This time of year, it may seem like the youngest members of your household bring some form of illness home as often as they do homework.
While it’s impossible for children (or anyone) to avoid sickness entirely, a strong immune system can go a long way in defending against the latest round of bugs. Kallanna Manjunath, chief medical officer and staff paediatrician at the Whitney M Young Jr Health Center in Albany, New York, offers these tips for warding off colds:
• Minimize exposure to sick children, he says. Sure, this is tough at school and with siblings at home, but obviously, less contact with cold viruses means fewer colds.
• Limit children’s exposure to tobacco smoke, including second-hand and third-hand exposure (the residue that clings to smokers’ hair and clothing as well as carpets and furnishings). It weakens their immune systems.
• Send them outside. “Take children out into the fresh air,” Manjunath says. “The more time they spend indoors, the more likely it is they’ll be exposed to people with viruses.”
• Give them yogurt for breakfast (or in their bag lunch). Yogurt promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive system, which also stimulates the immune system, Manjunath says. Look for yogurt with live active cultures. Topped with granola, he says, yogurt makes a great immunity-building breakfast.
• Drinking eight glasses of water a day helps improve cell function, and thus immune function, he says. It also helps fight illness by flushing your system.
• Teach children hygiene. Hand washing goes a long way in preventing illness, as does wiping down common surfaces, such as countertops. But don’t get too carried away with sanitizing. Exposure to viruses and bacteria also helps gear up the immune system to prevent sickness in the future. “You have to really balance (hygiene worries with) a child’s normal curiosity to play outside and get dirty...and walk around with bare feet if it’s not too cold, and perhaps eat with dirty hands once in a while,” Manjunath says. “If a child is sick, and there’s actual illness, that’s when you have to be more careful, because you’re preventing other people from getting the illness.”
• Remind them to cover their mouths, but not with their hands. Children should be taught to cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbows or tissues rather than on to their hands, from where cold viruses can then spread.
• Put a rainbow on their plates. A healthy diet of colourful fruit and vegetables will help build strong bodies with strong immune systems.
• Get them to bed early. “Good sleep is important from both a prevention point of view as well as in illness,” Manjunath says.
• Realize that it’s okay for them to get sick. Most children get anywhere between five to seven colds a year during the first few years of life, Manjunath says. It’s all part of the immunity-building process.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES