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.

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