Winter brings snow days, sledding, and warm beverages, but along with the fun activities of winter come the cold and flu viruses. It is miserable to watch your child have a cold. This is harder yet since most pre-school aged children will get a cold virus about once a month or 8-12 times in a year. Sitting idly by while your child is sick is difficult for most parents. Experts and health professionals do not make this any easier by recommending avoiding over-the-counter cold and cough medicines because of potential dangerous side effects.

So what can be done to help your child during the winter season of increased colds and viruses? Prevention is still the best plan. You may not be able to protect your child from every virus that he or she comes into contact with, but some of these healthy habits can decrease the frequency of infections. 

• Make sure your child gets enough sleep. If a child is tired, their immune system does not work as well to fight off viruses and other illness. Babies need about 18 hours a day of sleep, while toddlers need 12-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. School aged children should be getting 10-11 hours total a night. 

• Teach your child proper hand washing. This is not just running water over the hands for a few seconds. Make sure the child uses soap every time and scrubs for the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song or the “ABCs.” Alcohol based hand sanitizers are good when your family is on the go. Children should wash their hands every time before touching their face or eating.

• Keep your house clean, especially if someone else in the home has been sick. Viruses can live for up to 2-3 hours on things like cups, countertops, and towels, so it is best to disinfect frequently with bleach or antibacterial wipes. 

Once your child comes down with a cold, there are some safe practices that can be used without side effects to help your little one during their time of illness.

Coughing may seem like a nuisance, but it is actually your body’s natural way of getting rid of harmful particles and material in the airway. While cough suppressants are not recommended because they can be harmful to the child, a teaspoon of honey has a good taste and can help coat and sooth the child’s throat, providing some relief from the cough. Dark honey, such as buckwheat honey, may work better because it is higher in antioxidants. Honey is safe for all children older than 1 year of age but should not be given to children less than 1 year of age due to the risk of botulism.

While your child is ill, push fluids. The old saying “Starve a cold, feed a fever” has some good advice to it. Children with a cold often do not feel like eating. This is all right as long as they are drinking and continue to urinate at least 2-3 times a day. Giving children fluids with electrolytes is better than water alone. Giving too much juice or sugary fluids can lead to problems with diarrhea. Keeping a child hydrated will help them feel better faster and prevent worse outcomes due to dehydration.

— Dr. Jessilyn Humble is a pediatrician at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg