shutterstock_1723848115_2jo0GfW..jpeg (shutterstock_1723848115.webp)Cold and flu season is in full swing, and as a parent, keeping your child healthy during this time of year can be challenging. Sickness can spread swiftly in classrooms, child care centers, and other public places where children interact closely. However, there are steps you can take to help prevent the spread of common winter illnesses and keep your child well.

At Capital Area Pediatrics, we are committed to promoting winter wellness and helping you keep your child healthy, no matter the season. From providing flu shots to educating families on proper hygiene practices, we are here to support you and your child's well-being. Keep reading for some tips on how to protect your child from colds, the flu, and other common winter illnesses.

Understanding Common Winter Illnesses

One of the best tools for preventing illnesses is knowledge. Though several winter illnesses cause runny noses and sore throats, understanding their differences can help you take appropriate precautions when needed and know when to seek appropriate treatment.

  • Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral upper respiratory tract infection that can cause symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, coughing, and sore throat. It spreads easily through contact with respiratory secretions (e.g., coughing or sneezing) from an infected person. While it may not be life-threatening, the common cold can still make your child uncomfortable and disrupt their daily routine.

  • Influenza (Flu)

    The flu is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system. Cold and flu symptoms can be similar, causing symptoms like coughing, but the flu typically comes on more suddenly and can lead to complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, and dehydration. The flu spreads through respiratory secretions, often before symptoms even appear, and can cause a sudden onset of symptoms like high fever, body aches, fatigue, coughing, and sore throat.

  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

    RSV is a common virus that causes mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older children. However, it can be dangerous for infants, young children with other health conditions, and the elderly. RSV spreads through respiratory secretions and can cause severe respiratory infections like bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

  • COVID-19

    Though you may not think of COVID-19 as a winter illness, researchers from Yale predict that cases will likely rise this winter. The virus spreads through respiratory droplets and can cause mild to severe respiratory illness, along with other symptoms such as fever, body aches, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, and fatigue. For children, symptoms are often milder, but they can still transmit the virus to others, including those who are more vulnerable.

  • Pneumonia

    Bacterial pneumonia is a common complication of the flu and other respiratory illnesses. It occurs when bacteria infect the lungs, causing inflammation and an accumulation of fluid in the air sacs. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include fever, chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and fatigue.

Update Your Child’s Vaccinations

Flu shots play a pivotal role in preventing the flu and its potentially severe complications. They work by training the immune system to recognize and fight specific flu viruses. Each year, the flu shot must be updated since flu viruses continuously mutate, and new strains appear regularly. The updated vaccine is designed to protect against the flu viruses researchers predict will be the most common during the upcoming flu season.

Taking your child to get a flu shot each year is a proactive measure to protect them against the flu. It's essential to remember that children's immune systems are still developing and may not fight off infections as effectively as adults. It's for this reason that giving flu shots offers children the best chance of staying healthy throughout the flu season.

Vaccinating children also helps to protect others in the community who may be more vulnerable to the flu, such as infants, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Additionally, COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots are available to help protect against the virus and its variants. These shots are a crucial part of promoting communal health and wellness, especially during the winter.

Practice Good Hygiene

Regular and proper hand-washing is one of the most tried-and-true methods of preventing winter sickness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all family members wash their hands regularly throughout the day, especially before eating and after using the bathroom. Teach your child to scrub their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and rinse well with running water.

Other good hygiene practices include covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow, which can help prevent respiratory droplets from spreading to others around you. Used tissues should be discarded in the trash immediately, and hands should be washed promptly to avoid contaminating surfaces or spreading germs.

Lastly, regularly disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces can eliminate potential traces of viruses or bacteria. This includes doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, and mobile phones. Encouraging these habits not only helps protect your child from getting sick but also instills good hygiene practices that can last a lifetime.

Maintain a Healthy Diet & Regular Exercise

Helping your child maintain a balanced diet and regular exercise routine is essential for their overall health and wellness, regardless of the season. However, these practices become particularly beneficial during the winter months when their immune system may be more vulnerable to illnesses.

Aim for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods provide essential vitamins and nutrients that support immune function and help fight off infections. Additionally, fermented foods like yogurt are rich in probiotics that help maintain a healthy gut, which is vital for immune response.

Encouraging your child to stay hydrated can also help them stay well during the winter, as well. Cold weather is known to dehydrate the body, making it more difficult for the immune system to function properly. Ensure that your child drinks plenty of water throughout the day, and if they have trouble drinking plain water, try adding fruits for flavor.

Lastly, regular exercise plays a significant role in strengthening the immune system, too. Regular physical activity promotes the circulation of white blood cells and other immune system cells, making detecting illness easier for your body. Though cold weather may make it harder than usual to get your children active outside, there are plenty of indoor activities they can do to stay physically active and healthy.

Exercise plays a significant role in strengthening the immune system, too. Regular physical activity promotes the circulation of white blood cells and other immune system cells, making detecting illness easier for your body. Though cold weather may make it harder than usual to get your children active outside, there are plenty of indoor activities they can do to stay physically active and healthy.

When to Keep Your Kids Home

If your child does come down with an illness this winter, the most important thing is to keep them home until they are no longer contagious. When an infected person is out in public, they can quickly spread the virus to other people. This can be especially problematic in schools and child care centers where close contact is unavoidable, leading to widespread sickness.

As a general guideline, please keep your child home if they have a fever >101 F in the last 24 hours; if they have episodes of vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours; or if they are not well enough to stay hydrated on their own and participate in class.

However, while allowing your child time to rest and recuperate at home away from other children is important, talking to their pediatrician is also essential. Your child's Capital Area Pediatrics provider can assess their condition and provide proper treatment recommendations, ensuring they recover as quickly as possible, and also help you determine when it's safe for them to return to school or daycare.

When to Head to Capital Area Pediatrics

For most winter illnesses, your child's pediatrician should be your first stop when seeking treatment. However, it can sometimes be hard to know when your child needs to be seen immediately and when it can wait.

If your child has a significant medical history of serious or chronic conditions, like recurrent pneumonia or asthma, it's best to seek care as soon as possible. If your child has no significant medical history, you should still seek immediate care if they are experiencing symptoms like:

  • A fever greater than 100.4 in infants under 3 months
  • A fever greater than 102 in children under 1 year
  • Multiple episodes of vomiting in 24 hours
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy

On the other hand, symptoms like a mild fever, sore throat, or cough may resolve on their own with rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medication. For additional information, please see our website’s Health Topics or consult this Symptom Checker from The American Academy of Pediatrics. And, as always, don't hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns!

Scheduling an Express Sick Visit

All of our Capital Area Pediatrics offices offer same-day sick visits and extended hours, including during evenings and on weekends. These visits are open to existing patients of all ages with symptoms that have been present for less than three weeks.

To schedule an express sick visit for your child, please use our self-scheduling tool online. Parents scheduling through our website will have access to the same available appointments as those scheduling over the phone.

If our office is already closed for the day, morning appointments will start to become available for the following day after 7 PM. You can also check back for any openings that may have become available throughout the day. Our appointments open gradually, starting with the earliest times and filling in later as needed.

Please keep in mind that if there are no openings for the day, we may have reached our capacity and are unable to schedule any more same-day visits. The winter is a particularly busy time of year for all illnesses, and all of our offices will be doing their best to accommodate all patients.

We do encourage you to keep checking back as we sometimes add appointments or have cancellations. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause but encourage you to check back or visit a pediatric urgent care center. You can also call the office or message your provider to see if there are other suggestions we can advise to get you through to the next available appointment. We always strive to provide the best care for your child, and our express sick visits are just one way we make sure they get the medical attention they need when they need it.

From well-child visits to specialty care, the team at Capital Area Pediatrics is here to help your family stay healthy all year long. Request an appointment online, or find a location near you today.