Winter is coming and with it comes the dreaded cold and flu season that can take down your entire household with sneezes, coughs, fevers and germs.
Oak Park mom Gail Coughlin says last winter was filled with sickness for her entire family. “We were sick from basically Halloween to St. Patrick’s Day, off and on, with everything from pneumonia, strep throat, colds, flu and ear infections that just wouldn’t quit.”
School-aged kids average six to eight colds per year, with symptoms lasting an average of 14 days, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Make this the year your family takes every step to be prepared, stay healthy and get on the road to recovery quickly.
Wash, wash and wash again
The number one way to prevent the spread of illness is regular hand washing with soap and water.
Dr. Sameer Patel, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, says to wash hands for at least 20 seconds, the amount of time it takes to hum the Happy Birthday song twice.
“Washing hands before eating, after touching or playing with someone else, after using the bathroom or after playing with animals can reduce your chances of getting an infection,” Patel says. “Also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.”
An alcohol-based sanitizer is better than nothing, but sanitizers don’t remove chemicals and may not disinfect certains organisms such as Norovirus and aren’t as effective when hands are visibly dirty, he says.
It’s also important to clean surfaces and objects that are touched frequently, such as desks, countertops, doorknobs and railings. Make it a routine to wipe down with disinfectant or soap and water weekly during the winter season, Patel says.
Consider the flu shot
Another way to consider is making sure kids are up to date with flu vaccines, as well as their whooping cough vaccine.
“It is best to get the flu shot early in the flu season, by September or October, so there is time to build immunity before flu season hits,” says Dr. Robin Kalish, pediatrician at Millennium Pediatrics.
According to the CDC, flu season in the U.S. is typically from October to May, with a peak between December and March. “Sometimes we see the flu well into the spring, so it can still be helpful to get the vaccine through January or even later,” Kalish says.
Kalish says the flu vaccine not only protects kids, but prevents the spread of flu to people with medical issues and babies too young to be vaccinated.
Sleep and eat well
It may sounds like a simple principle to staying healthy, but parents should make sure that everyone is getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods.
Kids who eat a balanced diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and also includes lean meats or eggs often have a better immunity or are able to recover more quickly from sickness, Patel says.
Many things you may already eat can help build your immunity. Milk can be a great source of vitamin D, yogurt provides probiotic benefits to help the immune system and veggies like carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A.
Patel also suggest drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding excessive sugar.
Essential oil up
Mandy Smith Seaman, a mom of three and Young Living distributor, stands by the use of essential oils as a natural way to maintain the health of her family.
“We use essential oils, aromatically through a diffuser and topically directly on our skin, especially during the winter,” she says.
“Every day before school, my kids apply essential oils to the bottoms of their feet to support their immunity all day at school,” Seaman says. “Preventing illness and building up our bodies made a huge differences in how often illness hits and how hard it does.”
Coughlin is prepared to not repeat last year and is determined to keep illness out of her home this winter.
“I’ve stocked our pantry with vitamins and probiotics. We’ve all gotten flu shots and use essential oil rollers. We’ve developed hand washing habits when we get home from places, especially work and school,” she says.
“Staying optimistic is half the battle, along with taking these extra steps.”