For families, winter means holiday celebrations, cozy family movie nights, and heartwarming traditions.
Unless, of course, your family falls victim to cold and flu season. In that case, winter means doctor visits, cough medicine, missed school days, and lots (and we mean lots) of tissues.
Official “flu season” kicks off around October and can last as late as May, although peak illness activity usually occurs between December and February. But whenever the flu hits your family, one thing is for certain: you’re probably going to be miserable.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to help your family survive cold and flu season, especially during Covid-19. Whether you’re focused on preventing colds and the flu altogether, or you’ve already been hit by them and are just trying to do damage control, here are some tips to help you navigate sick season with kids.
Before sickness hits
It’s better to prevent colds and the flu in the first place, rather than having to fight them off. Here are a few tips on how to do that.
The best way to avoid sickness is to prevent the spreading of germs, and the best way to do that is by regular and thorough hand washing. You and your children should make a habit of washing hands before preparing or eating meals, after using the bathroom, after being around someone who is sick, after sneezing or coughing, and after returning home from shopping, school, the park, or any other public place.
Take some time to teach your children to wash their hands properly. They should use clean water and soap, and should scrub their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds (singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice is about right) before rinsing and drying.
Note: hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative to handwashing only if handwashing is unavailable. Washing your hands with soap and water will always be the best way to get clean hands.
Get a flu vaccine.
Everyone over the age of 6 months should get an annual influenza vaccine. The flu can be an extremely serious illness, especially for vulnerable groups like young children, pregnant women, and the elderly. Flu vaccines help to prevent the spread of the flu, or may lessen the severity of the disease if someone happens to contract it even after getting vaccinated.
In short, getting a flu vaccine yourself, and having your children vaccinated, is an important step in keeping your family (and others) from getting the flu this season.
Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep is important for a number of reasons, one of which is that insufficient sleep may make you more prone to illnesses like colds and the flu. When you sleep, your body produces a type of protein called cytokines, which targets infection and inflammation. If you don’t get enough sleep, you probably aren’t getting enough cytokines either.
The amount of sleep you and your children need varies by age. For most adults, seven to eight hours of sleep is ideal. Children need anywhere from 10-12 hours of sleep. Make sure you’re making sufficient sleep a priority this cold and flu season.
Foods full of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are going to help keep your immune system strong and functioning properly. Vitamin C is well-known for its ability to help you stay healthy, but vitamin A and protein are useful as well. Eating a “rainbow” of foods (fruits and vegetables in all different colors) is a good way to get a good amount of all the nutrients you need.
After sickness hits:
No matter how careful you are, there are times when you or your children will come down with a cold or the flu just the same. Here are some quick tips on how to survive if someone in your family gets sick.
What’s the difference between cold and flu?
There are medications that can help reduce the duration and severity of the flu, but they are most effective if taken early on in the illness. This means that it’s important to see a doctor if you believe you or your child has the flu, and not just a cold.
Generally speaking, the flu has an abrupt onset, and a fever, body aches, and chills are usual symptoms. A cold comes on more gradually, and is characterized more by a stuffy nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. For more information on the differences between a cold and the flu, check out the CDC’s webpage on the subject.
Knowing how to manage symptoms of a cold or the flu is key to survival if someone in your family gets sick. This means doing things like:
- Using over-the-counter medicines to relieve congestion, coughing, sneezing, fever, etc.
- Using a humidifier at night to relieve dryness in the nose and throat
- Giving the sick person plenty of fluids
- Make sure the sick person gets plenty of rest
Avoid spreading the sickness
It’s important to do your best to keep the illness spreading to every member of your family. This means that you should try to avoid spreading the sickness by doing things like:
- Regular hand-washing
- Not sharing utensils or cups
- Teaching and practicing the right way to cough sneeze (not into your hand, but into a tissue or your elbow)
- Staying home and keeping the sick people isolated