Keeping your kids healthy during cold and flu season

Winter weather means snow, holidays and the regular cold season are in full swing. Most winter illnesses are caused by viruses, including RSV, the flu, and yes… COVID-19. While most cases of winter sickness in children are mild, sometimes they can be severe or lead to complications. Fortunately, mild cases can be easily treated and prevented at home.

Keeping the germs at bay

Do your best to prevent disease by limiting the spread of germs as much as possible. This includes frequent hand washing – especially after your child gets home from daycare or school. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Also avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. Many viruses can survive on dormant surfaces, so regularly disinfect hard surfaces, frequently touched objects, and toys.

The easiest protection you can take is to vaccinate your child against the flu and COVID-19. This is essential for disease prevention, especially for children with underlying illnesses, including asthma, heart disease, diabetes, or any other complex medical condition. And when in doubt, keep your child home from school or daycare if they are sick or showing symptoms to prevent the germs from spreading.

Symptoms and Treatment

These viruses can lead to many symptoms, ranging from a runny nose to difficulty breathing. It is also important to remember that for most cases of the common cold, antibiotics will not help, as antibiotics are only for a bacterial illness. Here are symptoms to watch out for:

Symptoms Treatment Runny or stuffy nose

For a stuffy nose, use saline nasal drops before suctioning your little one’s nose. Saline will help loosen the mucus and allow you to get more out of it when aspirating. This can be especially useful for feeding or taking a nap.

For older children, sinus lavage, if tolerated, can be a great remedy for clearing congestion.

Difficulty breathing, coughing and wheezing

Coughing is the body’s natural way of protecting the lungs from mucus buildup. Do not give cough suppressants to most children. If you are considering giving honey as a home remedy, remember that honey should never be given to a child under one year of age.

If your child has a barking cough or is diagnosed with croup, try breathing in the cold air outside or from the freezer. Keep in mind that it is common for a cough to persist for weeks after the initial illness; try to be patient Fever

Tylenol or Ibuprofen

Don’t give aspirin


Increase the intake of fluids such as water. Make sure your child urinates at least 3-4 times in a 24-hour period.

Loss of appetite It is not a problem if your child does not want to eat solid food, but it is important that they continue to drink enough, such as water. Sore throat For the older children, cough drops/pastilles and gargling with salt water can help relieve a sore throat

Don’t fall for cold myths

There are many myths surrounding the common cold, so don’t be fooled! The color or consistency of your child’s mucus does not indicate a bacterial infection. It is okay to get vaccinations if they are mildly ill or with a low temperature. And contrary to my own mother’s advice, just going outside with wet hair won’t catch a cold and drinking plenty of orange juice won’t prevent you from getting sick.

Most cases of mild colds can be treated safely at home with a few simple remedies and supportive measures. The most common complications requiring immediate attention or evaluation are dehydration, respiratory distress, or secondary infections. So keep an eye on your child’s urine output and check for signs of increased breathing difficulties (including breathing quickly and heavily, using the muscles between the ribs to breathe, or having the nostrils wide open). Take your child for evaluation if the illness lasts for more than two weeks, if the fever lasts for more than four days, or if your child seemed to be doing better before it got worse. make an appointment or find a provider near you.

About the author: Stephanie O’Brien, DO, is a general pediatrician at MercyOne Clive Pediatric Care. She recently joined the clinic after graduation and is looking forward to building her practice in the Des Moines area. She is passionate about preventive medicine and pediatric development. In her spare time she likes to spend time with her family and her newborn daughter.

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