Winter is coming! And with the winter weather comes the annual outbreaks of coughs and colds we’re all far too used to. Whilst for the most part, not serious illnesses which we will recover from quickly and completely, it’s never nice to see our little ones sniffling and sneezing. To help you prevent this as much as possible, this guide will give some top tips to help your little ones stay well this winter.
Keep Warm and Dry
Changes in the winter climate mean that the world outside gets wetter, windier and colder. Whilst there is very little truth in the old wives tales of this causing pneumonia and viral infections, there is definitely sense in wrapping up and staying dry. The best way to do this is by wearing thin layers of natural fabrics like cotton, wool, and fleece rather than a single bulky layer, topped with a waterproof layer if it’s raining. This helps to control your children’s temperature by adding and removing layers as needed. Hats, loosely fitting scarves, and gloves also keep their extremities warm.
Wrapping up is particularly important for newborns and children with asthma as the frigid temperatures can exacerbate asthma attacks. If you know your child has asthma, make sure they take their prescribed medications and carry their inhaler and spacer with them throughout the season.
TOP TIP: If dressed appropriately, it is actually very healthy for children to be outside during the Winter months so don’t hibernate away for 3 months! Exercise is a great way to keep warm and the fresh air and sun are important for both psychical and psychological well-being during the long nights. So get out for walks in the crispy leaves, play in the frosty air and definitely go and build a snowman!
Optimise Your Home
The importance of the environment doesn’t stop at the front door. There are some very simple things you can do to keep your home as health-friendly as possible during winter. Keeping your home at above 18ºC can ensure you are comfortable and ventilating your home with trickle vents and extractor fans when cooking or bathing prevents damp. Drawing curtains and using draft excluders can also prevent drafts which would add to the chill factor.
All of this can help to keep you and your children well as cold and damp can exacerbate asthma and risks of complications from heart and lung problems. Whilst too cold is a problem, for babies make sure to not overheat them either – between 16-20ºC is ideal.
Hand Hygiene is Key
The vast majority of winter illnesses are viral and are not treatable. Your body simply fights them but it can take a few days to weeks to get rid of them. Therefore the best way to get well is to prevent them in the first place! The most effective way of doing this is practicing good hand hygiene and teaching your children to too. Whenever you cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue or your hands if one is not available, then throw the tissue in a bin and wash your hands in soapy water. Alcohol gel is suitable for unsoiled hands but can be more irritating than gentle soap for children so get sudsy instead where possible. Other techniques such as not sharing cups and cutlery can also prevent the spread of infections.
Healthy Eating and Supplements
Eating a healthy, balanced diet with a good mix of fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, proteins and some fats is essential to a growing child, especially so when they are using resources fighting bugs and keeping warm. Dairy and fruits and vegetables provide an essential mix of immune system boosting vitamins and minerals and meat, fish and pulses are packed full of protein for growth and repair. Keeping well-hydrated with plenty of water is also important as we lose water into the cold air when we breathe out and when we sweat in our warm clothing.
TOP TIP: if you feed your child a vegetarian or vegan diet or if they suffer from digestive conditions such as lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease or coeliacs disease, they may benefit from taking multivitamins to supplement their regular intake and prevent illnesses.
Vaccinations are the most effective method of preventing illnesses; they trick your body into thinking it has seen the infection before so when you next see the infection, your body is ready to fight it rather than scrambling its defences against the new bug. A lot of infections we target with vaccinations can occur at any point in the year such as mumps, tetanus, and polio. However, the flu is a classic winter infection whose incidence skyrockets in the winter months.
Flu is a viral infection which leads to a headache, nasal congestion, fevers, and aches. It is mostly just very unpleasant but in some case can be serious with more under 5’s admitted for flu than any other age group. The flu vaccine is offered as a nasal spray to children aged 2-8 or any child with a serious health condition like asthma, kidney or heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and splenectomy. It is needle-free, incredibly safe and very effective at protecting your child.
Important things to note: The flu vaccination is not suitable for severely immunocompromised children and those with egg allergies. If your child is unwell, their vaccination may be postponed until they have recovered. Your child may get a slight runny nose after the vaccination and this is normal.
If Your Child Gets Unwell
If your child gets unwell, don’t panic. Cold and flu, sore throats and winter vomiting are mostly simple and uneventful and your child will recover completely in a few days. If you are worried, speak to your pharmacist, see your GP or call 111 for professional advice. A healthy diet and good hydration will aid recovery and simple medication like paracetamol (Calpol®) and ibuprofen (Nurofen®) will help to relieve aches and fevers. Avoid using products with caffeine in and avoid aspirin products in under 16’s.