Winter is here and it’s a fun season, especially if you are a kid! There are snowballs to throw, snowmen to build and hills to sled. But winter is also a season for many illnesses. There are effective measures you can take as a parent to keep your kids healthy and safe during the winter months. Here are our eight best tips for winter health.
Wash your hands
The most effective way to stay healthy is to wash those hands and wash them often. Our immune systems have a tendency to become compromised during the winter due to the cold weather. Bitterly cold air also irritates our respiratory tracts and the membranes in our noses. This results in us being more susceptible to contagious illnesses. Make sure your children wash their hands with warm soap and water after playing outdoors, before meals, after using the bathroom and after coughing or sneezing.
Get your flu shot
The most effective way to avoid the flu virus is to get vaccinated. Washing your hands can only do so much, and it’s difficult with kids to completely prevent the spread of germs. The flu can also lead to other illnesses in kids such as ear infections and pneumonia. Flu vaccination is the most effective way to help prevent the flu.
Improve indoor air quality
Parents and their children tend to spend more time indoors when the temperature drops. Indoor air quality is often lower than the quality of the air outdoors. Indoor air pollutants and allergens can have a negative effect on your health. To increase the quality of air indoors during winter months:
- Keep your home clean by vacuuming twice weekly, washing bed sheets weekly, and cleaning your air filter regularly
- Replace filters in humidifiers monthly
- Send your kids outside for more outdoor play
A healthy diet fuels your child’s immune system. Encourage your children to eat brightly-colored fruits and vegetables, ideally two fruits and three vegetables per day during meals and snacks. A study from the University of Illinois found that the fiber in foods such as oats, apples, and nuts helps reduce inflammation and strengthens the immune system by increasing anti-inflammatory proteins.
Parents don’t typically associate dehydration with winter, but you can get dehydrated regardless of the temperature outside. Your body loses a lot of fluid during the cold, dry winter months, and because it’s not hot, many people are less diligent about hydration. Make sure to have your children take regular play breaks to drink water instead of hot chocolate or soda.
Get adequate sleep
A good night’s sleep goes a long way in preventing illnesses. Aim for your kids to get 10 hours of sleep each night, even teens. We know it can be challenging, but try to maintain your routines to maximize sleep and minimize wasted time that could be spent sleeping.
Dress warmly for the outdoors
At the first sign of snow, many kids want to run outside and play. Playing outdoors is great and can help kids stay active during the day (not to mention, keep parents sane on back-to-back snow days). Limit their time outdoors when it’s very cold and especially when temperatures drop into the 20s or lower, depending on the wind chill.
Keep them properly dressed with layers of clothes, coats and gloves. Make sure your child is wearing a hat because most body heat is lost through the head. Change wet clothing immediately. Consult your child’s health care provider if you have any concerns about frostbite or hypothermia (pale, gray or blistered noses, fingers and toes, extreme fatigue, shivering, confusion or slurred speech).
Visit your primary care provider
The choices you make for your children contribute to their overall health, but you don’t have to go it alone. Scheduling recommended visits with your child’s health care provider is one of the best things you can do to maintain good health and wellness. Call your health care provider if your child is less than 3 months old and has a fever (temperature of 100.4 or higher) or if your older infant or child has a fever lasting more than four days, has difficulty breathing, isn’t able to keep down liquids, looks really sick or if you have any concerns.
Written by Cynthia Zeller, CRNP, DNP, IBCLC. Zeller is the owner of Brighter Futures Pediatrics & Lactation Services. brighter-futures-pediatrics.com