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8 Steps to Boost Your Child’s Immune System

Editor’s Note: This is not an article about how to keep your kids safe from Coronavirus – our focus is to improve your child’s overall health and immune system. The healthier we can keep them, the more we improve their chances of fighting off each new bug that comes their way

The best offense is a good defense. It’s a saying that holds as true for football as it does for cold and flu season. But fending off colds doesn’t just mean reminding your kids to wash their hands. “How much you sleep, what you eat and how you spend your free time all play a role in having a strong immune system,” says Dr. Alan Greene, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and an attending pediatrician at Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

Follow this eight-step plan to keep your little ones — and you — healthy, happy and sniffle-free:

Scale back on sweets. According to the American Heart Association, the average American gets about 22 teaspoons of added sugar in one day — more than three times the amount the organization recommends. Not only can an excess of the sweet stuff pave the way for weight gain, but it can also wear down the immune system. “Refined sugar causes blood sugar spikes, which compromise white blood cells, the body’s first line of defense against colds,” says Greene. To scale back, swap out your kid’s soda for water and offer fruit instead of candy. The American Heart Association advises that children ages 4 to 8 who get about 1,600 calories a day should limit their sugar intake to 3 teaspoons — or 12 grams — a day.

Clear the air. Here’s another reason to protect your child from secondhand smoke and chemical-based household cleaners: “These pollutants damage cilia, the tiny hairs in your nose that help block viruses,” says Greene. Declare your home and car smoke-free zones, and use gentler cleaners — or save the serious scrubbing for the times your kid’s in day care or on a playdate.

Let ’em laugh. When life gets hectic, it’s sometimes simpler to rush through your day without cracking a smile. But taking time to have fun and giggle with your family is crucial for your well-being. In fact, research from Japan’s Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine found that watching funny movies boosts the production of the body’s natural cold- and flu-killing cells. Try having a tickle-fest, or pop in a chuckle-worthy DVD.

Serve some bacteria. The good kind, that is! “Probiotics strengthen the immune system,” says Greene. “The trick is giving your child enough of these friendly bacteria.” He recommends looking for a product with 5 to 10 billion units from more than one strain of probiotics, such as a combination of lactobacillus and bifidus regularis. Most yogurts contain only 1 billion units per serving, so consider stocking up on fortified juices too.

Score some D-fense. Not getting enough of this vitamin, which the body converts from sunlight, can increase your odds of catching a cold by up to 40 percent, reports a study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Because it’s very difficult to consume that much from foods (good sources include dairy and seafood), look to supplement your child’s diet with a vitamin that contains at least 600 IU of D, the amount recommended by the Institutes of Medicine. Pick a brand with D3, the form that’s more readily absorbed by the body.

Stress less. Too much tension can trigger the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that dampens your body’s defenses, says Greene. Of course, it’s impossible to rid your child’s life of all stresses, but teaching him coping techniques can help him better deal with them. The next time he seems anxious, have him lie down with one hand on his tummy. Ask him to take deep breath; his stomach should push against his hand when he inhales and move away when he exhales. Eventually, he’ll learn to take these “belly breaths” when he’s feeling frustrated.

Get moving. Freezing outside? Resist the temptation to camp out in front of the television. Staying active provides a number of healthy benefits, including a stronger immune system. According to a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, people who worked out five days a week came down with 46-percent fewer colds than their couch-potato counterparts. So bundle up and go on a family walk or create an indoor obstacle course.

Have a set bedtime. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who logged more quality shut-eye were five times less likely to get a cold than those who tended to toss and turn. Experts recommend that children younger than 12 should log 10 hours of sleep a night, one- to three-year-olds should get 12 to 14 hours, and those younger than 1 need 14 to 15 hours. To help put your little one — and colds — to bed, create an evening ritual that signals it’s time for sleep, like reading a favorite book or doing a few easy stretches.

Time for Colds and The Flu: What Can You & Your Family Do?

All the bugs and bacteria that plague human kind are essentially trapped indoors over the cold winter months: windows seldom get opened and cars are sealed shut with the heat on, schools harbor a variety of illnesses and are also sealed shut with temperatures way too high. It’s no wonder that this is a perfect season to share whatever cold or Flu with your closest neighbor. Young children, especially, are not the poster kids for hygiene, and touching and tasting the environment gives infants and toddlers a window on the world. Illnesses that get started in your child can spread rapidly to all members of the family.

Children Flu Sneeze Elbow SickViral infections and Flu are composed of minute particles that are just waiting for an opportunity to invade the next host. The easiest way to gain entry to the human body is through the mucous membranes that we all have – moist skin that you seldom think about; inside your nose, throat, lining your eyeballs, etc. Once they gain entry they invade normal cells and begin to replicate, reproducing themselves and in so doing, alter or kill the host cells. Whichever cells are involved and how your body reacts to the invasion will dictate the symptoms that you will experience. Most invasions are short lived and most for the purposes of this post are in the respiratory tract, upper (nose and throat) and lower (trachea and lungs).

How to cure a “cold” has been a mystery for scientists forever, but since they are short lived and generally do not produce major problems it has never been worth the resources to attempt multiple and complicated testing to nail down a cure. So viral colds live on and disrupt many lifestyles along the way. The favorite medicines in the world to attempt to cure just about anything are antibiotics, but to do so will not only have no effect on the cold but can cause problems of their own – resistances by bacteria to the antibiotic and reactions to that medicine. So we are left with “taking care” of the cold with various simple measures. Over the counter cold medicines have been shown to have very little effect on the symptoms or length of a cold and also have unwanted side effects.

How to prevent a cold or Flu, or viral illness from spreading is the main issue. Since these particles gain entry through mucus membranes, and are usually carried to that area by contact with your own colonized hands, it is very important to wash hands regularly and completely. Too often this is a cursory act of applying soap and washing it off, but scrubbing the hands for about 20 seconds (enough time to sing “Happy Birthday” twice) is usually necessary to do an adequate job. Avoid touching your face as most mucus membranes are in that area, especially your eyes. Of course the group that is most important (children) is not usually compliant with these issues, so you must teach this at home. Spread can also occur by droplets pushed into the air by coughing and sneezing and then transferred to others on your hands. Sneeze into the inside of your elbow and avoid spreading droplets into the air around you.

Unfortunately simple apparent cures, taking extra vitamins, etc. have been shown to have very little if any effect on a cold.

So, bear with it, it will be over soon, and do your best not to share it with anyone. And remember to get Flu immunization for your entire family (age six months and older) as soon as it comes out on the market, and since some Flu seasons can last into April get that Flu vaccine even in early March if you missed it at the end of last year.

Why is my Child’s Flu so Hard to Treat?

Unique Influenza:

I. First – You need to know a little about what makes this such a tough bug to prevent….

a) To do that you need to understand the nature of this virus – in particular that it is continuously changing / evolving.

Before we discuss the Flu virus and its effects on human beings it is important to know some basic background information. The Influenza viral particle at the microscopic level is unique in that its many protein particles are attached in random order to receptor cells on the surface of the viral particle itself and each one is capable of changing the characteristics of the particle in such a way that it will have altered effects on the host (humans). A virus causes its effects on the host by attaching to the host’s respiratory cells and in some way alters the function or structure of the cell so that the invading virus can replicate using the host cells’ capabilities. Replication of a species is a common goal for all living creatures no matter how large or small.

Before we see the Influenza virus as we know it in humans it has spent several replication cycles in various animal species over time such as birds, pigs, and humans. With each pass through of a species, the virus has a chance to change or mutate into a different breed with possible different characteristics and therefore effects on the human host.

b) And you need to understand a little about how vaccines are developed – and that we need to have them ready “before” our flu season starts, but that can be problematic with a continuously changing bug..

Viral immunizations are created by using the viral particle to develop antibodies to aid our own very sophisticated immune system to function in a more effective manner and rid ourselves of the offending invader. As you can imagine, this process of developing that immunization can be a long and arduous one and effected by forces not easily seen or appreciated by us, the consumer. Economic and yes political forces are at play in developing a new immunization to be used each year. First the virus of the year needs to be isolated prior to the infection season, which is the cold weather season of the year. Often times we find that particular viral particle in countries that are in the southern hemisphere and therefore have reversed seasons; a lot of our information on the type of virus comes from the Australian experience with the illness. It then must be isolated and a viable strain must be grown near a laboratory so that it can be used in the process of developing the vaccine before the pharmaceutical companies can gear up for production.

While all this is happening and just to confuse things more, the Flu virus may continue to change and eventually present us with a different illness than the newly developed immunization will cover! And a further confusing issue is that no matter how well any vaccine is manufactured it is never 100% effective in deterring the illness; the most effective vaccines made are only about 90% effective while the Influenza vaccine is at most 60% effective (some reports of much lower than that can be found). Those who may have been immunized and still manage to get the illness should experience a much lighter case.

II. And Then Why It’s So Difficult to Treat and Cure

a) Because you can’t be sure of prevention, what you can do is lessen the effects and avoid passing it on.

OK now that we know what we are dealing with we can further discuss the illness and its prevention and treatment. The best thing one can still do is get fully immunized every year even acknowledging that it is not a perfect vaccine; all other factors are beyond our control. There are some fairly effective medicines that can treat the Flu symptoms if used early in the disease or if one is in close contact with someone who has an active case. These are also not completely effective although they can slow the length of illness. Fortunately the side effects are mainly minimal and short –lived. As with all medications there are rare significant side effects that should be reported to your Doctor such as severe headaches and vomiting (headache and vomiting can also be prominent symptoms of Flu virus infection- confusing again! ) and certain psychological symptoms such as vivid dreams and even hallucinations.

Most of the deaths that occur with Flu virus infection are found in very young children or infants, those children or infants with asthma, children with certain chronic diseases of the lungs, kidneys or heart, those individuals with immune dysfunction, and elderly people. Still, suffering through the Flu illness is no piece of cake for previously healthy individuals and can cost a week or more out of school or work.

Aside from thorough immunization every year and avoidance of those with the illness the next most effective way to reduce spread and subsequent infection is to wash hands frequently during the the Flu season with soap and water or the many anti-bacterial and antiviral solutions found in abundance in hospitals and other health care facilities and easily purchased by anyone.

b) The earlier you find it, the better the chances for EVERYONE in your family – so pay attention during flu season; even if it’s not a “traditional flu symptom” – when in doubt, ask your doctor.

Early identification of Flu –like symptoms (sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, eye pain, etc.) should be brought the attention of your Doctor as early treatment (mentioned previously) can lead to less severe symptoms and a shorter duration of illness. Remember preventing Influenza infection in one family member can help prevent the infection in all family members!

It has been mentioned that hives can be a sign of Flu even without other symptoms being present, and, as with many other viral infections, this may be possible, it is the symptoms of Flu that are debilitating and therefore worth avoiding employing all the methods mentioned above. The only significance is that if, and that is rare, hives do represent the only symptoms of Flu infection, a more preventive plan can be instituted in the family. That is why hand washing, avoidance of contact and proper immunizations should be practiced by everyone during the appropriate season of the year.

Beyond Flu What Illness Should You Watch Your Child For

Children’s colds

It’s normal for a child to have 8 or more colds a year.

This is because there are hundreds of different cold viruses and young children have no immunity to any of them as they’ve never had them before.

They gradually build up immunity and get fewer colds. Most colds get better in 5 to 7 days.

Here are some suggestions on how to ease the symptoms in your child:

  • Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids.
  • Saline nose drops can help loosen dried snot and relieve a stuffy nose. Ask your pharmacist, GP (*physician) or health visitor about them.
  • If your child has a fever, pain or discomfort, children’s paracetamol (*acetaminophen) or ibuprofen can help. Children with asthma may not be able to take ibuprofen, so check with your pharmacist, GP or health visitor first. Always follow the instructions on the packet.
  • Encourage the whole family to wash their hands regularly to stop the cold spreading.

Cough and cold remedies for children

Children under 6 shouldn’t have over-the-counter cough and cold remedies, including decongestants (medicines to clear a blocked nose), unless advised by a GP or pharmacist.

Children’s sore throats

Sore throats are often caused by viral illnesses such as colds or flu.

Your child’s throat may be dry and sore for a day or two before a cold starts. You can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce the pain.

Most sore throats clear up on their own after a few days. If your child has a sore throat for more than 4 days, a high temperature and is generally unwell or unable to swallow fluids or saliva, see your GP.

Children’s coughs

  • Children often cough when they have a cold because of mucus trickling down the back of the throat.
  • If your child is feeding, drinking, eating and breathing normally and there’s no wheezing, a cough isn’t usually anything to worry about.
  • If your child has a bad cough that won’t go away, see your GP. If your child also has a high temperature and is breathless, they may have a chest infection.
  • If this is caused by bacteria rather than a virus, your GP will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. Antibiotics won’t soothe or stop the cough straight away.
  • If a cough continues for a long time, especially if it’s worse at night or is brought on by your child running about, it could be a sign of asthma.
  • Some children with asthma also have a wheeze or breathlessness. If your child has any of these symptoms, take them to the GP.
  • If your child seems to be having trouble breathing, contact your GP, even if it’s the middle of the night.
  • Although it’s upsetting to hear your child cough, coughing helps clear away phlegm from the chest or mucus from the back of the throat.
  • If your child is over the age of 1, try a warm drink of lemon and honey.

Find out more about coughs.

Croup

A child with croup has a distinctive barking cough and will make a harsh sound, known as stridor, when they breathe in. They may also have a runny nose, sore throat and high temperature.

Croup can usually be diagnosed by a GP and treated at home. But if your child’s symptoms are severe and they’re finding it difficult to breathe, take them to the nearest hospital’s accident and emergency (A&E) department (*ER).

Read more about the symptoms of croup.

Children’s ear infections

Ear infections are common in babies and small children. They often follow a cold and sometimes cause a high temperature. A baby or toddler may pull or rub at an ear.

Other possible symptoms include fever, irritability, crying, difficulty feeding, restlessness at night and a cough.

If your child has earache, with or without fever, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen at the recommended dose. Try one first and, if it doesn’t work, you can try giving the other one.

Don’t put any oil, eardrops or cotton buds into your child’s ear unless your GP (*physician) advises you to do so.

Most ear infections are caused by viruses, which can’t be treated with antibiotics. They’ll just get better by themselves, usually within about 3 days.

After an ear infection, your child may have a problem hearing for 2 to 6 weeks. If the problem lasts for any longer than this, ask your GP for advice.

Find out more about ear infection (otitis media).

Glue ear in children

Repeated middle ear infections (otitis media) may lead to glue ear (otitis media with effusion), where sticky fluid builds up and can affect your child’s hearing. This may lead to unclear speech or behavioural problems.

If you smoke, your child is more likely to develop glue ear and will get better more slowly. Your GP can give you advice on treating glue ear.

See glue ear for further information.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

NHS Choices logo


From www.nhs.uk





Winter is Coming: What You Need to Know About Kids and Colds

Young children get colds quite often because their immune system is still developing.

It can be worrying when your child gets a cold, but it’s not usually serious and normally passes within two weeks.

Below are the answers to some commonly asked questions about colds in children.

Is my child’s cold serious?

Colds aren’t usually serious, although young children are at an increased risk of developing further problems, such as ear infections.

Very occasionally, more serious problems such as pneumonia can develop, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your child.

Read more about spotting signs of serious illness in children.

What is the difference between adult and child colds?

  • Children tend to get colds far more often than adults.
  • The symptoms are generally similar in adults and children, including a blocked or runny nose, sneezing and a high temperature (fever).
  • Most colds in children get better on their own without treatment, although they may take a little bit longer to recover than an adult would.
  • Sometimes it may seem as though you child has had a cold for a very long time, when in fact they’ve had several different minor infections with a short recovery time in between.

When should I see a doctor?

You should seek medical advice if:

  • your child is under three months old and has a temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above, or is between three and six months old and has a temperature of 39C (102.2F) or above
  • their symptoms last more than three weeks
  • they seem to be getting worse rather than better
  • they have chest pain or are coughing up bloodstained phlegm – this could be a sign of a bacterial chest infection that needs treatment with antibiotics
  • they’re finding it difficult to breathe – seek medical help immediately from your GP surgery or local hospital
  • they have, or seem to have, severe earache (babies with earache often rub their ears and seem irritable) as they could have an ear infection that may need antibiotic treatment
  • they have a persistent or severely sore throat – they may have bacterial tonsillitis, which needs antibiotic treatment
  • they develop any other worrying symptoms

Why won’t my doctor prescribe antibiotics?

Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Colds are caused by viruses, so do not respond to antibiotics.

The overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, where bacterial infections become less easily treatable.

Your doctor is likely to prescribe antibiotics only if your child has developed a bacterial infection in addition to their cold.

What can I do to help my child?

The following tips may help your child cope with the symptoms of a cold:

  • encourage your child to rest and make sure they drink plenty of fluids – water is fine, but warm drinks can be soothing
  • if they have a blocked nose, you can make their breathing easier by raising the pillow end of your child’s bed or cot by putting books or bricks under the legs, or placing a pillow under the mattress (although you shouldn’t put anything under the mattress of a baby younger than one year old)
  • liquid paracetamol (*acetaminophen) or ibuprofen can help ease a fever and discomfort – check the dosage instructions on the packaging and never give aspirin to children under the age of 16
  • a warm, moist atmosphere can ease breathing if your child has a blocked nose – take your child into the bathroom and run a hot bath or shower, or use a vaporiser to humidify the air
  • keep the room aired and at a comfortable temperature, and don’t let your child get too hot – cover them with a lightweight sheet, for example

Speak to your pharmacist or GP (*pediatrician) for advice if you’re not sure how to look after your child or what medications are suitable for them to take.

More advice and information

You can find more detailed information and advice about looking after your child in the NHS Choices pregnancy and baby guide.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

NHS Choices logo


From www.nhs.uk

Flu Shot Facts You Need to Know to Protect Your Family

Some surprising flu shot facts to spur you to protect yourself and your family this winter.

Our house recently got hit by a VERY nasty virus. We had someone sick at home for over a month – and each of us missed about a week of work or school, with lingering after effects. It’s been a tough road! I was the last to get the bug and the timing couldn’t have been worse. I was so sick I wasn’t able to attend national music championships that my son was competing in….and his school WON! Best in the country….but I missed it.

flu-facts2This got me thinking about the flu and annual flu shots. The illness we had seemed every bit as bad as the flu, but we knew the bug wasn’t influenza. We had all been to the doctor – and the symptoms just didn’t quite fit (see the F.A.C.T.S. in the box to the right). Plus 2 out of the 3 of us had already had our flu shots for the season. It was just a really bad cold. But it made me think about the benefits of the flu shot – something which CAN avoid the risk of an illness as bad as the one we all just suffered through.

Critical Info for 2016-2017 Flu Season

The nasal flu mist vaccine is NOT recommended this season due to concerns about how well it works – so kids will need to get the standard shot. And it’s not too late for kids or adults to get vaccinated. Click here for more information on this season’s guidelines.

Benefits of the Flu Shot

  • Prevent your kids from missing lots of school (in higher grades this can really set them back and create stress – which it did for our son)
  • Prevent you from missing lots of work – or REALLY important events – like your child competing in a national championship!!
  • Pflu shot foctsrotect you and your child from the most severe risks of the flu
    • The flu kills – as WW1 drew to a close in 1918, more people died from the flu pandemic of the time than from the war – which any female who followed the Twilight series would know!
    • But even in regular flu seasons people (and kids) die – over the past 10 years, the number of children killed by influenza in the US has ranged from 34 to 171 per year – EXCEPT for the 2009 flu pandemic when well over 300 children died!
  • Not so concerned by these small numbers? How about protecting your child from ending up in the hospital with influenza complications?
    • Each year an average of 20,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized in the US because of flu complications – the risk is especially bad for kids under age 2
    • The most common complication of influenza is pneumonia – which was found to be one of the main drivers of the death toll during the 1918-19 flu pandemic
    • Other less common but very severe flu complications include
      • Breakdown of muscle tissue that can cause kidney damage (rhabdomyolysis)
      • Inflammation and damage of the heart muscle (myocarditis)
      • Swelling and damage of the brain, including seizures (encephalitis)
    • Protect those you love and others in your community – not everyone can get the flu shot, including babies younger than 6 months, so help keep everyone safe by getting vaccinated

Fun Fact About Flu Shot Development

Did you know that the experts who decide what flu strains go into the seasonal vaccine don’t just guess or pick what goes in the vaccine at the last minute? They are constantly monitoring the state of the flu all around the world. For example, when flu season is over in the US and Europe – it moves south to places like Australia, since their winter occurs when it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere. There are 5 major centers around the world that coordinate with the World Health Organization on flu tracking – in the US, UK, Australia, Japan and China. All this information helps with choosing the best possible strains for the seasonal vaccine in each region.

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