Winter season is here. The next few months are the busiest of the year for most pediatricians. Our waiting rooms are flooded with kids with the flu, coughs, the flu, colds, and the flu. More often then not, the parents are just as sick.
There are several illnesses that we see the most during this season. They include (you guessed it) the flu, coughs and colds, croup, rotavirus (a severe diarrhea illness), RSV (an often severe cough and wheezing illness), and less serious facial rash. In this article I will discuss these illnesses briefly, then link you to the full discussion on our website. Perhaps even more importantly, I will discuss how you can boost your child’s immune system to help prevent many of these illnesses.
BOOST YOUR CHILD’S IMMUNE SYSTEM THROUGH THE WINTER
Want to help your kids avoid these illnesses altogether? Here are some ways you can boost their immune system and keep them in school. Take as many of these supplements as you feel is appropriate every day:
- Echinacea – this natural herb will enhance your own immune system. Many research studies have proven its effectiveness. Click here for dosing information for you and your kids.
- Vitamin C – this simple vitamin can fight off invading germs. Younger kids up to age 6 will benefit from around 250 mg per day. Older kids and adults can take 500 mg per day. Available as a powder, chewable, or capsule. Click here to read more about vitamins.
- Fruits and vegetable supplement – the immune-boosting properties of nature’s food is remarkable. If your kids won’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, I recommend Juice Plus fruit and veggie supplements. Click here to learn more.
- Zinc – this mineral is a safe and effective way to boost the immune system. Children up to age 6 years can take 10 to 20 mg per day. Older kids and adults can take 20 to 40 mg per day.
- Probiotics – the common name used for this is Acidophillus. These are healthy bacteria that live in our intestines and help with our immune system. The best species of probiotics are lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Available as liquid, powder, and capsules, children and adults can take as directed.
- Avoid weakening your own immune system – Click here to read what habits can weaken your own immune system.
Click here to read a full discussion on how to boost your immune system naturally.
IF YOU OR YOUR CHILD GET SICK, STARTING ECHINACEA AND VITAMIN C RIGHT AWAY MAY MAKE YOUR ILLNESS SHORTER AND MILDER
The flu is a virus (called influenza). It hits between November and March, and is probably responsible for 1/3 to ½ of all sick visits to our office during the winter. Keep in mind, the flu is a VIRUS. It is therefore NOT treatable with antibiotics.
How can you tell if your child (or you!) has the flu? There are two typical forms of the flu:
- Fever and one or two other symptoms such as sore throat and headache – some flu illnesses are more simple, and cause just a few symptoms.
- Multi-symptom flu – this is the more miserable kind of flu. It can include many or all of the following symptoms:
- High fever, chills
- Sore throat
- Abdominal pain
- Body and muscle aches
- Stuffy nose
- Clear or green runny nose
- Cough – dry or productive
- Irritated, red eyes
WHEN TO VISIT THE DOCTOR
Most children with the flu don’t even need to see a doctor. Here are some guidelines to help you decide if a doctor’s visit is warranted:
- Fever more than three days – while this may still be just the flu, it’s best to double check with your doctor.
- Moderate to severe dehydration – see our site under dehydration here.
- You have a gut feeling that your child is unusually ill.
- Severe cough with chest pain AND shortness of breath. This may mean pneumonia is setting in.
SHOULD YOUR CHILD GET A FLU SHOT?
Click here to find out the answer.
Worried about strep throat? Many patients come into our office during the winter because of sore throat of a day or two. Most of these cases are NOT strep, but rather just part of the flu. See our site under sore throat to help you decide if yours may be strep or not.
Click here for a link to our full discussion on the flu and how to treat it.
RSV – Respiratory Syncycial Virus
This is a virus like the common cold, but with one big difference. This virus causes mild to severe wheezing, especially in younger infants. While normal cold viruses infect the nose and upper lungs, RSV gets deep down into the lungs and inflames the airways. Why is this significant? The inflamed airways in the lungs will then constrict (get much narrower), thus making it more difficult to breath. This is very similar to what happens to someone with asthma. This often requires special breathing treatments to keep the breathing stable while the illness runs its course. Severe cases require hospitalization.
RSV runs through day care centers and other nurseries like an epidemic during the winter.
Click here to go to our link for a full discussion on RSV. You will also learn how to protect your child from getting this illness.
NORMAL COUGHS AND COLDS
This is the season where the common cold virus runs rampant. It can be as mild as a slight runny nose, or as severe as fever, deep junky cough, and thick green congested sinuses. The main thing to understand is that 9 times out of 10, these symptoms are just the common cold and do NOT need antibiotics.
How can you tell when it’s just a common cold or something more serious that needs evaluation and treatment? Click here to read our complete guide to getting through the common cold, and learn when to worry and not to worry.
Confused about what cough and cold medicine to use for you or your child? Click here here for our Cough and Cold Medication Guide in our Medicine Cabinet.
If your child has had croup once, you’ll never forget the sound of this cough. It sounds just like a seal barking. Croup is a virus that inflames the vocal cords. It can start off just like a regular cold, but then your child gets these classic symptoms:
Barky cough, just like a seal barking
Raspy, labored breathing – this occurs in moderate to severe croup. The airway around the vocal cords gets so swollen, that there is not much room for air to pass through.
High fever – this often occurs, especially in younger kids.
Croup is a virus, so it is not treatable with antibiotics.
This can be very scary for the first time, but it usually is not severe, and there are several things you can do to get through the night. Click here for a complete guide to understanding and treating croup.
Most people think of summer as diarrhea season. However, rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea in infants and young children during the winter. This virus causes very foul smelling, very runny diarrhea. Rotavirus usually lasts much longer than most other causes of diarrhea. So if your infant develops moderate to severe diarrhea this time of year, it is probably rotavirus. There is no treatment for this virus, but there are many guidelines you should follow to help your infant get through this. Click here here for a complete guide to managing your infant’s diarrhea. A NEW RECOMMENDATION FOR HELPING DIARRHEA TO RESOLVE FASTER IS TO TAKE PROBIOTICS (SEE ABOVE UNDER BOOSTING YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM). THESE ARE SAFE EVEN FOR INFANTS.
DRY, RED CHEEKS
Just a quick mention here. The cold weather is notorious for causing dry, red, irritated cheeks in children. A number of patients do come into our office, wondering what is causing this rash. It is simply the cold weather. A gentle moisturizing cream will usually minimize this rash. No need to see your doctor for it, unless you are particularly worried.