Time to tackle the sniffles and shivers!
Winter is approaching, and that means cold and ‘flu season is here. Schools and nurseries are back in full swing and children are getting sick one by one. This can be very frustrating for parents and I often get asked what can be done to protect children against these infections.
Let’s look at what is “normal” first.
The average child has 4 – 8 respiratory infections per year. Some may have 10 – 12 infections per year, particularly if they have older siblings or if they attend day care or preschool. Exposure to passive smoking also increases the risk of upper respiratory infections.
The mean duration of viral respiratory symptoms is 8 days. However, the normal range can extend beyond two weeks, which means that the “normal” child with over 10 viral respiratory infections can have symptoms for nearly one-half of a year. Most of these infections will be viral.
If your child is growing well, respond well to treatment and appear healthy in between infections you have nothing to worry about. If you are still concerned, please consult your paediatrician.
What you can do to protect your child (and other children)
First of all make sure your child’s immunisations are up to date, and take them for the yearly influenza vaccine. Children are very vulnerable to the influenza virus, which can make them seriously ill.
Regular hand washing (with soap and water) is very important: after handling food, animals, nappies, tissues and after going to the bathroom. Teach your older child to wash his or her own hands and the importance of hand hygiene.
Cover your child’s nose and mouth with a tissue if they cough or sneeze, and teach them to do this themselves when they are old enough. If there is no tissue nearby, they should cough/sneeze into the crook of their elbow and not their hands.
If your child is sick they should not go to nursery or school. If you are unsure speak to the school manager or your paediatrician to get clarity whether their symptoms warrant a sick day.
As mentioned before, second hand smoke exposure can increase your child’s risk to get sick, so please avoid exposing your child to smoke (it will benefit your health as well!).
What to do if your child is unwell
Medicines: Avoid over the counter preparations for cold and flu symptoms before speaking to your doctor. Many of these contain multiple ingredients which means you can overdose your child unintentionally by, for example, giving Paracetamol on top of a Paracetamol-containing preparation. Some of these might also have side effects that can make your child feel worse.
The exception of course is Paracetamol and Ibuprofen for fever and pain. Make sure you give the right dose (best to work it out as per your child’s weight and not age). Remember, not all fevers have to be treated – if it is a low grade fever and your child is otherwise well you can safely withhold medication.
If your baby/toddler has a blocked nose you can use saline nose drops (or a saline nasal spray specifically for babies) and a bulb syringe/nasal aspirator to give some relief. You can also offer your older child salt water to gargle for a sore throat.
Please avoid giving antibiotics without seeing a doctor first.
Diet: Your child can still have his normal food if willing. Soup is a good option if he is fussy, it’s easy to digest and soothing for a sore throat.
Offer lots of liquids, especially water and milk. If you are still breastfeeding, nurse as much as you can as it will offer your child nutrition, antibodies and comfort.
You can also prepare a “tea” with ginger and lemon boiled in water. A small amount of honey can be added if child is older than one.
Other: Let your child rest as much as possible, as the body heals itself during sleep. If your child is struggling to sleep due to a stuffy nose try a humidifier in their room. Remember to clean it every morning after use.
Please don’t hesitate to get medical attention if your child has fever for more than 3 days (or is younger than 6 months with fever); earache; a severe cough with or without shortness of breath; or is not eating/drinking well or interested in playing at all; seems abnormally irritable or if his symptoms does not get better or worsen. This can indicate a bacterial infection and might warrant a course of antibiotics.
Hope you and your family stay healthy this ‘flu season!
(Source: uptodate.com for statistics regarding “normal” infections)