It’s that time of year. It’s cold and flu season. In the first two years of life, most young children get eight to ten colds a year—and even more if the child attends child care. Whether you or your child is sick (or trying to prevent getting sick), try these proven 10 tips:
1. Pay attention to your symptoms. No one likes getting sick. Unfortunately, we tend to “push past” how we feel and keep going. Getting sick means slowing down—and sometimes stopping. Teach your kids this by what you say and do. Colds and flu usually give you symptoms in waves. Slow way down (or stop) when you feel really ill. Do quiet activities as you feel a bit better.
2. Get extra rest. If you’re sick, rest helps your body focus on fighting your illness. Take naps. Sleep longer. During cold and flu season, it may be helpful to try to get a bit more rest to avoid getting sick.
3. Wash your hands regularly. Experts recommend washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Teach young children to sing aloud one verse of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” to know how long to wash.
4. Follow the seven- to 10-day rule. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that most viral illnesses (that can’t be treated with antibiotics) will last seven to 10 days.
5. Watch for other symptoms. If you or your child has allergies, asthma, or another type of illness, a cold or flu can flatten them longer. If your child has a cold and asthma, a hot shower can trigger bronchospasms.
6. Don’t go to school or work until after a fever breaks. The sick person needs to be fever free for at least 24 hours (without the use of any medicine) before going back into public.
7. Blow your nose often. Sniffing the mucous back into your head doesn’t help. Blow it out, but blow gently. Blowing too hard can cause earaches.
8. Support and care for the sick person. Help make the person comfortable. Give the person space to rest and recover.
9. Eat foods and liquids that help. Drink lots of liquids, especially hot liquids, for colds. If you’re vomiting from the flu, wait about an hour to eat or drink after vomiting. Try a little bit of water or flat lemon-lime soda and see if it stays down.
10. Be patient. When you’re sick, it can feel like you’re sick for a long time. Give yourself (or your child) time to recover.
It’s often tempting to load up on lots of medication to feel better, but that’s not always wise, especially for young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not giving any over-the-counter (OTC) medicine to children ages two and younger and says that children younger than age 6 can experience serious side effects from OTC medications.
If you’re not sure whether your child has a viral infection or a bacterial infection, see a doctor. It’s best to rule out strep for sore throats. Once you know you’re dealing with the common cold or flu, it’s often best to get lots of rest, drink a lot of liquids, and slow down your activity until you feel better.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (New York: Bantam, 1998).
American Academy of Pediatrics, “My Child Seems to Get a Lot of Colds. Is This Normal?” Healthychildren.org, December 22, 2010.
Star Lawrence, “Sick Kids: Treatment Tips for Parents,” WebMD, February 18, 2009.
The Center for Improving Medication Management and the National Council on Patient Information and Education, “Medicine Safety,” http://www.learnaboutrxsafety.org/
Joanne Larsen, “Colds, Upper Respiratory Infections” and “Flu, Fever, Vomiting, Diarrhea,” Ask the Dietician, 2009.
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