As the winter season blankets North Idaho in a layer of frost and snow, unfortunately, it can also bring a host of common illnesses that affect your little ones. From sniffles and sneezes to more severe ailments, parents should be prepared and proactive in keeping their children healthy during this chilly season. Let’s explore some of the most common winter illnesses in children with tips for prevention and best practices for recovery.
The Common Cold and Influenza
Colds and influenza (flu) are the most prevalent winter illnesses among children. They are respiratory ailments caused by viruses and exhibit symptoms like sneezing, coughing, sore throat, runny nose, headaches, body aches, congestion, watery eyes, fever, and fatigue. While most children recover from colds with enough rest and time, the flu is more likely to develop into a more serious ailment like pneumonia.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
RSV is another viral infection that thrives in colder months. It often starts with cold-like symptoms but can progress to severe respiratory distress in young children, especially those with weakened immune systems.
Gastroenteritis is the medical term for the viral infection everyone calls the “stomach flu.” Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. The stomach flu is highly contagious and can easily spread among children.
Bronchiolitis is the inflammation of the small airways in the lungs, also usually caused by a viral infection. It primarily affects infants and young children and can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
Streptococcal bacteria cause strep throat, which occurs more often in winter. It is marked by a severe sore throat, fever, and difficulty swallowing. Strep throat can be treated with antibiotics.
Steps For Preventing Winter Ailments in Children
While it is all but impossible to shield children from getting winter illnesses, there are steps parents and children can take to reduce the risk of children contracting them:
- Hand Hygiene: Frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is one of the most effective ways to prevent people from spreading germs to others. Instruct your children to adopt a habit of washing their hands before and after meals, after using the restroom, and after coming home from shopping or other activities. Discourage them from touching their faces, particularly eyes, nose, and mouth, where germs can enter their bodies.
- Good Nutrition: A well-balanced diet with sufficient fresh fruits and vegetables and low on processed foods helps boost the immune system. Consider giving your child foods rich in vitamins and minerals to keep them healthy and strengthen the immune system.
- Adequate Sleep: Many children do not get sufficient sleep, and insufficient sleep can also weaken a child’s immune system. A well-rested body is better equipped to fight off infections.
- Layer Up: Dress your child in warm clothing when heading outside. Exposure to cold weather forces the body to expend more energy maintaining body temperature, lowering your child’s overall resistance to illness.
Recovery and Preventing the Spread
Despite your best efforts, children may still fall ill during the winter. When your child is sick, you can take some simple steps to help them recover and prevent them from spreading their illness to others. Here are some general suggestions that may be helpful
One key to recovering from most ailments is getting lots of rest. Even if your child is not sleepy, encourage them to stay in bed with calm, relaxing activities. In addition, hydration is also essential to health. Staying hydrated can be especially difficult if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, but encourage your child to drink water, hydration drinks, herbal teas, or ice chips.
When appropriate and in consultation with your child’s healthcare provider, using over-the-counter medications such as fever reducers can relieve symptoms.
A common phenomenon in families is that one child who gets sick will spread the illness to everyone else in the household. To the extent possible, try to isolate your sick child from other family members and certainly from outside individuals, and keep your child home from school. For added caution, the family should avoid social activities, as many illnesses are contagious before a person exhibits any symptoms. Do your best to ensure that you and your child are not responsible for passing any illness on to others, particularly the elderly or others with more fragile immune systems.
Teach your child to exercise respiratory hygiene: they should cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, preferably with a tissue, as droplets from coughs and sneezes spread many illnesses. Instruct your child not to touch things after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their noses. Similarly, disinfect toys, dishes, sheets, faucet handles, and other items touched by your sick child. Some viruses and bacteria can survive on hard surfaces, spreading illnesses to others who may later touch those same items.
Northwest Pediatrics: Parents’ Healthcare Partner
Children are often susceptible to illness as their immune systems develop, and winter can be a challenging season for your family’s health. However, you can take several prudent steps to minimize the frequency and severity of winter illnesses for your children.
The pediatrics department at Northwest Specialty Hospital is always here to help parents navigate the ups and downs of their children’s health. We know that along with all the fun that winter brings for the kids – snow, Christmas, sledding, hot cocoa, and snowmen – winter can also bring some unpleasant illnesses. This winter, prepare your family for a healthier season by stocking up on tissues, disinfectant wipes, and over-the-counter remedies. If your child needs a check-up or develops a more severe illness this winter, contact Northwest Pediatrics today to schedule an appointment or visit one of Northwest Specialty Hospital’s urgent care centers.