Let’s face it, as much as we try to shield our children from getting sick during the winter and beyond, it is a right of passage for their immune systems. Illnesses and even injuries are an inevitable and normal part of life. Of course we all sigh sadly at the thought of seeing our little ones burning up with a fever or sleeping poorly due to a nasty cough. By the way, imagine how long your cold would last if you couldn’t blow your nose!
The natural acquisition of immunity comes in large part from exposure to viruses and bacteria as well as immunizations and, well, eating a little dirt once in a while. A small bit of advice that I can give as a pediatrician and a mother, is to first call your trusted pediatrician in the middle of the night with concerning signs before running to an emergency room. I would rather be woken up with a phone call for issues that I can offer great comfort and advice for, versus knowing that our beautiful families are sitting in an emergency room for 8 hours and possibly having unnecessary, painful testing. More than 90% of children are discharged from emergency rooms with normal viral illnesses or something easily treatable the next day in the office.
In general, the cold and flu season varies dramatically from year to year depending on the strength of the circulating organism. But even as the cold and flu season unfolds, you don’t need to feel completely helpless. Here are some things you can do to possibly help circumvent the risks of getting sick.
Let’s try to boost your family’s immune system to keep you and your family healthy this winter and even year round.
ARE ANTIBACTERIAL HANDSANITIZERS AND OTHER PRODUCTS CAUSING MORE HARM THAN GOOD?
I don’t have a perfect answer for you because there isn’t one. Studies abound about the benefits and dangers of the overuse of antibacterial products versus good old fashioned handwashing and a little extra vitamin C, zinc, garlic and yogurt.
First, let’s talk about handwashing versus chemical cleanliness.
Triclosan is a chemical used in most anti-bacterial products and is repeatedly being investigated for safety concerns. Why do I bring this up? There are multiple studies about whether this compound is helpful due to disease prevention or toxic. Some studies are leaning toward it having a negative effect on the thyroid gland of animals in general, which includes our children with a developing endocrine and hormonal system. Most concerning to me as a pediatrician is the amount noted in studies of breastmilk among mothers that use it regularly. In addition, kids always have their hands in their mouths, period. They “eat” more of this chemical and, once again, dirt, than you can imagine. With such equivocal medical information out there, I would caution waiting for more definite studies when handwashing proves to provide exactly the same benefit and has no negative side effects. As a bonus, handwashing also helps your child learn hygiene manners and self-sufficiency!
Now, the confusing aspect… why does your doctor’s office have handsanitizers everywhere? There are times for a medical provider when handwashing isn’t immediately available with exposure to vomit and blood and skin infections so many providers use them as a fast but temporary option before they handwash (I don’t but I understand the need). We are certainly accustomed to body fluids with children! I have never had handsanitizers in my home. I am not a germ-a-phobe and I have a healthy family without unusual infections despite my exposure at the office and my child in school.
HOW TO BOOST MY FAMILY’S IMMUNE SYSTEM?
- Food with Vitamin C (anti-oxidant) and Zinc: (food options: oranges, clementines, berries and pumpkin seeds!) There is no doubt that adding certain foods pre or during illness can help stimulate your immune system or at least give it additional soldiers to fight the battle. I am preaching to the choir.
- Try more yogurt with Vitamin D: (or probiotic packets if your kid is not a huge fan of yogurt) especially Lactobacillus or Saccharomyces.
- Try more fatty fish: Salmon and other fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which stimulate the activity of immune fighting cells and might help with upper respiratory illnesses.
- Try to clean the common surfaces like the keyboard, remote control, toys, countertops, toothbrushes or toothpaste (not to be shared when kids are sick) and other surfaces that families share inevitably! Try, but I know that we all share everything at home, including germs!
- (Sorry) Try to use disposable paper towels temporarily when one person is sick to prevent spread, good luck. The environment will hate you for a few days, but having all 5 people in the family ill for 3 weeks, passing it back and forth, is awful and sad not to mention the missed work for parents.
- Teach your child to sneeze in their elbow not hands if a tissue is not available. All viruses are easily spread when you touch your nose, hands or mouth after sneezing or a runny nose.
- Exercise: Try your best in the winter, even a dance party inside your house when it is snowing!
Best to all of you and your family!
Dr. TJ Gold