When cold and flu season is in full gear, it’s helpful to know common things that can help us prevent and treat whatever is in town. Many of the viruses that run around each season don’t have specific treatments, but there are things that we can do at home to treat symptoms and keep people more comfortable. There are also things we can all do to prevent the spread to other family members or back into our community.
What can be done to feel better?
Remember that nothing can be done to treat most viruses. Our body’s immune system will take care of that, but we can do things that help us feel better during the illness.
It’s hard to make them better, but we can make them feel better
Most cough and colds last several weeks. Vomiting and diarrhea can last a couple weeks as well.
During the cold and flu season, it can seem like kids are sick every day for months because they catch one on top of the other. Some of these days they might simply have a runny nose, and those days can last most of the year in young kids.
It’s when they seem uncomfortable or distressed that we need to do more. Treat the symptoms that bother them.
Identify the symptoms that are concerning, such as difficulty breathing or dehydration, and seek treatment at your doctor’s office for those.
What about fever?
Notice I did not list fever as one of those symptoms.
Doctors don’t do anything special for fever in vaccinated children over 2 months of age.
Fever can accompany other symptoms that may be concerning, but it in itself is not the concern unless it is a newborn, unvaccinated child, or one with a chronic condition that you’ve been warned has increased risks.
Pain control with acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be helpful. Follow the package directions for weight. Dosing for kids under 2 years of age can be found on my office website or you can ask your physician.
Remember the goal is not to bring temperatures to normal, but to keep kids comfortable. If they’re in pain from sinus pressure, a headache, sore throat, body aches, or earaches, it is okay to give a pain reliever even with a normal temperature.
Get the mucus out
Suction your infant’s nose before feeding and before putting him down to sleep. This helps clear the mucus from the airway and makes breathing easier. Encourage nose blowing for those old enough to know how to blow.
Use saline to irrigate the nose. They sell drops, sprays, and nasal wash systems to be used, depending on age and personal preference.
Encourage your family members over 6 months of age to drink more water than normal when sick. Kids often won’t eat well when they’re sick. That’s okay. It is important that they drink well though so they can stay hydrated.
Young infants should not drink water, but you can encourage more of their milk or formula when they have cough and colds.
If your child has vomiting or diarrhea, avoid cow’s milk products. These often lead to more vomiting. Breast milk can be offered in small amounts frequently to infants who are breastfeeding. Electrolyte solutions (with sugars and salts) can be given to infants and children for hydration.
DO NOT let anyone smoke around your child or in your home. Smoke can make the wheezing and coughing worse, even if done in a separate room in the home.
Smoke residue on hair and clothing can cause irritation to your child’s airways. I can usually identify smokers or people who spend time with smokers when they’re in my clinic. (Thankfully that isn’t often.) It isn’t unusual for me to start coughing when they’re in a clinic room with me. If you must smoke, go outside and wear a jacket that can be removed to minimize what is on your shirt when you go inside and hold your baby.
I’ve even started coughing when around someone who was vaping. I know people claim that the vapor is safe around others, but my lungs don’t like it. Keep it away from your kids. Talk to your kids about the risks of vaping so they don’t start the habit.
Encourage those who are sick to get extra rest. We often sleep poorly at night and need daytime naps to get enough sleep when we’re sick.
A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier can help your child breathe easier. Change the water every day. Clean the machine per the manufacturer recommendations.
It just isn’t possible to keep kids from being contagious when they have a virus. They love to touch everything and share germs, so keep them home until they’re well enough to return to normal daily activities.
Our health department now recommends that everyone with influenza stays home for 7 days following the start of symptoms.
You can return to work, school, and activities with other illnesses when the fever is gone (without using fever reducers) for 24 hours, there’s no vomiting or diarrhea, and you’re generally feeling well enough to return. If not, stay home and rest or visit your doctor.
Cover the cough!
Teach kids to sneeze and cough into their elbow or a tissue. Wash hands after handling tissues.
Wash, wash, wash
Good handwashing can help decrease the spread of viruses.
Wash hands often. If soap and water isn’t available, use hand sanitizer. The more things you touch, the more often you should wash.
Teach kids to wash properly. Have them rub soap on their hands for 15 – 20 seconds- be sure they scrub palms, backs of hands, fingers, spaces between the fingers and even under the fingernails.
- Before preparing food
- After toileting or changing a diaper
- When they’re obviously soiled
- Before eating
- After sneezing or coughing into hands or wiping nose
- Before and after touching eyes
- When taking care of a wound wash your hands before and after washing and treating the wound
- Often when taking care of someone who is sick
- After touching trash or soiled objects
Consider having separate towels for each family member in your bathrooms to decrease the spread of germs when they wipe their mouth after brushing their teeth.
Hand sanitizer is a good option when washing isn’t available, but it is not helpful against some germs, so handwashing is preferred.
Use lotion as needed to keep your skin moisturized. Dry skin damages the barrier that helps prevent germs from getting into our bodies.
Germs can live on objects and surfaces for 2 or 3 hours – sometimes longer. Clean your child’s toys often with soap and water.
Don’t touch your face. Eyes, ears, and noses are the doors into our body.
Avoid handshakes and other hand to hand contact. Try a fist bump or wave!
Avoid taking young children to large groups of people during the cold and flu season, especially if people are showing signs of illness.
We can help prevent many of the most serious illnesses by staying up to date on our vaccines.
Everyone over 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine. There are very few contraindications to a flu vaccine and many benefits. Really.