Cold and Flu Season: 6 Tips for Staying Healthy

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Before you load up on tissues and chicken soup for cold and flu season, be sure to add these few simple preventative measures to your cold-fighting arsenal first.

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Coping With The Cold

Cold and flu season got you down? If you have preschoolers or school-aged kids, you probably see your fair share of colds every winter. In fact, most kids get between six and eight colds per year, according to the American Lung Association. There’s no cure for the cold, which is usually caused by viruses that don’t respond to antibiotics, but a few simple changes can significantly reduce your child’s chances of getting one.

Live a Balanced Life

Maintaining a balanced life for both yourself and your child is one of the best things you can do to keep everyone healthy during cold and flu season, according to Dr. Riley Minster, a pediatrician at Lake Shore Pediatrics in Chicago. Dr. Riley says, “Anytime the body is stressed, the energy you could use to fight off inflammation, congestion and cough is being used just to keep you going.” Reduce stress by cutting out unnecessary weekday commitments such as running errands that could be better handled on the weekend. Set a consistent bedtime and establish calming nightly rituals like reading together with your child, and make sure you both eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and veggies.

Eat Your Yogurt

In a study published in Pediatrics in 2009, children who were given a daily probiotic supplement suffered 53 percent fewer fevers and 41 percent fewer coughs and colds than kids in the control group. Those kids who did get sick recovered more quickly than kids in the control group did. Give your child a chewable, refrigerated probiotic daily and serve yogurt with live acidophilus cultures.

Use Nasal Washes

Use a non-medicated saline rinse or neti pot everyday to ward off illness during cold and flu season, suggests Ed Neuzil, ARNP, Ph.D, owner of the Allergy, Sinus and Asthma Family Health Center of the Villages in Florida. Nasal rinses remove cold and flu bacteria from the nose, while moisturizing the nasal membranes. If your kids balk at a nasal rinse, try one specifically made for children, such as Dr. Neuzil’s irrigator, which includes several essential oils.

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Wash Your Hands

It’s no secret that hand washing kills germs, but antibacterial soap is only marginally more effective than regular soap is, says Dr. Minster: “What really counts when getting dirt and germs off your hands is the amount of soap you use and the amount of time you actually spend washing them." Teach your child to scrub his hands with soap for at least 15 to 20 seconds, and consider packing a waterless hand-sanitizer for when you’re out and about. Dr. Minster notes that “alcohol-based hand sanitizers don't remove dirt, but they do effectively dry out and kill 99% of the bacteria and virus particles on your hands.”

Ditch the Sugar

You know sugary snacks aren’t good for your kid’s teeth, but they can also increase his chances of getting sick, warns Dr. Zak Zarbock, pediatrician and founder of Zarbee’s Naturals, a company that produces natural cold and cough syrups. Consuming as little as 75 to 100 grams of sugar can lower the body’s infection fighting defenses for several hours. Limit your child’s consumption of sugary drinks, candy and cookies, and provide snacks like fresh fruit, whole grain crackers and vegetables instead.

Head Outdoors

The benefits of outdoor activity are twofold. First, kids and adults who get daily exercise suffer significantly fewer colds and respiratory illnesses than those who don’t, according to a 2011 study by the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine. Second, individuals with low levels of vitamin D were much more likely to get sick than those who took a vitamin D supplement and got regular exposure to sunshine. So, bundle up and get outside! Go for a walk, play in the snow or build a snowman. Older kids can even help shovel the driveway.

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