Cases of childhood illness tend to explode as temperatures drop and we start spending more and more time indoors. While the jury is out in terms of why exactly so many people get sick during the cold weather months as opposed to the summer, officials have a pretty good idea of what to expect during the upcoming season. Here’s what to be on the lookout for, and what you can do to make life a little bit bearable for our little ones who end up getting sick.
The Common Cold
The common cold is usually linked to the rhinovirus, but it can develop from various strains, as well as from other viruses. Most colds are transmitted from hand to mouth or hand to eye contact after touching a contaminated surface or object, but the virus can also spread through the air as people inhale water droplets from someone nearby who is sick. Most symptoms will develop within 3-5 days of exposure, peak within another few days and subside a week or so later.
According to some researchers, children on average develop about 5-10 colds a year. This is actually good news because their immune system develops resistance each time, and this will pay big dividends later in life. In the meantime, the best thing to do for colds it to feed them, provide plenty of fluids and rest. Look into natural decongestants, expectorants and vitamins and minerals to ease symptoms as well.
Children are particularly at risk for developing complications associated with influenza because their immune systems are underdeveloped. While the severity of an infection will also depend on the particular virus, the child’s overall health and previous exposure to influenza can play a role in how well they can fight the infection. Influenza is transmitted in ways similar to colds, but symptoms develop rapidly. While vaccines help, and some medications can ease symptoms if they are administered early enough, most children who suffer from the flu will have to ride it out.
Most symptoms will peak within 5-7 days, and parents should seek medical advice if they don’t see an improvement by then. Dehydration and secondary infections are the top things to be on the lookout for.
This is a common infection in children under the age of 10, and it is highly-contagious. Swollen tonsils covered with pus, a low-grade fever and digestive discomfort are the most-common complaints. Most cases of strep can be treated with standard antibiotics and nutritional support, and infections tend to become resolved after about a week.
Croup is an infection that can cause a persistent, barking cough, particularly at night when children sleep. Croup can also cause respiratory discomfort and severe wheezing which often alarms parents. Fortunately, the symptoms appear to be more serious than they really are. Treatments involving a nebulizer and steroids are generally all that is needed to foster a quick and full recovery. Symptoms can also be eased by exposing the child to cold dry air as it seems to soothe inflamed tissues along the respiratory system.
Bronchitis is an infection of the respiratory tract that may initially have cold or flu-like symptoms. Persistent, mucous-laden coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, a low-grade fever and chest pain are all common with a bronchial infection. Providing nutritional support, using expectorants and giving the child plenty of fluids can help to alleviate symptoms. However, it’s important to be alert to breathing problems that can turn into life-threatening emergencies, and when in doubt, don’t think twice about paying a doctor a visit or heading to the emergency room. However, most infections will resolve themselves on their own within a week or so.
One common thread between these conditions is that they are all very contagious. Consequently, maintaining good hand washing habits, wearing a face mask and minimizing exposure to those who are infected can reduce the chances of getting sick. Providing nutritional supplements as we head into winter can also help to boost the immune systems of our little ones that may fend off infections as well.
Take some time to prepare for the upcoming season, and learn more about various illnesses so that you can separate fact from fiction in terms of what to do when your children get sick. The more you know now will help to make life a lot easier for everyone involved once the season kicks into high gear.