It is time to start thinking about how to prepare for the cold and flu season. Although many viruses can cause a cold, influenza (flu) is one of the most dangerous. Influenza (flu) season typically starts in the fall and peaks in January or February. Although preventing the flu starts with getting the influenza vaccine (flu shot), it does not end there. There is a lot that you can do to prevent, prepare for, and manage colds and flu.
Preventing colds and flu:
- Handwashing – the most important thing that you can do to prevent colds and flu.
It does not have to be fancy, plain old soap and water works just fine. Alcohol based hand sanitizers work well too. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Eliminate smoke and smoke exposure – Cold and flu are worse if you smoke or breathe in other people’s smoke.
The risk of a cold becoming asthma or pneumonia is greater if you smoke or if you are smoke exposed. All sources of smoke can cause harm. Tobacco smoke, fireplace smoke, incense smoke, BBQ smoke – they are all bad for breathing. Don’t smoke, stay away from places where people are smoking. If you are tobacco dependent and would like help, free help is available from the National Smoker’s Helpline at 1 800-QUIT-NOW.
- Get the flu shot (influenza vaccine). For healthy children who don’t want a shot, they can get the influenza vaccine as a nose spray.
High fever, cough and congestion, muscle aches, fatigue, feeling miserable – that is just a mild case of the flu. A severe case can lead to pneumonia, asthma, difficulty breathing, hospitalization, and occasionally death. Remember the old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Prepare for colds and flu:
We try our best to prevent colds and flu, but children seem to be germ magnets. Much as we try, unless we keep them in a bubble kids will get sick.
- Honey can help a cough. Cough medicine does not.
Studies have shown that cough suppressants – even the prescription ones – are no better than placebo. Don’t waste your money on cough medicine. Due to risk of infant botulism, don’t give honey to an infant under 1 year old. You can read my previous blog on this, here.
- Have a small supply of a pain and fever reliever at home.
Although pain and fever relievers don’t change the course of colds and flu, they can help your child to feel better. Commonly used pain and fever relievers are acetaminophen (brand names of Tylenol ®, Panadol ®, Tempra ®, others) and ibuprofen (brand names of Motrin ®, Advil ®, others). Read the label carefully and be sure you are giving the correct dose. If you are not sure ask your pharmacist, nurse, or doctor.
- Stuffy noses make babies feel bad — babies breathe through their nose. Keeping the nose clean can help your baby be more comfortable when your baby has a cold.
Saline drops (brand names NaSal, Little Noses, Ocean, others) and a bulb syringe can be used to loosen and clean the mucus out of your baby’s nose. If you are not sure what to get or how to use it, ask your pharmacist, nurse, or doctor.
Avoid unneeded antibiotics:
Colds and flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics DO NOT help a virus. Antibiotics have NO ROLE in the treatment of a virus. If you use too many antibiotics, they may not work when you really need them.
The vigorous response of the body’s immune system can lead to yellow or green mucus as your own immunity conquers the virus. Yellow or green mucus in a child who is feeling better does not mean that antibiotics are needed.
You do not need to see a doctor if your child is only mildly ill. If symptoms don’t improve after 10 days, a cough lasts for more than three weeks, or if you are worried that this might be something more than a simple cold do see your pediatrician.
For more infromation about Texas Children’s Pediatrics, visit here.
Be sure to see a doctor right away if your child has:
- Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or tightness in the chest.
- Lethargy, confusion, or extreme fatigue.
- A very sore throat with difficulty swallowing.
- Severe ear pain, sudden hearing loss, or discharge from the ear.
- A severe headache, different from a “normal” headache, that is not relieved by acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen.
- Blurring or change in vision.
- Coughing up blood
For more information on the flu, visit www.texaschildrens.org/flu.