As the holiday season approaches, so too does the season of runny noses, wheezing and a cacophony of coughing coming into my office. Each year we see a smattering of illness in the fall. It seems that after families and children move around the country visiting extended families in and out of town, the floodgates open following the Thanksgiving holiday.
And here we are. In the season of joy and giving, sharing our viral infections right and left. Parents are missing work taking care of their children that are sick and then children are returning to daycare and school to spread the love again. This is a busy time and more incidents of ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonias, wheezing associated respiratory illnesses, and more serious meningitis bacterial infections are at play when the seemingly common cold comes to brood.
There is certainly hope for all of us to navigate these waters of congestion and cough. There are easy and practical options that all parents, teachers, caregivers, and children themselves can implement to reduce the load.
First and foremost, wash your hands!!
Those little hands that travel from grocery carts to counter tops and then into mouths and noses (not always their own) are the perfect transportation for viral and bacterial invaders alike. Hand washing is best, but hand sanitizers certainly will suffice when out and about and a sink with soap and water is not available.
Secondly, keep up to date with immunizations.
Keeping children up to date on all other recommended vaccines is also of paramount importance to prevent likelihood of secondary infections, both in and out of the flu season. These illnesses have been significantly reduced in their incidence thanks to life-saving prevention offered through vaccines.
The flu vaccine is still recommended for all people and for all children six months and older, including adolescents. Healthcare systems are well stocked with these immunizations and this is the best option in creating immunity to prevent infection from settling in the first place. This immunization is modified yearly as manufacturers and researchers try to implement appropriate adjustments to account for viral shifts and changes, but overall, the flu vaccine reduces incidence of illness in those most vulnerable.
Even in the unfortunate circumstance when a child does become ill with influenza infection despite immunization, most often, those patients experience a lesser illness than one who has not been immunized at all. This should be a conversation to have with your healthcare provider yearly.
Third, if you or your child has an underlying chronic illness such as diabetes, asthma, severe allergies, history of prematurity, or immunosuppression, stay current on management.
Keeping these diseases stable and appropriately managed can help prevent superinfection with simple colds and flus that escalate in the face of poor management. Your healthcare provider can work to make this an achievable option for all patients facing more chronic conditions and they are available to guide you when trouble arises.
Finally, see your healthcare provider in a timely fashion if you or your child has been fighting a fever over 101F for more than five days, has worsening in symptoms rather than improvement, or is experiencing increasing respiratory distress/poor fluid intake.
Pediatricians and practitioners who care for children are available to help families both during and outside of office hours.
The best management in the face of viral infection is rest, plenty of fluids, and supportive care when a viral upper respiratory illness sets in. Humidity, nasal saline, and simple warm tea with honey/lemon are effective and easily implemented supportive care measures for most (no honey for children under 12 months of age). Using medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage higher fevers can help take the edge off, but remember that fevers are your body’s natural way of fighting infection. So, most of the time, it would be alright to tolerate some fevers and allow your body to do its job as long as a child (or adult) is also able to keep up with fluids and still maintains a relatively normal disposition.
In the ever-changing setting of viral illness that can trigger a cascade of green goo, be assured that you can navigate these waters and make it through the storm no worse for the wear, with your immune system likely primed and charged to take on future challenges. Simple preventive measures and early assessment when there are signs of worsening are the key to enjoying the holidays and the new year happy, healthy and feeling strong.