Coughs, colds and sniffles are part of life, but experts say that common sense, a strong immune system, healthy diet and natural supplements can help your child to avoid getting sick – or at least shorten the duration of an illness.
“Winter is a popular breeding ground for colds and flu,” says Dr Nan Jolly. “It’s believed that we get more colds and flu now because we stay indoors more, with doors and windows closed against freezing temperatures. In that setting, it’s easy to catch whatever is being circulated!”
Viruses are transmitted from person to person by droplets of infected air breathed, coughed or spat out by an infected person, Dr Jolly explains. We’re very quick to treat symptoms with over-the-counter remedies and visits to the doctor, but why not try to prevent the cause in the first place?
“If you want to stay completely free of infections then, in a nutshell, stay away from people!” says Dr Jolly. “Spend most of your time in the fresh air and sunshine away from everyone. But of course, that isn’t very practical for us gregarious humans.”
Tips to keep colds and flu at bay
The first step in giving your baby or toddler a fighting chance against viral nasties is to practice healthy habits in your own family – and encourage those around you to do the same.
- Cough away from objects
Viruses attach to objects touched with hands that have been coughed or sniffed into, so clean door handles, telephone handsets, remote controls and other potentially infected objects in your home.
- Cough or sneeze into your sleeve, clothing or over your shoulder
If you’re infected, cough or sneeze into your sleeve, clothing or over your shoulder, as viral droplets are less likely to reach and infect others this way.
- Wash your hands
Wash your child’s hands and your own frequently, especially after playing with friends, before and after nappy changes or visits to the toilet, and before eating.
A strong immune system is an excellent line of defence against any infection. Paediatrician William Sears says that boosting immunity can be achieved via appropriate natural supplementation.
To boost the immune system
The following supplements may be used every day, but check with your doctor and pharmacist about dosage, frequency and duration according to your child’s age and her symptoms.
- Vitamin C
Dr Sears advises that children up to 6 years of age benefit from 250mg per day in a chewable tablet, capsule or powder dissolved in water or juice
Echinacea is a natural herb that enhances the immune system and is very effective. Work carefully with your caregiver to ensure correct dosage and frequency
Children up to the age of 6 can take 10 to 20mg per day and zinc is usually available as a powder, chewable tablet or capsule. Zinc gluconate is the best form and the lozenge should not contain citric acid, tartaric acid, mannitol or sorbitol, as these can inactivate the zinc
These healthy bacteria live in our intestines. The best probiotics for your baby contain lactobacillus and bifidobacteria.
Although there appears to be no evidence that colds or flu can specifically be prevented by a particular diet or supplement, a well-nourished person is more likely to deal better with an infection than someone who is malnourished, says Dr Jolly.
Nutritional therapist Heidi du Preez explains that the best foods are whole, unprocessed ones free of preservatives, chemicals and colourants.
This means fruits and vegetables – preferably organic, but at least washed in vinegar water to get rid of pesticides – and plenty of whole grains. If there’s no history of nut allergy, then nuts and seeds also contain powerful nutrients and should be eaten regularly.
- Drink enough water
“Make sure your child drinks enough water – more or less 150ml per 10kg of body weight per day,” advises Heidi.
- Limit the intake of sugar
“There is also evidence that sugar can disable the immune system and it should therefore be limited in the diet.”
- Cut down on dairy
Children prone to colds also tend to make mucus in and around the nose, so they benefit from less dairy, since dairy tends to increase mucus secretion.”
- Vitamin C
Heidi also advocates the use of vitamin C, which boosts the immune system and anti-viral actions in the body. Taking larger doses of vitamin C at the first sign of a cold reduces the number of “ill days” by a third.
Although this large dose of vitamin C can sometimes cause some loosening of the bowels, the side effect resolves once the dose is reduced, advises Heidi.
What did our moms and grandmothers do before fancy cough syrups and specialist doctors? There’s great value in some old-fashioned wisdom from parents who have been there, done that and lived to tell the tale!
Wise words from gran
- Plenty of rest, sleep and tender, loving care
“Plenty of rest, sleep and tender, loving care are the prescription for both preventing colds and flu as well as treating them,” says granny of three, Teresa Lowe.
“If good food, sunshine and basic hygiene tips fail to do the trick, then tackling the virus from both a practical and psychological point of view is the best way forward.”
- How to clear a blocked nose
When babies or toddlers have a cold, it’s distressing for them because their noses are blocked and they can’t breathe as they normally do.
Teresa advises, “I always check the temperature and if high, give a little Ferrum Phos tissue salts and sponge them down with a cool cloth.
To clear blocked noses, use a little Vicks on the chest and pillow (Don’t apply to babies under 1 year and consult with your pharmacist first). “Raising a child high on her pillow also helps drain mucus from the nasal passages and chest and helps to prevent coughing, which wakes them up.”
When her babies had a cold or flu, Teresa says she held them high on her shoulder and let them fall asleep that way, providing both mucus drainage and plenty of TLC – a winning combination.
- Home-made soup
Lastly, home-made, strained soup, a soft boiled egg or a little of your child’s favourite food (but not milk) all help to tempt a poor appetite.
Taking a proactive approach this Winter will save you a lot of trouble – so stock up on healthy food, encourage good hygiene and keep that immune system ticking!
According to the Homoeopathic Association of South Africa, homoeopathy is based on the principle that substances capable of causing diseases can also be used in diluted form as remedies for the same disease. This is known as “the law of similars”.
Specific symptoms of colds and flu will be carefully observed by a qualified homeopath.
For example, aconite might be prescribed if chilliness and a fever follow suddenly after exposure to cold, dry winds and the nose is congested, swollen, hot and dry but with no discharge.
Other remedies include arsenicum, euphrasia, nux vomica, pulsatilla, allium cepa and gelsemium, among others.
- Tissue salts
Tissue salts are another safe remedy in tablet form. These micronutrients are effective for all ages, including babies and toddlers.
Tissue salts for coughs and colds include Nat Mur (runny nose), Ferrum Phos (fever) and Kali Mur, Kali Sulph, Kali Phos, Calc Fluor and Calc Phos. Read the label to determine exactly which remedy is right – some treat dry coughs, while others are for green, thick mucus, for example.
A word of caution: use of Silicea, for longer than six weeks at a time must be completely avoided by pregnant women or those with implants, as it can result in rejection of foreign matter in the body.
Visit www.hsa.org.za to find a homoeopath in your area, as correct diagnosis and treatment by a qualified professional is best.
Is it really flu?
Remember that influenza is a virus and is therefore not treatable with antibiotics. Flu is very different from the common cold and may present these symptoms:
- High fever with other symptoms such as sore throat and headache
- Chills; sore throat; headache; nausea; vomiting; diarrhoea; abdominal pain; body and muscle aches; stuffy nose; clear or green, runny nose; dry or productive cough and irritated, red eyes.
Dr Sears advises seeing a doctor if your child has a fever for more than three days, moderate to severe dehydration, or severe cough with chest pain and shortness of breath. Aside from those symptoms, if you instinctively feel that your child is unusually ill, see the doctor.
Should you give your child a flu shot?
This is very much a personal decision. Dr Jolly says that there are specific vaccines against certain strains of influenza. Although they don’t offer 100% protection, they have been shown to help keep the flu at bay.
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