Practical at home tips for illnesses

When your family gets sick, what can you do before running to the ER or clinic?

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.

Comfort measures

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. 

Hydrate

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.

Clean air

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.

Rest

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. 

Dry air

A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier can help your child breathe easier. Change the water every day. Clean the machine per the manufacturer recommendations. 

Infection control

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.

Stay home!

Our health department now recommends that everyone with influenza stays home for 7 days following the start of symptoms.

How long should you stay home? It varies by illness. www.questforhealthkc.com

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!

Cover your cough properly - don't use your hands! www.questforhealthkc.com

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. 

Wash

  • 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!

Help prevent the spread of germs. Don't shake hands. Offer a fist bump or wave. #infectionpreventiontip

Avoid taking young children to large groups of people during the cold and flu season, especially if people are showing signs of illness.

Vaccinate.

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.

And finally… avoid kisses that spread illness!

For more:

Fever Is

When is a fever too high

Tamiflu

Evolution of illness

Cough Medicine: which one’s best?

Cough sounds

How long will a cough or cold last?

RSV has a bad rap… for good reason

Strep throat: new school guidelines

Sore throat: strep vs viral

How to use nose sprays correctly

Improper use of antibiotics

Why wait to see your usual doctor?

It’s not the flu!

I was at the gym today and an otherwise great instructor who seems to know a lot about health was sharing incorrect information about the flu with the class of about 40 people. She said that she had received several texts from other instructors asking her to cover their classes because they were vomiting. Then she went on to say that many at first thought it was food poisoning, but it’s spreading like illness, so it’s the flu, not food poisoning. She made a big deal that the flu is here. Is vomiting from the flu?

She’s only partially right.

Yes…

There’s a stomach bug going around.

It’s not food poisoning.

Influenza is in town.

But this extreme vomiting is not “the flu”

vomiting from the flu
Vomiting can be associated with influenza, but is not the main symptom.

The flu causes predominantly fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches for many days. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but those aren’t usually the predominant symptoms. And the flu doesn’t cause just a few hours of extreme vomiting like we’re seeing these days.

Why do I care if people call this stomach bug “flu”?

Runny nose is one of the symptoms of influenza.

The biggest reason I care is that it leads people to make other incorrect assumptions and to get the wrong treatments.

I hear all the time that people had the flu the year they got a flu shot, so they don’t want to get it anymore.

When probed about their illness, it’s usually not consistent with the flu. It was either a cold and cough or a stomach virus.

If they think a common cold or vomiting is from the flu, they’re mistaken.

They need to know that this isn’t the flu.

Cough is one of the most common symptoms of influenza, along with fever, sore throat, and body aches.

Common colds and vomiting are not prevented with the flu shot.

The flu shot has nothing to do with protecting against most cases of vomiting and diarrhea or most upper respiratory tract infections.

Of course there are people who got the flu shot (or FluMist when it was available) who did come down with the flu. They had a positive flu test and symptoms were consistent with the flu. But if they get influenza after the vaccine they tend to have milder symptoms. They tend to not end up in the hospital or dead if they’ve had the vaccine. Yes, even healthy young people can end up very sick from influenza. They can even die. (The FluMist didn’t protect well and was removed from the market due to this.)

We forget about all the times people did get the vaccine and they didn’t catch the flu even with likely exposure. Lack of disease is easy to fail to acknowledge.

We know the flu vaccine is imperfect. But if the majority of people get vaccinated, we can slow the rate of spread and protect us all against influenza most effectively.

We don’t have great treatments for influenza, so vaccinating and using other precautions is important!