How to keep the bugs at bay when it comes to your baby
It's that time of year where it seems impossible to escape colds and viruses.
We may be relishing the dawn of a new year, but springtime is still very far away and the cold winter months continue to see children, in particular, suffering from coughs and sneezes and all sorts of infectious diseases.
Babies and toddlers seem far more susceptible than older, more hardy children. This is partly due to their developing immune systems, and also down to the close contact they often have with other youngsters in nursery schools and playgroups.
Dr Mark Murphy, GP and chair of communications at the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), says surgeries up and down the country are inundated with babies and young children who are suffering from seasonal illnesses.
"In our GP practices and out-of-hours surgeries, we are seeing very high rates of acute viral illnesses which are causing coughs, colds, sore ears and flu-like symptoms," he says.
"It is important to say that most of these conditions are caused by viruses, they typically improve after 2-3 days on their own and can be managed with symptomatic remedies as antibiotics typically are not helpful for managing the majority of these conditions.
"Babies and younger children develop more viral infections than adults, partly due to their immune functioning and exposure to viruses from other infants in school and crèche. And while there is no specific high-quality evidence on how to prevent contacting viral infections, most of these conditions are spread through 'respiratory droplets', being contagious viral infections."
Dr Murphy says symptoms of a cold can include sneezing, a sore throat and a blocked or runny nose. Parents can often treat their child successfully at home with a few simple measures including:
● Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids, gets lots of rest and eats healthily
● Talk to your pharmacist about paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve your child's pain or a fever
● Nasal saline sprays can help to clear blocked noses
● Over-the-counter throat sprays, lozenges and cough remedies may also help
● Coughing and sneezing spreads the germs that caused your child's cold in the first place so ensure your child coughs and sneezes into a tissue, bin the tissue immediately and wash your hands afterwards
● Most colds will improve without any special treatment.
The Dublin-based doctor says there are no magic cures to treat the common cold but parents should take advice from a new website designed to help treat precisely these sorts of ailments.
"There are no remedies, 'tonics' or food supplements, which have an evidence-base supporting the prevention of viral infections," he says. "But the HSE, in partnership with ICGP and our pharmacy colleagues, have collaborated on a wonderful web-based support for adults and parents of unwell children called undertheweather.ie.
"The site has easy-to-read content, videos and advice from GPs and pharmacists and will guide people through a wide range of common conditions like colds, flu, earaches, sore throats and tummy bugs. The website should give patients the confidence to get better at home, without unnecessary antibiotics. It describes each ailment, how long each condition should last, what to take to recover and when to seek advice from their GP or pharmacist. So we would advise parents to look up the website and look at the videos, which will give them confidence managing many of these conditions at home."
However what starts off as a common cold can sometimes turn into something more serious, and Dr Murphy says parents should watch out for warning signs which include:
● Difficulty with breathing
● Feeling very unwell
● A persistent infection
"Such children should also be brought for assessment to a GP," he says. "However, most children, with a simple viral respiratory infection (or cold), will typically improve without the need for an antibiotic."
Louise Reynolds is a dietitian with the Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute (INDI). She says while foodstuffs may not cure a cold or cough, ensuring your child eats well could go a long way to keeping them healthier throughout the winter months.
"There is no food or diet which will get rid of a common cold as they are part and parcel of this season," she says. "But making sure children have a healthy diet all year round could protect them from recurring minor illnesses. We at INDI would recommend that children get plenty of Vitamin D as it plays a big role in building up the immune system.
"Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna are great sources of Vitamin D as are eggs, so children should eat these regularly as it is always better to get vitamins from food rather than in supplement form.
"We would also encourage plenty of A, C and E vitamins which can be found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables - and at this time of year when the weather is cold, a homemade soup packed full of vegetables is a great way to get nutrients into young children."
The nutrition expert says if children are off their food altogether, it is vital that they are kept well hydrated.
"Sometimes when children and babies are sick, they don't want to eat anything so if this is the case, make sure they get plenty of fluids," she advises.
"Breast milk is ideal for young babies but older children need to be encouraged to drink as much as possible, and if they don't want to take fluids either, then this is probably the time to seek medical advice."