There are some things in life that are unavoidable. Some would say death and taxes. We would like to add flu season to that list. Of course, that’s not to say that flu season has to be quite as dire as death and taxes. But when it does strike, it can be, at best, unpleasant. So what steps can you take to keep colds and flu at bay this winter season? At the end of the day, there’s really only so much you can do, especially if you have little ones who, like most kids, are magnets for germs. But, there are a number of ways to increase your odds of a healthy holiday season – and beyond.
Of course, should you the odds not be in your favor and colds and flu invade your house after all, don’t despair. There are plenty of remedies – both over the counter and all natural – that will help you and your family get through the “icks” of cold and flu season as quickly – and comfortably – as possible.
Of course, everyone has a different approach to handling illnesses. Some people rely heavily on their family doctors or local pharmacies to help them get through sickness. Other like to go with more natural approaches, relying on herbs, vitamins or other natural remedies. Regardless of your approach, we’re here to help you with tips and suggestions that will make sure you and your family stays as happy and healthy as possible in the coming year.
The Common Cold:
The common cold is kind of like that one relative we all seem to have. It’s harmless for the most part, but it can show up uninvited, make things pretty uncomfortable and it’s not always easy to get rid of.
Unfortunately, the common cold is just one of those things that we have to deal with. Unlike bacterial infections or other illnesses that can be treated with specific medications or antibiotics, the common cold usually just has to run its course.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the common cold is a viral respiratory infection of the nose and throat that can sometimes be caused by other viruses present in the body. Because it affects the upper respiratory system, it can make you feel pretty miserable with symptoms like runny nose, coughing, congestion, sore throat, minor aches and pains, and even a low-grade fever. Because of these symptoms, it can be easy to confuse colds with the flu. The main difference, however, is that a cold usually works its way out of your system within 10 days or so, and typically doesn’t require medical attention.
However, it’s important to note that children under the age of six are at the greatest risk of catching a cold – mainly because they tend to share germs with much greater willingness than they share their toys. Younger children also have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to viruses and infections.
If you’re child catches a cold, don’t panic, but do be aware. The Mayo Clinic recommends seeking medical help if your child experiences any of the following symptoms:
- Fever of 100.4 F (38 C) in newborns up to 12 weeks
- Rising fever or fever lasting more than two days in a child of any age
- Symptoms that worsen or fail to improve
- Severe symptoms, such as headache or cough
- Ear pain
- Extreme fussiness
- Unusual drowsiness
- Lack of appetite
Influenza or “Flu”
Influenza, or as we commonly call it, “flu,” is a highly contagious respiratory virus. There are typically two strains – influenza A and B. This virus affects the upper and/or lower respiratory tract, and while many of the symptoms are similar to that of a common cold, the flu usually attacks with a vengeance.
So how can you tell is you have the flu…or just a cold? The flu is typically much worse than a cold. While a cold leaves you feeling pretty crummy, the flu can leave you feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck.
Congestion, sore throat, and sneezing are common when you have a cold, and you might even have coughing, headache and chest pain or tightness. However the flu almost always includes the latter three – and usually to a greater extreme. You may run a low-grade fever with a cold but the flu often causes high fevers for several days, along with body aches, fatigue and weakness. Unlike a cold that may creep up on you and then run its course, the flu can come on quickly and lead to more threatening illnesses like pneumonia.
Because the flu, like a cold, is viral, antibiotics aren’t effective. But if you do seek medical attention for the flu, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral, like Tamiflu.
The flu is usually not serious, but if you are concerned about any of your child’s symptoms or they have lasted for longer than makes sense, don’t run any risks. Flu can lead to complications, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and, rarely, hospitalization. It can also increase problems with other chronic health issues like asthma and congestive heart failure.
The Mayo Clinic identifies these groups as those most likely to experience complications from the flu virus:
- Those younger than five years of age, especially when younger than two.
- Those pregnant or who have given birth in the past two weeks
- Those younger than 19 years of age and are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- Those with certain chronic medical conditions, including asthma, emphysema, heart disease, diabetes, neuromuscular disease, and kidney, liver or blood disease
- Those with weakened immune system due to medications or HIV
How you can prevent colds and flu this winter season
Prevention, of course, is the key to avoiding the invasion of cold and flu. A report by Health.com recommends a number of ways that you can help your family and yourself avoid the common cold and flu this season.
1. Get your flu shot
Of course, not everyone wants to seek medical care for cold and flu, season and that’s a totally personal choice. However, if you are in communication with your doctor or pharmacist, get a flu shot for yourself and your kids as soon as they’re available. It won’t guarantee your health for the season, but it will help safeguard you and your loved ones.
2. Wash your hands
This especially applies for little ones who like to touch everything they see, then immediately put their hands in their mouths. If hand washing isn’t possible, keep antibacterial wipes or gel handy. Remember that the alcohol-based products are most effective for germ prevention, but can dry out sensitive skin. If you prefer not to use anything chemical, keep a bottle of clean water with you, because even plain water can help to dilute germs and lessen the chance of infection.
3. Keep an eye on your nail biters
Lots of kids (and adults) tend to bite their nails as a nervous habit or just because. Don’t do it! Germs can easily get trapped under nails and ingested with too much nail nibbling.
4. Don’t touch your nose or eyes
Not surprisingly, the nose and eyes are two of the easiest places for germs to get in our system. Do your best to keep your hands away from your and try to get your kids to do the same.
5. Eat right
Believe it or not, “eat your vegetables” isn’t just something mothers say to torture their kids. Fresh fruits and vegetables can help keep the immune system strong during winter months (i.e., cold and flu season).
6. Get plenty of sleep
With busy holiday schedules, it’s easy to put sleep on the back burner. But making sure your kids get plenty of rest can be the key to helping them stay healthy – same goes for you, of course. When you’re well-rested, your body can fight off harmful germs much better than when your whole system is run down.
7. Avoid those who are already sick
This may seem a bit obvious, but no…really. When you know someone is already sick, go ahead and bow out of that play date or get together. It’s easy to think that we are immune or “just won’t touch anything,” but germs are everywhere. Don’t be afraid to protect yourself and your family. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that time of year.
Symptoms and treatments for the common cold and flu virus:
Because common colds and the flu are both viral, antibiotics won’t work on either of them. Often times, the cold is just one of those things we have to wait out. The flu can bring on more severe symptoms, but there are things you can do to help ease some of the symptoms.
1. Sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes.
According to the experts at WebMD, when we get a cold, our bodies will often produce chemicals called histamines, which lead to these classic cold symptoms. To get rid of them you can try the following over the counter or natural approaches.
Over the Counter:
Use antihistamines like chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine that will block the production of histamines and relieve sneezing, runny noses and itchy eyes. However, they can also cause drowsiness and dry out your eyes, nose and mouth. Always pay attention to dosages or talk to your doctor or pharmacist first.
Try a saltwater nasal rinse. This can help thin mucus and clear nasal passages, allowing for easier breathing all around. You can find saline sprays and natural, saltwater rinses at your local pharmacy or health and wellness stores or make your own.
To make your own, the folks at Ask Dr. Sears suggest adding pinch of salt, no more than ¼ teaspoon, to eight ounces of previously boiled water, lukewarm distilled, or filtered water. Using a plastic eye dropper squirt a few drops into each nostril.
For younger children and infants, hold your child or baby upright, squirt or spray the solution in each nostril, then lay them down with their head lower than their body. For babies, especially, you may want to follow up with a nasal aspirator to completely clear the nasal passages. Babies won’t like this, but it will be worth it to help them feel better.
2. Stuffy nose, congestion and cough.
Upper respiratory infection caused by the common cold can lead to severely blocked sinuses and nasal passages, as well as a tight chest and difficulty breathing. Your body will often use coughing as a means of expelling blockage and excess mucus in the lungs. And that means a good bit of discomfort for little ones – and you for that matter. To help relieve these symptoms, try the following:
Over the Counter:
Decongestants and cough mixtures can help relieve the discomfort of nasal, sinus and chest congestion, as well as coughing. However, many of these products come in multi-symptom forms. That’s fine when you do, in fact, have multiple symptoms. But the doctors at WebMD caution that if you use a multi-symptom product that contains acetaminophen, for example, but take some Tylenol later, which also contains acetaminophen, you could be using too much of one thing. Just be careful, check the labels, and consult your doctor or pharmacist if you’re in doubt.
The Mayo Clinic warns you to only use these products as directed – and you may not want to use them for children under the age of five. Don’t get me wrong, these products can provide much needed relief for older children and adults, but just use common sense and caution. They don’t usually “cure” a cold, and extended use can cause more harm than good.
For coughs, there are typically two types of medicines you can take. Cough suppressants help suppress a cough by working on the part of your brain that controls the coughing process, according to WebMD.
Expectorants, on the other hand, break up congestion chest by thinning the mucus in the airways – which doesn’t keep you from coughing, but it does help you get rid of more phlegm when you do.
You can also try decongestant nasal sprays to help clear up a stuffy nose. Again, they will provide relief while your body fights off the cold virus, but after a few days, they can lose their effectiveness. Try not to use these sprays for more than three days to avoid “rebound stuffiness.”
Zinc has been used as a means of relieving cold and cold-like symptoms, but like some of our over the counter suggestions, comes with some warning. Because zinc can damage your sense of smell, WebMD contributing doctors recommend that you stick with zinc lozenges to help combat the effects of a cold, rather than zinc nasal swabs.
Echinacea is another natural herbal remedy that has shown effectiveness in helping with cold and flu symptoms. While studies don’t show that Echinacea prevents colds, it may help relieve some symptoms. For best results, WebMD suggests taking supplements containing the Echinacea purpurea species.
Then there’s old faithful – Vitamin C. WebMD tells us that starting with 500mg of Vitamin C a day for the first few days can help reduce cold symptoms. You can take higher doses, up to 2,000 mg, in fact. But these higher doses can lead to side effects like stomach aches, so just use caution.
And last but not least, EverdayHealth.com has a few more natural suggestions.
- Stay hydrated to thin mucus.
- Use a humidifier or vaporizer to add moisture to the air, which can thin mucus and loosen congestion
- Rinse with a Neti Pot and saline mixture. Don’t know what a Neti Pot is? Check out WebMD’s Neti Pot explantation here.
- Apply hot or cold packs to loosen sinus congestion. Heat will thin the mucus, while cold will help inflamed passages.
3. Sore throat
Sore throats can often come along with a cold or flu. A soreness occurs when throats become dry, irritated or scratchy from coughing or with post-nasal drip (when excess mucus accumulates in the back of the throat or nose). There’s no doubt that a sore throat can be a drag. And, especially when you have a cold or the flu, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. In fact, some of the best symptom relievers are the all-natural remedies.
However, be careful about masking a sore throat for too long, because it could be signs of an independent infection If a sore throat persists more than a few days, or is accompanied by a fever or extreme difficulty swallowing, you may want to get tested for strep throat or another type of infection.
To relive the discomfort of a sore throat, there are a number of things you can try.
Over the counter:
Medicated lozenges, sprays and gargles can help relieve the soreness and dryness of a sore throat. They won’t necessarily make it go away, but they can help to numb the throat, making it easier to swallow; thin mucus to relieve some of the irritation; or reduce scratchiness and dryness.
Just as a reminder, don’t give cough drops to children under the age of three as they can be a choking hazard.
As mentioned, some of the natural remedies are recommended by doctors as often as not. And you’ve probably heard of a few of the most popular:
- Gargle with warm salt water. The warmth will help to thin mucus and ease swelling, while the salt helps to heal irritation.
- Have some honey. Honey can coat the back of the throat and provide some much-needed relief for swallowing. Just remember not to give honey to children under the age of one unless your doctor or pediatrician instructs you to.
- Drink warm water with honey and lemon. The warmth of the water will open throat passages, ease swelling and thin mucus. Likewise, the honey has the same soothing effect mentioned above, while lemon can help kill bacteria, cut through extra mucus with its acidity and ease overall discomfort.
The health and wellness site, Everyday Roots, offers a few more natural sore throat remedies that might even surprise you. Check out their full list here, including concoctions for cayenne pepper and honey drinks, pomegranate power-ups, chewing garlic, and more.
4. Fever, aches and pains
When fever hits, being sick goes up to a new level of misery. It’s one thing to feel bad, but a fever can drain you of your very will to live. It’s especially hard to watch our little ones wilt under the effects of a fever. Fevers can be especially worrisome for younger children. It’s important to know when a fever is a problem and when it’s not.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a non-profit academic medical center, fevers, like the ones that often occur with a cold and flu, are not problematic if:
- They last less than five days and your child’s behavior remains fairly normal. This mean they are continuing to eat and drink regularly and seem alert and playful, although they may seem more tired than normal.
- When their temperature remains below 102.5 F (for ages three months to three years) or 103 F (for children older than three years).
- Low-grade fevers, even when they last a few days (especially after a vaccination or immunization).
However, there are also times that a fever can be troublesome and you may want to seek additional medical advice or care. Contact your doctor, nurse practitioner or local clinic if you experience the following:
- Your child is younger than three months, fevers can set in faster than with older children and could be a sign or a more serious illness.
- A fever last more than five days.
- A fever runs to 104 F or higher.
- Fever reducers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen don’t bring the fever down.
- Your child is not behaving normally, for example, having trouble waking up, not taking in food or liquids, showing signs of dehydration or acting particularly lethargic.
- You are concerned. Trust your instincts. If something feels wrong, it very well might be and it never hurts to ask.
Fevers are common with a cold, and even more so with the flu – and they can cause aches and pains in both instances. But there are some things you can do to help your kids (or yourself) when fever hits. Just remember, for any over the counter medication – always read the label! Be aware of active ingredients and don’t give additional medications to your child if he is already taking another cold or flu relief medication that contains the same active ingredient. See WebMD’s Guide to Over The Counter Pain Relief for a complete list of tips and warning when administering over the counter drugs.
Over the Counter:
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a medicine cabinet standard for many families. A dose of children’s acetaminophen can not only help a fever drop, but it can give your child some much needed rest and relief. Just be sure to read the labels and follow dosage instructions.
Ibuprofen (Advil) is another great way to bring fevers down. Pay close attention to the dosage instructions and remember that these medicines are best when given in the children’s form – not only will they taste better to your kids, they will also come with age/weight appropriate dosage cups that provide exact measurements.
***What NOT to do***:
While many of us grew up taking aspirin or seeing our parents rely on it for aches, pains, headaches and more, don’t give children under 18 aspirin or medications containing aspirin. Studies reported by WebMD and other medical sites show that aspirin can cause a rare, life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome in children under 18. Unless you have specific directions from a doctor or highly trusted health care professional, stay away from the aspirin!
Cool water can help draw out the heat of a fever. Soak a washcloth in cool water and place it on the forehead, under the arms or in other “hot spots” to help cool the body down.
Take a lukewarm bath – not too hot, not too cold, but just right to help reset the body’s temperature. If you throw in some epsom salts or magnesium and a sprinkle of powdered ginger you can help alleviate muscle aches, according to the site, Wellness Mama.
- Wellness Mama also suggests that if a fever is under control but still uncomfortable, try a natural sleep tinctureor chamomile tincture to soothe achy muscles and encourage sleep.
- Try some ginger, because ginger helps the body expel heat. Likewise, it is a natural antiviral and antibacterial agent, which can help boost the immune system any time. Try any of these three ginger solutions:
- Take a ginger bath. Put two tablespoons of ginger powder in a warm bath and mix well. Soak your child in the water for 10 minutes. Once dried off, cover them with a blanket and soon they will start to sweat, indicating that the fever is breaking. (You may want to test a patch of skin on your child’s arm or leg to make sure the ginger “detox” agrees with them!)
- Make ginger tea. Add one-half teaspoon freshly grated ginger to one cup of boiling water. Steep for a few minutes then add some honey. Drink this mix a few times daily until the fever is gone.
- Try Lemon/Honey/Ginger. Add one-half teaspoon of ginger juice, one teaspoon of lemon juice and one tablespoon of honey to a small cup. Mix and drink three to four times daily until the fever is gone.
For more all-natural remedies to help relieve fevers, aches and pains, check out Top10HomeRemedies.com to see some easy, and of course, natural, ways to bring that fever down and get everyone in your house back in to prime time shape.
The bottom line is that being sick is no fun. Whether you choose to head straight to the doctor, or prefer to try some natural remedies first, we hope that you’ll be able to use some of the tips we’ve provided. In the meantime, tell us some of your tips for combatting cold and flu season at your house. We would love to know some of your secret “cures”!