As well as colder weather, winter also means the onset of some common illnesses. Andrea Mara suggests ways to try and keep your baby or toddler healthy this season
It's winter and for parents of small kids, unfortunately that can mean more ailments than usual. Coughs and colds and sniffly noses are a sorry but very common sight at this time of year, and with most illnesses, once they take hold, there's little you can do but treat the symptoms and wait it out. So what are the most common winter ailments and is there anything you can do to keep them at bay?
Keeping your child completely illness-free is a challenge, and staying in, out of the cold isn't the answer. The increase in coughs and flus is partly because many viruses are seasonal and thrive at this time of year. It's also because we spend more time indoors during the colder months, meaning bugs are spread more quickly. The flu virus, for example, is spread in the small droplets of saliva coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person, which others then breathe in.
So wrapping up your children will keep them feeling warm and cosy, but won't stop a cold or flu. And, of course, keeping them away from crowded places like school and crèche is not practical. But there are some steps you can take to prevent the spread of germs and boost your child's immune system:
• Encourage your child to wash her hands every time she comes home from being out, and before she touches food.
• Try to discourage your child from touching her eyes, nose or mouth if she hasn't washed her hands, or use hand sanitiser.
• Teach your child to cover her nose and mouth when she coughs or sneezes, to prevent further infection.
• Use disposable tissues, and bin them after use.
• Help her immune system with plenty of healthy food and lots of sleep.
• Give Vitamin D drops during winter months, because in Ireland, from November to March, the sun doesn't provide enough vitamin D naturally.
So what are the most common ailments, and how can you help your child if she contracts one?
Nobody has found the cure for the common cold yet, but the typical symptoms - runny or stuffed-up nose, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, muscle ache - can be alleviated to some extent with rest and fluids. Try some home remedies to help your child, like steaming with eucalyptus oil, or raising her mattress to keep her head slightly elevated. You can also buy plug-in decongestants to help breathing, or a steam vaporiser to help with coughing.
Flu is a viral infection leading to fever, chills, cough, headache, aching muscles and loss of appetite. And like a cold, you can treat the symptoms but you can't cure it. Make sure your child takes plenty of rest and if she has a temperature, you can give paracetamol (or ibuprofen, but check first with your GP if your child has asthma or suffers with tummy pain). Take care that you don't accidentally give two different medications both containing paracetamol, and do check the label, especially as dosages have been revised downwards in the last few years. Never give children aspirin, or ready-made flu remedies containing aspirin, and if in doubt about medicine, check with a pharmacist. Give your child plenty of fluids, and you may find she needs to stay in bed.
The hallmark of croup is a bark-like cough, and strider (a grating sound when breathing in). Croup symptoms tend to be worse at night. If you think your child has croup, you should have her seen by a GP. Mild cases can be treated at home once diagnosed by a GP, but there may be a need for prescribed medication, or in severe cases, hospitalisation.
More commonly called the winter vomiting bug, this is one every parent dreads. If your child has it, keep her hydrated - using oral dehydration fluids if necessary. Keep your child at home to prevent wider infection - stomach bugs are extremely contagious. You can contract norovirus by eating contaminated food, touching contaminated surfaces, or coming into contact with someone who has the virus. For that reason, parents often become sick too. If your child has norovirus, make sure to practice safe hand hygiene, wash laundry thoroughly, and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Unfortunately there is no cure, but norovirus should only last a couple of days.
Bronchiolitis typically affects babies and small children and is caused by a virus that is more common between November and March. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold but can also include a temperature and dry cough. Babies with bronchiolitis may have difficulty feeding. If you suspect your child has bronchiolitis, you should visit your GP for a diagnosis. There is no medicine that can cure bronchiolitis, but do keep your child hydrated.
Slapped Cheek Syndrome
Slapped cheek syndrome is recognisable by a bright red rash on both cheeks - it's caused by an airborne virus, so spreads like colds and flu, and indeed, apart from the rash, symptoms are like those of a cold. It's relatively mild, affecting children aged three and upwards, and most common during the late winter and early spring. Note that by the time the rash develops, your child is no longer contagious and there is no need to keep her at home from crèche or school unless she is feeling unwell.
Sore throats are very common and particularly so for children. They are often a symptom of a cold, and should clear up within a week without the need for medication, other than over-the-counter medicine like paracetamol. You could also try getting your child to gargle with salt water, and give her plenty of warm (not hot) drinks.
*The information provided here is for guidance only and is not a substitute for medical advice
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