children will get a cold virus about once a month or eight to 12 times in a year. Sitting idly by while your child is sick is difficult for most parents. Experts and health professionals do not make this any easier by recommending avoiding over-the-counter cold and cough medicines because of potential dangerous side effects.
So what can be done to help your child during the winter season of increased colds and viruses? Prevention is still the best plan.
You may not be able to protect your child from every virus that he or she comes into contact with, but some of these healthy habits can decrease the frequency of infections:
- Make sure your child gets enough sleep. If a child is tired, their immune system does not work as well to fight off viruses and other illness. Babies need about 18 hours a day of sleep per day, while toddlers need 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. School-age children should be getting 10-11 hours total a night.
- Teach your child proper hand washing. This is not just running water over the hands for a few seconds. Make sure the child uses soap every time and scrubs for the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song or the “ABCs.” Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are good when your family is on the go. Children should wash their hands every time before touching their face or eating.
- Keep your house clean, especially if someone else in the home has been sick. Viruses can live for up to 2-3 hours on things like cups, countertops and towels, so it is best to disinfect frequently with bleach or antibacterial wipes.
Once your child comes down with a cold, there are some safe practices that can be used without side effects to help your little one during their time of illness.
- Coughing may seem like a nuisance, but it is actually your body’s natural way of getting rid of harmful particles and material in the airway. Cough suppressants are not recommended for children because they can be harmful to the child; however, a teaspoon of honey has a good taste and can help coat and sooth the child’s throat, providing some relief from the cough. Dark honey, such as buckwheat honey, may work better because it is higher in antioxidants. Honey is safe for all children older than 1 year of age but should not be given to children younger than 1 year due to the risk of botulism.
- While your child is ill, encourage them to drink plenty of fluids. The old saying “Starve a cold, feed a fever” while not completely accurate does correctly show that kids who have a cold often do not feel like eating. This is alright as long as they are drinking and continue to urinate at least two to three times a day. Giving children fluids with electrolytes is better than water alone. Giving too much juice or sugary fluids can lead to problems with diarrhea. Keeping a child hydrated will help them feel better faster and prevent worse outcomes due to dehydration.
- For runny nose and cough in young children, it is helpful to run a humidifier in the child’s room at night to help break up congestion. You can also use saline or salt water drops or spray in the nose to help with congestion. For toddlers and infants, use a bulb or infant-approved suctioning device to pull mucous and congestion out of the nose. This is especially helpful if done before eating and before sleeping so it is easier for the child to breath during these activities. For older children, encourage them to blow their nose frequently throughout the day. Turning on the shower to steam in a bathroom with the door closed and having the child stand outside of the shower for 10-15 minutes can also be helpful to open up congestion and allow them to breathe better.
- Although there are several marketed over-the-counter cold medicines for children less than 6 years of age, there are no medications that have been shown to be effective and they are not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Some of the most common medicines marketed to kids only contain ingredients such as vitamin C, which a child can normally get in their diet. While vitamin C can help the immune system, it takes time to work and is not a direct treatment for mucous and congestion. Most of the products marketed to young children are homeopathic remedies that are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products do not always have to go through quality controls to prove that what they say is in the medicine is actually in the medicine. It is best to talk with your doctor and understand the ingredients in any of these over-the-counter cold medicines before giving them to your child.