Staying well in Winter – a guide to improving immunity against common winter illnesses such as influenza, middle ear infections, common cold, croup, whooping cough (pertussis), sore throats/tonsillitis, bronchiolitis.
Firstly, check out our guide to common winter illnesses:
Signs and symptoms: Fever and chills, sore throat, dry cough, headache, fatigue and body aches. Influenza may also lead to more serious complications like pneumonia. The worst symptoms usually last about five days, but coughing can continue for two to three weeks.
What to do? While your child is unwell, keep them away from school and preschool and make sure they have plenty of rest and fluids. If your child becomes drowsy or non-responsive, or if their breathing becomes fast and noisy, then seek medical advice immediately.
Influenza immunisation is recommended for children and is free for children from 6-months with an ongoing medical condition. More info at: www.fightflu.co.nz/information-for-parents/
Signs and symptoms: Sore throats, runny or blocked noses, watery eyes and sneezing, or coughs can last one to two weeks. Many different infectious viruses cause colds, such as the highly contagious common cold virus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
What to do? As there is no cure, it comes down to alleviating symptoms, but please note many over-the-counter cough and cold remedies are not suitable for children under the age of 6-years. Most colds will clear up of their own accord within
a few days. Ensure your child has plenty of rest and a good intake of fluids.
Relieve blocked noses with vapour rubs, i.e., menthol, (but avoid rubs on clothes or pillows for babies under 3-months).
Keep your child away from school or preschool in the first few days when symptoms are at their worst. If the symptoms do not improve, consult a doctor.
Ways to stop the spread: Teach your children to cough into the crook of their elbow and show them how to use tissues. Ensure they wash their hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose. Used tissues need to go straight into the rubbish bin.
Be asthma aware: Colds can also sometimes trigger asthma, as can cooler temperature changes. Keep up with inhalers if they’ve been prescribed and see your GP if symptoms worsen. More info at www.asthmanz.co.nz
Signs and symptoms: This is a lower-airway infection (ie, lung infection). Symptoms include cough, fever, wheezing and, in more serious cases, rapid heartbeat and rapid, shallow breathing. RSV may also cause this lung infection, which often strikes children under-2.
What to do? While the symptoms are usually not severe, babies and infants with much smaller airways, and who may have other chronic illnesses, can be seriously affected. You can care for a child who is not seriously ill at home by making sure they rest and have plenty to drink. Seek medical help if your child has any kind of difficulty breathing or starts to get dehydrated.
Middle ear infections
Often start with a cold and are very common in children under 6-years.
Signs and symptoms: Grizzly, crying more than usual, waking in night, pulling on ears, raised temperature.
What to do? Paracetamol and ibuprofen will help to ease ear pain and fever, which can be significant. Most children will feel better without any treatment after several days, but some may require antibiotics. If any fluid is discharging or you suspect an ear infection, consult your family GP. After the symptoms have gone, you should check that the fluid in the middle ear has cleared, because if not, this can lead to temporary hearing loss and blockage of the ears, known as ?glue ear’. Your family GP will be able to advise you further on this.
Infants and toddlers are most at risk of getting croup.
Key symptoms: It will probably start like a cold but after a few days turn into a barky cough. Breathing will become hoarse and noisy. Symptoms may last five or six days.
What to do? If the cough continues at night, try steaming up the bathroom and letting them breathe in the warm, damp air for 15 minutes or so. Seek emergency help if severe symptoms develop (i.e., difficulty breathing or speaking).
whooping cough (pertussis)
Signs and symptoms: Include a runny nose, but also a temperature, followed by a cough. The cough may get progressively worse, making it hard for your child to breathe and sometimes causing them to make a ?whooping’ sound. The cough can last for several months and can lead to pneumonia.
What to do? On-time immunisations for infants (6 weeks, 3 & 5 months), plus boosters (at 4 and 11 years) is the best prevention. If your child does get whooping cough, have them seen by your GP. There is currently an epidemic of whooping cough, and booster shots are seen as the key to avoiding the bug, as immunisations only last for a limited time.
Bacterial infections of the throat or tonsils are more common during winter.
Signs and symptoms: include a very sore throat over more than several days, pain when swallowing, a high temperature and headache, along with red and swollen tonsils.
What to do? Your child will need to take a few days off school and may need to be seen by a GP if symptoms are severe or last longer than a few days.
- The bacteria streptococcus is one of the common causes of tonsillitis.
- Strep throat occurs when your child has a sore throat without the tonsils being affected.
- Pain relief, resting and drinking plenty of fluids will help ease symptoms.
Herbal relief for colds: Drink honey dissolved in hot water with the addition of some lemon juice and ground ginger or a tea made from equal parts elderflowers, hyssop and mint. Take these drinks hot every two hours.
Build up that immunity!!!
Top 5 immunity boosters
- Zinc has antibacterial and antiviral properties and stimulates white blood cell function to fight infection.
- Vitamin C is well known for its antioxidant activity and can reduce the duration and severity of colds.
- Vitamin A increases the activity of white blood cells, and helps expel mucous from the body
- The B-complex vitamins are readily depleted by stress and illness, but are absolutely essential for the production of energy by the body’s cells, including cells essential for immunity.
- Probiotics can help replenish the good bacteria in your gut which is often reduced during illness or antibiotics.
test: 11 easy ways to catch a cold this winter:
- Cough and sneeze into hands, then don’t wash them
- Don’t keep your home heated to a comfortable, even temperature
- Don’t keep children warm in cold weather with gloves, socks and woolly hats
- Allow your children to bring home friends with runny noses
- Let your children stay up late and stay up late yourself
- Forget to serve fresh fruit and veggies
- Choose a diet high in fat and sugar
- Do very little exercise in your family
- Allow your children to spend more than two hours a day in front of television, computers and gaming consoles
- Don’t properly manage your child’s fluid intake
- Don’t tick anything on this list for a happy, healthy winter!
Food for thought
To keep your family’s immunity strong and healthy, a good, varied diet is essential. Here are some key ingredients:
- Start with a healthy breakfast, such as porridge with fresh, dried, stewed or canned fruit.
- Try to include seasonable winter vegetables at meal-times. Winter casseroles and soups ? chicken or pumpkin soup, for example ? are great over winter.
- If your children are regularly coming down with sniffles, you should increase their consumption of vitamin C-rich fruit and vegetables. You may wish to try junior-strength immune boosting vitamin tablets containing vitamin C (but a good diet should be enough to get their immunity to where it needs to be).
Preschool children should eat at least four servings of vegetables and fruit each day, while children and young people aged 5- to 18-years should eat at least five such servings to ensure their immunity is up and fighting sneaky viruses and bacteria.
Serving size examples:
- 1 medium potato or k?mara
- cup cooked vegetables (eg, broccoli, peas, corn, spinach, p?h?)
- 1 carrot
- 1 apple, pear, banana or orange
- 2 small apricots or plums
- cup fresh fruit salad
- cup stewed or tinned fruit
A good varied diet will also help build up immunity. Make sure to include breads and cereals, milk and milk products, lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.
If you are worried about someone in your family this winter, call Healthline (0800 611 116) for advice or see a doctor.
References: www.health.govt.nz, www.besthealth.bmj.com,
Herbal drink: The Illustrated Herbal Encyclopedia by Brenda Little, Abbeydale Press, 1999
Kim Newth is a Rangiora-based freelance writer and mother of two daughters.