Tips to keeping young children cold & flu-free
When you have young children the ages of 2 - 7 can really feel like you're bouncing from one cold, flu or respiratory tract infection to the next can't they? These are the years young children seem to be human velcro for viruses.
Play groups and schools are hot zones for germs and cold and flu viruses making it inevitable that young children will get ill. There are three reasons for this.
- They are in daily contact with more people than normal.
- Young children play very closely, sharing toys, stationery and even their lunchbox contents with one another. They often put their fingers and toys in their mouths. Thus bugs are easily passed from one child to another.
- Young children have not been exposed to many of the most common bugs and viruses and so haven't built a resistance or immunity to them.
The most common infections young children acquire are colds and flu, or intestinal infections that cause diarrhoea.
On average, young children will experience between 6 and 12 cold or flu infections a year. That means your child could be sick at least every second month. Often these infections lead to secondary infections and complications, such as middle ear infections, bronchitis, tonsillitis, or pneumonia. Naturally the result is more days off school, regular appearances in your doctor's rooms and prescriptions for antibiotics which themselves are harsh on little bodies. Not to mention the stress if you're a working parent who then needs to take time off to care for your child.
Can you prevent your child from getting colds and flu?
While you can't prevent your child from ever falling prey to a cold or flu virus (there are over 200 known cold viruses!), you can significantly reduce the number of infections they get in a year and prevent the more problematic secondary infections. How? By building their resistance to infection, teaching them healthy habits and supporting their immune system.
1. Start with a good base
For children (and adults) the base of a strong immune system is found in the gut. The millions of gut bacteria (known as the gut microbiome) that line the small intestine are, amongst other functions, critical in programming the immune system to recognise and fend off invading pathogens. Antibiotics and high sugar diets do severe damage to these gut bacteria populations, in fact it's said that after just one course of antibiotics it can take months the gut bacteria population to re-establish itself. Frequent upset tummies or colds or sinus infections can indicate your child's gut bacteria is out of balance. Just like adults, digestive symptoms like bloating, cramping, constipation, gas can also be common in children with a compromised gut microbiome.
Ensure your child's diet is rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and brown rice and steer clear of processed, refined foods. Yes, we know, getting vegetables into children can often be a battle of wills, but persistence and creativity will win the day. The earlier these foods are introduced the better.
Sugar is a big culprit in disrupting a healthy gut microbiome since yeasts, fungi and bad gut bacteria thrive on sugar. Check food labels for hidden sugars - you'd be surprised how many foods contain sugar - and keep sweets, desserts and even concentrated fruit juices to a minimum. Add in foods that are high in a substance called lactic acid such as Bulgarian yoghurt or include a daily dose of Molkosan, a digestive tonic that contains one of the highest concentrations of L+ lactic acid available (hint: mix it into a little fruit juice as the sour taste might be challenging to a child). This L+ lactic acid is extremely beneficial to the gut bacteria, particularly if your child has had antibiotics recently. It helps correct the pH balance of the gut, eliminates bad gut bacteria and yeasts and is a nutrient source for healthy gut bacteria allowing them to thrive and better support your little one's health.
2. Teach them to wash the bugs away
Hand washing is still the best and easiest way to prevent colds, flu and respiratory tract infections. Approximately 80% of colds and flu are 'caught' from our hands. We touch something with a virus on it and not long afterwards, we'll touch our faces, nose, mouths or eyes giving the bugs direct access to our bodies. And as you know, young children do that a lot! A Danish study found children who were taught correct hand washing techniques and washed their hands three times a day missed 26 percent fewer school days and had 22% fewer infections than children who weren't taught or required to wash their hands.
As soon as they are old enough, from about 2 or 3 years old, teach your child the correct way to wash their hands with soap and water. 20 - 30 seconds is the recommended time, about as long as it takes to sing 'Happy birthday' twice. And teach them the right times to wash, such as after going to the bathroom, before eating, coming home from school or from being outside, after using a tissue or any time the hands look dirty. Eventually it will become a habit and they'll be reminding you!
3. Oops, our parents had it wrong *cough*
While those of us over 30 can easily recall the exasperated voices of our parents telling us to 'put your hand over your mouth when you cough!' today teaching children to cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow is the new norm and regarded as much more effective by the medical fraternity. It stops sick children coughing or sneezing virus particles into the air or onto their hand and then depositing them on everything they touch afterwards leaving them to infect the rest of the family or classroom.
We all love watching our youngsters observe the world in wide-eyed fascination, until another child sneezes or coughs right in front of them and we freeze in horror. More than their nose and mouth, children's eyes are most at risk of absorbing virus particles, so teaching them to close their eyes tight for a few seconds when someone sneezes or coughs near them also helps prevent infection.
4. Sleep rules
Just uttering the words 'bed time' can kick off a nightmare for parents the world over but honestly, the fight is worth it. Establishing good sleep habits from young will set your child up for a lifetime of better health. Sleep deprivation is a leading cause for lowered immune function in all ages, including children. Sufficient sleep every night is essential for keeping a child's immune system strong. Between ages 3 - 6 children need 10 - 13 hours' sleep a night. From 6 - 13 years, 9 - 11 hours per night is recommended.
5. Reinforce their defences
The reason children get so many more infections than adults is also because their immune systems aren't as well trained in identifying invading pathogens and they haven't yet built up immunity to common bugs.
A daily immune system support like Echinaforce Junior will help build their resistance to common infections. These are tasty, tooth-friendly orange flavoured chewable tablets that children enjoy. (Naturally, the orange flavouring comes from real oranges.) Made in Switzerland, they're a 100% natural, clinically proven prophylactic (prevents colds and flu) against colds and flu.
They're also antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory so aside from reducing your child's risk of getting sick, if they do get ill these properties mean the severity of symptoms is less and the length of the illness is shortened. Even better, studies have shown Echinaforce can prevent the secondary infections like tonsillitis, sinusitis, ear infections, bronchitis and pneumonia. These are the main reasons behind doctors' visits and the need for antibiotics. So by using Echinaforce daily, you could significantly reduce your medical bills, especially during winter. And yes, you can use them year round because as any parent knows, colds, flu and respiratory tract infections are not just a winter problem.