It’s that time of year-cold and flu season! My office is overbooked these days with children of all ages complaining of runny noses, coughs, fevers, and feeling lousy. What’s a parent to do?
First I would like to focus on prevention. As a pediatrician, I would much rather prevent illness than have to treat it. Here are a few of my suggestions:
- Teach your school-aged children how to wash their hands properly. This means 20 seconds with warm soapy water-20 seconds is a long time! It may help to time how long it takes to sing a favorite song or see how many verses take 20 seconds to give your child a guideline. And when water isn’t nearby, then use a hand sanitizer but make sure you teach your children to get into all of the crevices!
- Make sure your children cover their coughs and sneezes with the inner side of their elbows. It keeps the germs off of their hands which touch common surfaces.
- Keep you kids home when they are sick to avoid spreading germs to friends and classmates.
- Get flu vaccines as early as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends the flu vaccine for all children over 6 months. Children under 9 years old, will need two flu vaccines 4 weeks apart the first year they get it, so plan early. And, December is not too late to get vaccinated. The flu doesn’t peak until around February. If you have a newborn in the house too young to get the flu vaccine (<6 months), be sure that all caregivers and siblings get vaccinated to protect that new baby.
- Boost your child’s immune system by making sure she gets enough sleep, a well balanced diet, and exercise.
If, despite all of your best efforts, you child still comes down with the flu or a cold, here are a few things you can do to ease the symptoms:
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- Put a humidifier in the bedroom-it helps moisten the air and makes it easier to breath.
- Use a fever reducer like acetaminophen or ibuprofen if the temperature is over 100.4 F. Follow the dosing instructions carefully. Use the dosing cup or syringe that came with the bottle.
- Cough and cold medicines have not been shown to be effective in children so I don’t recommend them at all for children under age 6. For kids over 6, parents can try them but I find that often they don't work.
- Honey is a great cough suppressant for children over age 1 year. My kids always ask for honey at the first sign of a cough!
- If you child doesn’t look right to you, or the fever is lasting more than a few days, don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician.