As children enter classrooms each fall, they are often joined by our perennial friend, drippy nose and head congestion. Yes, fall is just around the corner, and with it comes busy schedules as well as colds, flu and maybe a little COVID too.
When a cold or flu strikes, at best, a child does not feel, eat or sleep well causing both the child to miss school and the parent to miss work. At worst, a cold develops into something more and may precipitate a visit to your primary care physician. While adults typically get two to four colds a year, children average 6-8 a year. Between September and April, colds and the flu can seriously disrupt normal daily routines.
However, there are practical tips to help keep you and your family healthy this season. There are literally hundreds of viruses that cause cold and flu symptoms, but unlike bacterial infections, which are treated with antibiotics, there are no medications to kill the viruses that simply make us feel lousy.
The goal then becomes one of protecting ourselves from getting infected in the first place. Hand washing, hand washing and more hand washing are three simple steps to preventing a cold or flu. Because these little viruses can also become airborne with coughing and sneezing, people should also have a clean tissue to cough or sneeze into.
For example, the little girl who sits next to your child sneezes into her hand and then touches your child’s pencil. A minute later, your child uses the pencil and then scratches her nose. She may have exposed her nasal cavity to a virus. It really is that simple.
Regular soap and water are fine. Because it is a virus and not bacteria, antibacterial soap is not necessary. Liquid hand sanitizers do a good job if soap and water are not available.
The first step in prevention is making sure to stop the contact spread of viruses by way of hygiene. The second step to preventing infection is immunizations – including the flu vaccine. Everyone over the age of 6 months can get a flu shot, and most children over the age of 2 can get the nasal spray version.
Lastly, to keep your family in good health, this school year make sure to give their bodies the resources they need to fuel their immune system including nutrient-rich foods and an adequate amount of sleep.
Essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbs in a healthy diet work to keep the immune system strong. Similarly, studies have shown that sleep-deprived individuals often have impaired immune systems. In general, toddlers and early elementary children require 11 to 13 hours of sleep, elementary school children need between 10 and 11 hours, tweens between 9 and 10, and teenagers and adults between 8 and 9.
As the children head back to the books this fall, be sure to have them wash their hands, schedule well visits to receive the recommended immunizations, eat a healthy balanced diet and get plenty of sleep. If someone catches a cold, stay home, rest and recover.