Little Sprouts Space – Preventing Cold and Flu in Children

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sarah fontaine

by Sarah Fontaine, APRN, FNP-C

Tis the season – for colds, flus, COVID-19, and more! The winter months can be loads of fun with little ones – full of sledding, cookie baking, sipping hot cocoa, and having family time.  However, it also tends to be the time when illness frequents our homes. There are many reasons why winter causes more sniffles and fevers.  People tend to spend more of their time indoors which allows viruses to pass more easily from one person to another. The air is colder and drier which weakens resistance. Sugar intake increases. Vitamin D and exercise decrease.  So what’s a parent to do?  I’m here to give a few practical tips to prevent illness in your home, against all odds! 

Tips to prevent winter colds and flu:

  • Get back to the basics: wash your hands! When your kiddo gets home from school immediately have them thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water. 
  • Refresh your inside air. Try to open a window on each side of the home 2-3x weekly to recirculate fresh, clean air. 
  • Have a humidifier in the bedroom. The hot, dry air from having the heat on tends to dry the mucosa in the nose. The mucosa acts as a protector in trapping microorganisms. 
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Get your kiddos in the kitchen to help you cook. Kids will try almost anything if they are involved in the creation process. Aim for plenty of fruits and veggies. 
  • Allow for lots of rest. Kiddos, on average, need between 9-12 hours of sleep each night. Try to make sleep a priority in these busy months (that goes for you, too, mom and dad!). 
  • Stay well hydrated with water!
  • Make sure your little ones are still moving every day. Dancing, running, jumping, skating, basketball, whatever they like. Daily meaningful movement is important for immune health. 
  • Supplement with vitamin D in the winter. No one in Connecticut is getting enough vitamin D organically in the winter months. 
    • Vitamin D3 recommendation by age
      • 0-12 months: 400 IUs of vitamin D3 daily
      • 1-8 years old: 800IUs of vitamin D3 daily
      • 8-18 years old: 1000IUs of vitamin D3 daily

But when illness strikes, here are the differences between cold and flu:

Common Cold

Affected areas: Ears, nose, and throat are usually infected.

How it spreads: Spread through contaminated surfaces, someone ill sneezing next to you or your little one. There are more than 200 viruses that can cause colds; the most common is rhinovirus. 

Symptoms: Runny nose, fatigue, body aches, sneezing, coughing. 

What to do: Hydration, rest, vitamin C, vitamin D, Zinc. 

How long will it last: 3-14 days. 

Contagiousness: The common cold is most easily spread during the first week of symptoms.

When to bring the kiddos in: Call your provider if your child’s symptoms persist for more than 14 days, they have a poor appetite for more than a few days, seem exhausted, are not drinking fluids, have a fever greater than 102F, or have changes in breathing patterns. 

 The Flu

Affected areas: Nose, throat, lungs, and GI tract can all be involved. 

How it spreads: Spread through contaminated surfaces, someone ill sneezing or coughing next to you or your little one. Each year the flu virus changes. That is why the flu vaccine, which is new each year, is not always effective. 

Symptoms: Congestion, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting. 

What to do: Hydrate- encourage at least 3-5 sips of fluids an hour. This can help prevent dehydration but also may be all your kiddo can tolerate without vomiting if they have GI symptoms. Rest, vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, Ibuprofen (> 6months old) or Tylenol for fever over 103F. 

How long will it last: The acute phase of illness typically lasts 3-5 days, but lingering fatigue and cough can be present for up to 10-14 days. 

Contagiousness: Keep your child home for at least 5 days and 24 hours of a fever.  

When to bring the kiddos in: Call your provider if your child is vomiting for more than 24 hours, showing signs of dehydration (dry lips, exhaustion, confusion), has a fever greater than 104F, has any changes in breathing patterns, or has symptoms persisting more than 7 days. 

My favorite supplements*: 

  • Nordic Naturals Infant Vitamin D3
  • Metagenics MetaKids Baby DHA + D3
  • Metagenics MetaKids Liquid D3
  • Nordic Naturals Kids D3 gummies
  • Metagenics Zinc Drink
  • Nordic Naturals Vitamin C Kids Gummies

*Always check with your healthcare provider before giving your child a nutritional supplement. This article is not meant to provide specific medical advice for you or your child.  

As we trudge through this pandemic, it can be hard to distinguish between a cold, the flu, or COVID-19 infection. When in doubt, call your clinician. Symptoms of COVID-19 vary from mild to moderate in children, and the best way to figure out if COVID-19 is causing your kiddo’s symptoms is to test them. We are now offering molecular testing for COVID-19, Influenza A/B, and Strep A at Swan Integrative for established patients. Reach out to us if you or your child needs to be tested!

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