Winter is a favorite season for kids – the cold weather, the long sleeping hours, endless cups of hot beverages - the list goes on. With a drop in temperatures and weakening sun’s rays, your child can face difficulties in adapting to the transition in the environment.
A stronger defence mechanism for your child is vital during this period. Her immune system has to be on a high alert mode to combat various illnesses like cold, sore throat, ear infections, flu etc. An immuno-compromised status warrants unwanted risks and troubles in your child’s health and thus she becomes vulnerable to illnesses in this cold season.
Illnesses during the cold season:
The cold weather results in less blood supply in the body. This reduction in blood flow means there are lesser white blood cells (WBCs)) available to fight against foreign bodies. It is important to understand that colds and flu are not caused by cold weather; rather they are caused by viral infections of the upper respiratory tract that your child catches from pollutants or contaminants.
Some of the illnesses that are active during this cold season are:
Common cold: Is caused by a virus that infects the nose, sinuses, throat, and airways. They're often spread through contact with mucus. When your child catches a cold, it is the immune system that causes symptoms such as a runny nose, ear block, fever etc. as a result of changes in the internal body conditions to favour white blood cells fight against the viruses effectively.
Influenza or flu: Is like a common cold but much more serious. Children are two to three times more likely to be affected by flu, than adults. It is caused by a virus that infects the lungs and airways and can be spread through direct contact or airborne droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze.
Sore throats: Are caused by viruses and transmitted in a similar manner to colds and flu.
Does your child fall sick often during the cold season? Is there a way to make her less vulnerable to illnesses? Read this article below to know more.
Bronchitis: Is most commonly seen among kids under 5. The illness, an inflammation of the airways, is usually caused by viruses, bacteria, or allergies.
Asthma: Is an inflammation of the bronchioles that occurs when a trigger or allergen causes the airways to tighten. Cold air is a particular trigger of asthma attacks. Encouraging your child to breathe through the nose and not the mouth helps to maintain the air exchange balance.
Allergies: Arise because of viral or fungal infections more commonly during winters. Allergies reveal themselves in several ways including rashes, fever, asthma and anaphylaxis.
6 TIPS to keep your child healthy during the cold season:
1. Proper sanitization:
As your child’s immunity battles against illnesses, it is safer to keep her surroundings and things sanitized. Since children are mostly indoors during the cold season, make sure that the home is cleaned and sanitized often, especially during and after rains, as the moisture calls in fungal attacks. Encourage her to keep her belongings such as school bags, toys, clothes, socks etc. clean and free of moisture. Wash toys with soap and water and then allow them to air dry.
Remind her not to touch surfaces and things outdoors. When she touches an infected surface or thing and accidentally rubs her eyes or nose, that’s when the infection attacks her. Ensure she carries a bottle of sanitizer in her bag always to apply after using the toilets and before eating. Washing hands and legs after coming from outside is a must. Make sure she wears clean, sanitized clothes and socks. If anyone at catches a flu or cold at home, it is advisable to keep your child off from using the infected person’s pillows, towels etc.
2. Eating a nutritious and a balanced diet:
Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is a key component to improve your child’s health during this season. Your child’s immunity is greatly influenced by the food he eats. Hence, including more immunity-boosting foods such as antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, spices etc. in his diet will keep him safe from illnesses.
Skipping meals should never be encouraged, especially, never let him compromise his breakfast. When he skips breakfast, the body gets deprived of nutrients and hence is more vulnerable to catch infections as he starts the day. Teaching him the importance of nutrition in preventing illnesses and involving him in menu planning will help you strike the chord of imparting balanced diet to your child.
Fluids play a major role too during this cold season. While we all feel thirsty and drink gallons of water during summer, it is as important to drink more fluids during winters too. Hydration is an important factor for winter wellness, even if your child doesn’t feel thirsty. As the body’s core temperature rises due to the drop in the environmental temperature, there is a chance of winter dehydration to occur, when your child does not drink enough water. Winter dehydration can make her sick, cause exhaustion, muscle fatigue and cramps. When dehydrated, she is more susceptible to winter colds and flu too.
There are several steps that you can take to improve her water intake in winter. Make her drink hot/lukewarm water, which is also safe from microbes. You can flavor the drinking water with lemon or orange wedges. Prepare more soups, green teas and other herbal decoctions (tulsi, sage etc.) at home which are diuretic (frequent urination) in nature, to prevent urinary infections. In winter, it is common to feel the thirst being quenched with a smaller amount of water than in summer. Encourage your child to take small sips of water very often. Drinking a glass or two at one go may be quite difficult, but taking small sips every 15 minutes should be no problem.
4. Enough sleep and rest:
Sleep has a great impact on how our immune system functions. Robust changes during the regular sleep-wake cycle not only affect the physical and mental activity of your child but also impacts the cardiovascular function, temperature regulation, immune parameters like leukocyte and cytokine production. Lack of proper sleep results in a pro-inflammatory state.
Sleep deprivation can lower the immune system, making the child vulnerable to being affected by germs and bacteria. Make sure he winds up his homework and study time early and finishes an early dinner. Let him avoid the use of electronics before bed, which keeps him off from falling asleep.
5. Outdoors Vs. indoors:
As most infections during this season are air-borne, restrict visits to air-conditioned places like malls, theatres and restaurants. Though staying indoors sounds like a safer and easier option, research suggests that to be an unhealthy option. Staying indoors will deprive your child of being exposed to sunlight which lowers her Vitamin D status. Vitamin D deficiency has been proven as a major cause of lowered immunity in children.
Another reason why staying indoors is not really ideal is that it cuts down physical activity. Staying home in this climate will tempt your child to curl up in her bed and stay cosy. Lack of physical activity lowers her immunity. Hence, encourage her to go play outdoors or engage in any form of brisk physical activity, to improve her immunity and stay healthy.
Shivering depresses your child’s immune system. Dress your child in layers of clothing depending on the temperature outside. Staying warm and covered prevents illnesses. Remove his wet clothing and socks immediately after getting back home. Keep his ears covered when you go out to prevent ear infections.
FOODS to have during the cold season:
During the winter months, it's important to ensure that everyone in the family continues to eat healthfully. Children might be less active in the colder months, which demands more focus on adequate nutrition. It is hypothesized that children could experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern. Changes in mood, energy, focus, appetite and sleep are some common signs. The following foods will help your kids stay healthy this winter.
1. Fruit and vegetables
Colorful fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens, avocados, beets and berries, are rich in antioxidants, which support the immune system of your child and improve her natural defense system to fight against illnesses during this season. Especially the citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin C, which improves his immunity to a larger extent. An Amla a day during this season could do wonders. Let fruits and vegetables make up at least half your child’s plate at meals.
Apart from its rich protein content and brain health boosting effects, fish contains anti-asthmatic properties too. Certain types of fish such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel, tuna, pomfret, catfish, sardine, pink perch and seer fish are rich in immune-boosting and inflammation fighting omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6, two inflammatory proteins in the body.
3. Herbs and Spices
Herbs and Spices are packed with immune-boosting properties which fight illnesses. Seasoning your child’s meals with fresh herbs and spices add a flavorful and antioxidant-rich punch to her diet. Herbs such as coriander, curry leaves, sage, tulsi, etc. and spices such as ginger, capsicum (bell peppers), cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and garlic have been extensively studied to prove their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Include these in your child’s daily diet in recipes such as soups, stews, teas and other dishes and wade off the viral and bacterial stacks.
‘Probiotics’ are friendly microorganisms improving gut health. A child whose gut health is compromised turns susceptible to diarrheal and respiratory infections. Consumption of probiotic-rich foods such as fermented dairy products (curd, yoghurt, lassi, buttermilk, paneer etc.), fermented vegetables, etc. leads to the development of healthy immunologic and digestive functions in your child.
5. Beware of Overeating
Both adults and kids have a tendency to overeat during the winter. It is proven that high-calorie, high-fat diets can have an adverse effect on immune systems. Not more than 30 percent of your child’s calories are recommended to come from fat every day. Hence, mindful eating techniques and a structured physical activity regimen will help you maintain your child’s energy balance, which itself improves his immunity.
Therefore enjoy this winter with your family keeping in mind the tips discussed above, and have a healthy, safe and a happy vacation.
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