Winter means extra layers as well as higher exposure to ills and chills.
The cooler weather and the closer social proximity are some of the reasons you and your family may experience more sickness in winter than during other times of the year. Here’s a revision of common seasonal illnesses and what to do if you notice signs and symptoms.
Common in children under six, ear infections usually begin with a cold, or sore throat. Both ears may become blocked and painful. When fluid remains trapped inside their ear, often after the infection has settled down, it can stop the child from hearing properly. If you think your child is having difficulty hearing and has blocking of the ears, known as ‘glue ear’, you should consult your family GP.
Respiratory syncytial virus
Winter coughs and sneezes also bring greater exposure to the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), a common cause of colds, and also a lung infection called bronchiolitis which often affects children under two. Children with bronchiol- itis may wheeze and breathe faster to try and get enough breath. While the symptoms are not severe for most young children, babies and infants who have much smaller air- ways and may have other chronic illnesses, can be seriouslyaffected.
Inflammation of the tonsils and Adenoids
Tonsils are at the back of the throat and work as part of
the body’s immune system to fight infection. Sometimes, however, the tonsils may themselves become swollen and inflamed, causing the painful symptoms of tonsillitis. These include a very sore throat over more than several days, pain when swallowing, a high temperature and headache, along with red and swollen tonsils. Symptoms of tonsillitis include pain, fever, halitosis (bad breath), referred earache, trouble sleeping at night and episodes of heavy snoring.
Of course, winter means that cold and flu bugs will also be spreading through our early childcare centres and schools. More than 200 different infectious viruses – known as rhinoviruses – cause what we call the common cold. Usual symptoms are a sore throat, a runny or blocked nose, watery eyes and sneezing, or a cough. However, the symptoms do not include a fever.
Influenza is the more serious winter illness. It is highly infectious and can bring with it fever and chills, a sore throat, a dry cough, headache, fatigue and body aches. Children who have an existing condition are even more vulnerable. The worst symptoms usually last about five days, but coughing can continue for up to two to three weeks. Some very young children can get extremely sick. If your child is drowsy or if their breathing becomes fast and noisy, then seek medical advice immediately.
If your child develops a barking cough, they may have caught a viral infection of the throat called croup. This is common in babies and young children during winter. Most cases are mild, but in serious cases, children may develop breathing difficulties, requiring hospital care and treatment using a medicine called prednisolone. Do not hesitate to seek medical help if you are concerned for your child.
Over the cooler months, it is especially important to manage potential environmental triggers for asthma. The Asthma Foundation recommends keeping your home at an even temperature and using a thermostatically controlled heater in bedrooms at night. Good home insulation will also help.
Current evidence indicates that children are more likely to have mild Covid-19 symptoms (cough, high temperature, shortness of breath) compared to adults, says the Ministry of Health. Cough and fever are the most common symp- toms. While children do transmit the infection, current evidence suggests they are less likely to transmit the infection than adults.
7 Ways to stay healthy this winter
- Teach kids to cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow (not their hands).
- Encourage lots of hand-washing and thorough drying.
- Keep your home at a comfortable even temperature (between 18-20°C).
- Stay away from other sick kids and don’t send your child to preschool/school if unwell.
- Keep your children warm in cold weather with gloves, socks and hats.
- Ensure the whole family gets enough sleep; minimise the lates nights.
- Serve plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit (soups and smoothies are great for this).
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