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9 Ways to Survive Cold and Flu Season, According to a Pediatrician
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If the past year taught parents anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Schools closed? Remote learning it is! Sophia L.’s mom tested positive for COVID-19? Scratch that weekly toddler pod. And who’d have thought you could get your 3-year-old to wear a mask at the playground without throwing it into the sandbox?! But there’s one thing we can always expect come winter: cold and flu season. So, amid all the COVID-19 chaos, how do we also keep our kids safe from these other impending viruses? We chatted with Dr. Allie Effron, MD, pediatrician and co-founder of Greater Cleveland Pediatrics about the smartest ways to get through cold and flu season. Here’s what she told us. (Psst: Dr. Allie’s @askDrAllie Instagram account is also worth a follow for fantastic and easy-to-follow advice.)

1. Buy a hand soap your kids love

“No, seriously. Handwashing is a proven way of killing germs and staying healthy, so why not make it a little more fun for your kids? Whether it's a fun scent or cool character on the bottle, let your kids pick their favorite so that the next time you say ‘wash your hands,’ they run for the sink. Pro-tip: try a foaming hand soap for new, sensory fun.”  

2. Follow the Norwegians

“I’m part-Norwegian, and something they say in Norway is, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.’ That’s right, spending time outside, even in chilly weather, is actually good for your health. Studies have shown the positive health effects of spending time in nature, with some research even suggesting that your immune system actually functions better after spending time outdoors. So please, ignore your mother who insists you’ll catch a cold from the cold, and instead have fun exploring the great outdoors. (Just please bundle up to avoid frostbite.)” 

3. Get a flu shot

“We pediatricians work hard on preventing disease before it happens, and a flu vaccine is one of the best preventative measures you can take for your family this winter. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend a flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months old.  While we know the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, recent research estimates the influenza vaccine reduces pediatric influenza hospitalizations by 40 to 60 percent. This is especially important right now during the COVID-19 pandemic—decreasing influenza hospitalizations leaves more resources available to combat coronavirus and other healthcare needs.”

4. Catch some Zzz’s 

“I get so many questions about what we can do to ‘boost’ our immune systems. It turns out, one of the most effective ways to keep your immune system functioning at its best is good old-fashioned sleep.  Even minor sleep deficits can leave your body more susceptible to infection. While eight hours of sleep per night is the general recommendation for adults, school-aged children may need closer to 12 hours, and toddlers may need even more. So despite everything else going on around us right now, try to prioritize a regular sleep schedule for your family.” 

5. Stay hydrated

“Your skin is considered the largest organ in your body, and you may be surprised to learn that it plays a big role in your immune system. Staying hydrated helps keep your skin and mucous membranes moist and intact, which means fewer open areas where pathogens can enter and cause infection. This is especially important in children, who are more likely to pick and rub dry noses and lips. Consider a nasal saline spray to keep nasal passages moist and clear, and a lip balm to protect chapped lips.”

6. Treat a cough with honey

“If your child develops a cough this winter, try reaching for the honey in your kitchen cabinet. Most over-the-counter cough medications are not recommended for children, due to the risk of severe side-effects. While there are some safer options, they nearly all share a common ingredient: honey. Honey, which has known anti-inflammatory properties, has been shown to decrease cough symptoms in kids. While it won’t remove your child’s underlying infection, honey may help keep symptoms mild while their immune system goes to work. (Though be sure to avoid honey in children under 1-year-old due to the risk of botulism.)”  

7. Don’t focus too much on the thermometer

“With all the focus on temperatures this year, you may find yourself checking your child’s temperature more than usual. Don’t forget, a fever in older, otherwise healthy children is rarely dangerous and is often protective in fighting disease. This means there’s no need to reach for the fever medications if your child is running around and playing, even with a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a different story in infants, however, so please call your doctor right away if your infant is 3 months old or younger and has a fever, or if you ever have any concerns about dehydration or lethargy. Check out more information about fevers from the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

8. Have a plan

“Kids get sick at the most inopportune times. Find out in advance how to reach your child’s medical office after-hours so you’re prepared for any scary symptoms overnight.”

9. Don’t forget your mask

“Yes, we have all heard about the benefits of mask-wearing for preventing the spread of coronavirus. But did you know that most mask research was actually done on preventing spread of influenza and other respiratory infections? If your kids are having trouble keeping their masks on, try practicing with dolls and stuffed animals. Young children learn best through play, and a mask-wearing doll can provide comfort to a child trying to figure out this new accessory.”  

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