Winter will be here before we know it, along with it colder temperatures, and that means another cold and flu season is upon us. But that doesn’t mean that you have to surrender to your family getting sick. There are steps you can take to help ward off illness and prevent your busy lives from getting derailed by a cold or influenza (aka the flu).
Just like in sports, sometimes the best offense for getting through cold and flu season is defense. Lonetta Postell, M.D., a pediatrician with Henry Ford Health, coaches us through it and shares her best defensive moves:
- Get plenty of rest. “One of the best things you can do to boost your family’s immune systems is making a good night’s sleep a priority,” she says. The National Sleep Foundation’s daily sleep recommendations for school-age children and teenagers are between 8-12 hours, and it’s between for 10-14 for toddlers and preschoolers.
- Fuel up properly. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is always important for staying healthy, of course, but it is especially critical during cold and flu season. It helps build up the immune system with necessary vitamins and nutrients. Hydration also is important to ensure that your body is functioning properly and able to fight off germs, so make sure you and your family are drinking water throughout the day.
- Wash hands. Both colds and the flu are caused by viruses which are highly contagious and can be transferred from surfaces or other people onto your hands and then into your body. One of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading germs is by thoroughly washing your hands with plain soap and running water several times throughout the day. Make it a habit with your kids, and try to make it fun. Have them sing “Happy Birthday” twice as they wash their hands to ensure that they are washing long enough. If you’re not near a sink, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Get flu shots. Kids and adults should be vaccinated against the flu as soon as the vaccine becomes available. Since the virus is unpredictable, vaccinating early offers the greatest protection. Think the flu vaccine is something you can skip? According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan has reported more than 35 flu-related deaths in children over the last 10 years. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that around 1,500 Michigan adults die from flu-related complications each year, mostly people over the age of 65. That’s why doctors strongly recommend flu shots for prevention. “Despite what you may have heard, the flu vaccine does not give your child the flu,” Dr. Postell says. It’s safe and effective and remains the best defense for preventing the spread of influenza.
What Can You Do if Your Child Does Get Sick?
All of these defensive moves can help you and your family avoid colds and the flu, but if a virus does invade your household, you’ll need a plan for playing offense. First of all, Dr. Postell urges caution when giving children medications.
“The Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse use of cold and cough preparations as most medications have side effects that may cause harm,” she says. “Tamiflu is recommended only for patients who are considered ‘high risk,’ meaning they will likely be hurt or even die if they get the flu.”
Instead, Dr. Postell recommends using saline and bulb suction for little kids’ stuffy noses, increasing fluids, making sure they get plenty of rest, and using over-the-counter medications, like children’s Tylenol or Motrin, if your child has a fever or to manage pain as needed. She cautions to use these as directed, especially following the instructions about dosage for your child’s weight and age. Taking too much of any medication can cause harm.
“Also, it’s important to remember that ibuprofen (Motrin) should only be give to children over six months old, as it’s hard on developing kidneys,” Dr. Postell says.
Colds and the flu share many symptoms, so sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart. Colds are generally milder than the flu and more likely to come with a runny or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, aches and fatigue. So, watch your child closely, and call your doctor’s office if you have any questions about symptoms or the duration of your child’s illness.
“When children are sick, especially with the flu, they are increased risk for other complications like worsened asthma, ear infections and pneumonia,” Dr. Postell says.
Keep children home if their temperature is over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and 24 hours after the fever resolves. If your child is urinating less than 3 times per day, has dry lips and mouth, and no tears, contact your doctor right away or take your child to the local ER.
Dr. Lonetta Postell is a pediatrician seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Detroit and Hamtramck.