Monday, December 29, 2014

10 Ways to Prevent Catching a Cold or Flu

It's that time of year, commonly known by health care professionals and mothers of winter babies as  'respiratory season'. The time of year that you and your family are always battling to stay healthy and not have a constant runny nose, cough and/or sniffles. It can be a struggle, but here are some ways to help you and your family stay healthy.

  1. Stay well hydrated- It's kind of a running joke in my family, if anyone has a physical ailment
    or complaint I will ask them how much water they have been drinking. But hydration is sooo important. Your body requires water in order to facilitate all of the processes it does all of the time. It think my toddler's first complete sentence was to me when I was sick "Drink more water, it will feels you better." Make sure you and your kids are getting enough fluids.
  2. Keep your nose moist- When I was in nursing school, one of my professors said that the secret to not getting sick when you are caring for sick people is nasal mist. (You can find them at your local drug store.) When you are well-hydrated, your nose and respiratory tract is full of moist squishy mucus (boogers). That squishy, sticky mucus is perfect for catching germs so they don't get deeper into your body. When that mucus gets hard and dry it is less effective at catching the germs. Nasal mist and a water bottle are your friends.
  3. Wash your hands-Frequently I know we have all heard this before, but it still holds true. Keep your hands clean and keep them away from your face and you stand a better chance at not catching whatever the latest bug is to go around. And whenever we return from playing at some indoor playplace (or any other place where there are a lot of children frequently touching the surfaces), I make my children bathe. A trip to McDonald's always ensures bath time.
  4. Exercise- When you exercise, it helps your immune system to work more effectively
  5. Eat a healthy diet- Your body is constantly fighting a battle against legions of microbes, in order to fight that battle your immune system needs proteins, vitamins and minerals to keep your skin (your primary protective barrier) in good condition and create the antibodies and white blood cells that disable any harmful invaders.
  6. Keep sick people away from your family- This can be hard because you don't want to offend people, but the health and well-being of your children in more important than someone having the privilege of spreading their illness. Once years ago, I took care of a tiny infant whose grandma had come to visit. Grandma had bronchitis, but had already paid for her airline ticket from across the country and was too excited to stay away from her new grandchild. The infant quickly came down with bronchiolitis caused by RSV and became very ill. At one point a mucous plug formed in one of the lungs, causing a pneumothorax (the tension caused the lung to “pop” and deflate). That infant had to be life-lighted to a Pediatric ICU at another hospital. I don’t know whether or not it survived. This is serious business. Keep sick people away from your babies, even if it is Grandma.
  7. Make sure your family gets their flu shots. And often it doesn't even have to be a 'shot'. Most pediatricians office offer a 'flu mist', which is a quick squirt up the nose, no needles required. The flu shot is not fool proof. The scientist who develop try to pick the strains of  flu viruses that are most likely to spread through the population that year. They then give that vaccine to the population to give them immunity against it. Sometimes they pick the wrong one and other strains effect the populations (like this year), but it is better to get the flu vaccine and as a probable prevention than not. And even if you do get the flu, it is likely that your symptoms will not be as severe. Most years it is an extremely effective way to prevent illness.
  8. Get enough rest- Keeping your body healthy can be hard work, and you need adequate rest to
    keep going and stay healthy. This is for kids and parents. It can be hard during the holidays to get enough rest when there is so much going on, but it is important for everyone.
  9. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer & baby wipes- I keep these in my purse and car at all times. Yes they are not as effective at killing germs and a thorough 2 minute hand scrubbing with soap and water, but often you and your kids don't have time for that and hand sanitizer is still very effective at killing germs.
  10. Keep your doorknobs and light switches clean- Wiping these down with a Lysol wipe is one of my kids' favorite chores. This ties into keeping your hands clean, which many studies have shown effectively prevents illness.

And because RSV is such a huge part of the respiratory season in kids, here's some more information on it. RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus and is most common reason for infant hospital admission. (Although metapneumo virus or MPV will cause very similar results.) When adults or older children contract the virus the immune system responds by producing more mucous to catch the virus so it can be moved out of the lungs by coughing and the action of microscopic hair-like parts in the lungs called cilia. In an infant the problem is that the virus also causes inflammation of the lungs (bronchiolitis) and this swelling of their tiny airways makes it difficult to move the mucous and viruses out. The irritation causes more mucous production and the poor tiny guys are almost drowning in their own snot. Frequently because the infants don’t feel well, they don’t drink enough, they become dehydrated and that makes the mucous thick and sticky and more difficult to cough out. 
Because RSV is a virus, antibiotics do nothing for it. There is a vaccine, but it is VERY expensive and doesn’t guarantee prevention. It’s called Synergis and it generally only given to very premature babies. There is no vaccine for MPV. The only treatment is oxygen, suction and fluids. Sometimes suctioning with a bulb syringe is enough to clear the airway, but more often the infants need to be deep suctioned by a professional. If your infant displays any of the following, it is time to see a doctor: retracting (or sucking in) around the rib cage and collar bones, blue lips, grey color, difficulty breathing, wheezing, or breathing faster than 60 times per minute.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Gratitude this Holiday Season

 Lately I have been listening to the audiobook  'If This Isn't Nice, What is?- Advice to the Young: The Graduation Speeches' by Kurt Vonnegut. In his speeches he touches on many subjects from global warming, adulthood, relationships, politics, education, divorce and family. As he dispenses advice, I find his sarcasm and crankiness somewhat endearing.  Ironically, for a self-proclaimed atheist, he seems to be very enamored with the 'Sermon on the Mount' and other teaching of Jesus Christ, and how more people should apply these ideas in their lives. It was a surprisingly perfect selection for the holiday season.
 In multiple of his speeches Vonnegut describes his Uncle Alex, who urged him to enjoy the good moments in his life, thus the title phrase 'If this isn't nice, what is?' Sometimes we are so busy with our goals, and how great things are going to be 'once our kids are potty-trained', or 'once graduate school is over' or fill in whatever good thing you are waiting for, that we forget to appreciate how really fantastic things are now. If we can't enjoy what we have now, will we ever really enjoy what we have later? We need to look around and make sure that we are enjoying the journey.
 As a mother during the Christmas season, it is easy to get wrapped up in my to-do list: finish finals, exercise, find all the perfect gifts for my kids, take them to the dentist, decorate, get ready for guests, attend a Christmas party, etc. And it is easy for me to stress about the things that didn't get done. I didn't make Christmas cards or neighbor gifts. I didn't make cookies with my kids and I slacked off on a few other Christmas traditions. There is a Christmas present I bought for my daughter that has disappeared. No clue where it went. I had hoped to help my kids do a service activity as a teaching moment, but that didn't really happen. There are dozens of people that deserve signs of my thanks, love and appreciation, that I didn't have the time to reach out to. I think that not having enough time and/or energy in December is a common feeling. Christmas sometimes brings a lot of stress, because in addition to our ordinary lives and responsibilities, there are so many activities that we are trying to squeeze into the same 24 hour sized day.
 This morning I learned of an event that highlighted the urgency of relishing the moment. A couple friends from high school unexpectedly and tragically lost their small child. Although I haven't seen them in years, I cried for them and their loss. As a pediatric nurse, I have had many occasions to be privy to a family's pain for the loss or suffering of their child, and my heart always aches for them. It always makes me want to hug my own kids and be so grateful that they continue to breathe. At home, with me, blissfully unaware of things like cancer or infection. It reminds me that life is fragile and I am so fortunate to have the chance to enjoy these moments with them. So this afternoon, instead of cleaning my guest bathroom, (sorry Mom and Dad) I snuggled with my kids while we watched 'The Muppet Christmas Carol' and I cried more tears of gratitude, that I had that beautiful opportunity to wrap my arms around the two youngest, while my husband had his arms around our oldest. It makes my day to day stresses seem insignificant.
 For many there will be pain and heartache this season, as well as in the year to come, but as Vonnegut said "There will be a lot of happiness, don't forget to notice it". I think my old friends are an awesome example of this, although they are coping with a very painful loss they chose to donate their child's organs to give life, health and happiness to other children. Serious props to them. As heart-breaking as this is, they are sharing a precious gift with many others this holiday season. I'm certain that the families of those children will also cry tears of gratitude. Another Vonnegut quote "The purpose of life is to love whoever is around us and be loved."
 If I could give everyone one thing this holiday season, it is to remind everyone to let go of the little things that don't matter. In the long run, it's okay if you don't finish everything on your Christmas to do list. Appreciate the moment. Smile more. Hug the people that you love. Be grateful for this beautiful chance you have to be alive and to make the world around you a better place.

13 Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Be Active in the Winter

Recently we moved from southern Utah to the Denver area. It has been quite the climate change. One new challenge for me has been keeping the kids active when it is frigid outside. And I don't just say it's cold because we have become soft desert bunnies. -8 degrees Fahrenheit is still cold, even by Denver standards. Here's some ideas that I have found to be effective.

  1. Be an example! It is certainly less hassle for me to exercise when my kids are asleep, but some days I don't get up before them to do my workouts. I want them to see that exercise is an important and regular part of my life. And many times they jump in and do my workouts with me.
  2. Bundle up and go outside- There are winter days where this is impractical, but there are times when this is exactly what my kids and I need avoid cabin fever. If there is enough snow, go sledding, build a snow fort or make snow angels.
  3. A small indoor trampoline- A friend recommended this and it will be waiting under the tree this Christmas. It doesn't take up a lot of space, can be stored against a wall in the closet and can help them get a fun cardio workout.
  4. Dance with your kids It has become a habit in our household that when a Disney movie ends (especially Wreck It Ralph), that the kids and I dance around the living room until the credits end.
  5. Limit screen time- The official recommendations are that children should not spend more than 1-2 hours in front of a screen per day. I will be the first to admit that that is really difficult to enforce, especially when I have homework to do. Here are our house rules, before screen time my kids must 1. Have homework done 2. Do one small chore for every 20 minutes of screen time.
  6. Visit museums- This can get pricey, but keep an eye out for free museum days and coupons. Another good route is a museum membership. This year our museum membership of choice is the Denver Art Museum. $80 for our family for a year and it was worth every penny. And museum trips involve a lot of walking.
  7. Zoos & Aquariums- Same benefits as museums, but it's easy to add in some imaginative
    The Lions at the Denver Zoo (late October)
    movements. 'Let's walk like an elephant', or 'Show me how a monkey moves' Even in the winter there are sunny days that permit this with a hat and a jacket. (Denver can get really cold, but we've had several good weather days scattered throughout.)
  8. Plan family walks- Even if they are short. Take notice of  how the trees change, or the birds migrating or other wildlife. (Around here, there are tons of bunnies and groundhogs. My kids like to see who can find the most.)
  9. Visit the mall- Most have indoor play areas, and if nothing else it can offer an indoor place to walk a few laps.
  10. Roller skating- This one is hard for my toddler, even with the trainer and me supporting her. However, it is a favorite activity for my older kids. It's an exercise that builds strength and balance. (For those in the Denver area, there is a Living Social deal for it.)
  11. Have contests- My son loves to see how many push-up he can do, and he isn't really competing against anyone other than himself  "I want to see if I can do 25 push-ups this time!" Other indoor ideas include jumping jacks, bending over to pick up toys, touching your toes, knee lifts. You teach your kids to do many simple exercises this way
  12. Lessons & Team Sports- Karate, Ballet, Soccer, etc. These can become time-consuming and expensive, but just remember that you are investing in your child's health and well-being. A fantastic low-cost option in this category is Girls on the Run. It's an awesome program for girls 3rd-8th grade that teaches fitness and healthy habits.
  13. Take time to play with them- Most young kids love to play with their parents. As parents, most of us are busy, but try to make it priority to spend a few minutes with them. Get on the floor and play with them, or build blanket forts or play tag with them at the park. You are building your relationship(s) with them, you are encouraging their development and you are teaching them that being active is fun.