Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Fighting the sniffles

Now that the cold and flu season is upon us, Gihan Shahine has some advice for worried mothers

Al-Ahram Weekly

It’s winter time, a season when many mothers can have a hard time dealing with their children’s seemingly endless symphony of sneezing, coughing, sore throats and bone aches.

Though it is irritating, paediatricians insist that it is almost unavoidable for children to catch colds and flu during the winter, especially when enrolled in schools or nurseries. But whereas there is nothing mothers can do to prevent common colds, the good news is that their recurrence will ultimately help strengthen a child's immune system.

Meanwhile, there are some simple tips that can boost a child’s defences to minimise the recurrence of common colds and alleviate symptoms. Whereas an average adult gets between two and four colds annually, most children get an average of six to ten colds per year, but that number may reach 12 per year if a child is enrolled in day-care or school.

Children are normally busy building their immunity, and there are 200 viruses causing the common cold out there to fend off. In the meantime, “many common winter viruses are airborne, so if your baby takes a breath within, say, four to six feet of someone who’s sick, he can easily catch the bug himself,” Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told the Website

“What’s more,” Offit added, “most people stricken by winter viruses are contagious before they develop symptoms. So pulling your baby away from a sniffling, coughing, or sneezing pal doesn’t guarantee that he won’t come down with similar symptoms himself.”

“Neither will bundling him up. Studies have shown that exposure to cold or damp weather doesn’t increase a child’s likelihood of catching a cold,” says Offit.

But as a child gets older, he probably builds up immunity to many of those different viruses and that means having fewer sick days.

GERM-FIGHTING STRATEGIES: However, all this does not mean mothers should give up. There are many simple strategies a mother can follow to boost her child’s defences to help fend off germs and alleviate their irritating symptoms.

Washing hands often immediately makes the germs lose one of their best carriers. Disinfecting home surfaces and handles that household members share is equally helpful. Cold and flu viruses can live on surfaces for as long as three hours.

Avoid sharing utensils and teach children to cough and sneeze in the crook of their arms to contain a contagious virus.

Other tips a parent can use include checking if their kid’s nursery has a policy of keeping sick kids at home or away from their classmates. However, building a healthy immune system remains one of the best strategies to boost your child’s natural defences. Breastfeeding has been found to be a major fighter of viruses in infants, and research has shown that the antibodies in breast milk can help protect against a host of germs.

Balanced healthy nutrition, together with regular physical exercise and a proper sleep cycle, have also been found to be crucial immunity boosters in toddlers, pre-schoolers and school-age children. Healthy, nutrient-rich foods have also been found to help keep the sniffles and sneezes away, and these are usually high in vitamins A, B, C and potassium, zinc and magnesium. Experts generally recommend a diet rich in the antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables.

“Look for the most colourful ones: red, orange, yellow, dark green and purple,” said Karen Gibson, a diet specialist at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. “This means tomatoes, peppers, spinach, blueberries and aubergines, to name just a few.”

Avoiding foods that are high in sugar is equally advised. Recent research has proved that these can decrease immunity in both children and adults. One piece of research published on the Website has warned that “the sugar in a can of soda suppresses immune function by 30 per cent for three hours.”

Flu vaccinations may also help. The US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for one recommends that almost all children starting at six months along with their parents should get the flu vaccine early every year, if possible in October or November, in order to allow time for immunity to develop before the flu season gets into full swing.

SOOTHING THE SYMPTOMS: If your child does come down with the flu or a bad cold despite these precautions, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) warns that over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat coughs and colds aren’t safe for children under two and that they may not work or could even harm children under six.

If your child is under six, the AAP recommends that you soothe his symptoms with children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen and safe home remedies. Give extra fluids to avoid dehydration and let the children rest. Use a humidifier, a warm bath, or nasal saline to decongest the nose. Gargling with salt water is also known to help soothe a sore throat in case of older school children who are able to gargle.

“No one wants to spend weeks flat on their back with a sore throat, chills, runny nose, coughing, congestion, muscle aches and sneezing,” writes Jonathan Landsman on “There is no better way to spare you from this than by taking care to blast every cell in your body with vitamins, minerals and enzymes, which are found in nature’s high-octane super nutritional foods.”

For children, such foods can include honey (12 months and up), which is known for its benefits in coating and soothing a sore throat, with some studies suggesting that it works better than some cough syrups in taming coughs. Other studies show that chicken soup can also help reduce inflammation, thus reducing cold symptoms like aches and fever. Hundred per cent orange juice, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, garlic, grapefruit, lean meat and yogurt are just a few other foods that may help spare weeks of suffering.

Garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish, cinnamon and anise are also known to boost the body’s natural defences against colds.

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