What I have right now is not the flu. I’m just miserable with a snotty nose, sore throat and cough. Plus not sleeping. I had the flu once, I remember crawling to the bathroom because I couldn’t walk and shivering at the bottom of a scalding shower. But in Australia at the moment, ’tis the season to be miserable so I thought I’d share some around. Ideas, not misery.
This is a great program I’m part of, anyone in Australia can join up. They email you a link every Monday and all you do is tick the boxes, it literally takes me 60 seconds to do my entire family. They ask about fever and cough, so really it is tracking ‘flu-like illness’ rather than actual flu – it’s that tradeoff between accuracy and simplicity. I love the idea of using the internet to support nation-wide research, and the more people who join up, the better information we’ll get out of it.
Breathe, Blow, Cough
BBC is very popular in some schools and good for littlies to practice, especially if they haven’t got the hang of blowing properly yet. A good trick with kids who are learning is to hold your finger under their chin while they are blowing, it encourages them to keep their mouth closed and blow through their nose. It is usually done by everyone a few times a day to help kids practice and make sure everyone is clear.
Cover your mouth!
We’ve all heard this a million times, because we know that viruses are spread by droplets we spray everywhere when we sneeze or cough. But did you think about how you should do it?
You shouldn’t use your hand, because the next thing you do is touch something and put the concentrated virus all over it. Instead, you should use your elbow – you very rarely touch anything with that!
This doesn’t really seem to affect the spread of respiratory viruses, but it is important for gastro. Basically it’s a good habit to get kids into, even if they aren’t doing it very effectively yet. We still use baby soap for our girls, I find it’s much less drying on their skin.
The flu vaccine is not the best out there, because flu mutates so quickly. Every year it is a guess which strains will be the most common and should be included. If they guess wrong or if you are unlucky and catch a different strain it won’t help. But being vaccinated is still the best way to prevent flu.
- It is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine. It is a killed virus, and they cannot zombify and get you – they are dead.
- It can give you ‘flu like symptoms.’ This is nothing to do with the virus, it is your own immune system reacting and is actually a good sign because it shows you are developing immunity. They’re generally very mild.
- After the CSL debacle a few years ago, their brand is not approved for children under 5. There are several other brands that are, as long as the clinic or whoever is doing the immunisations knows in advance they can make sure one of the alternatives are used. The reason it is different for children under 5 is because their bodies deal with fevers differently and they are more prone to febrile convulsions (which are completely different to seizures). Febrile convulsions are extremely rare in children over 5.
Food, clothes and supplements
It is always good to have a balanced diet and dress appropriately for the season. It probably will not stop you from getting sick if you are exposed to viruses, but it will make you feel better. In spite of Linus Pauling, Vitamin C will not help a cold unless you happen to run marathons, neither will echinacea. Zinc might help but can also be dangerous, and you get it from a well balanced diet – I wouldn’t be rushing to supplement.
Vitamin D also has a very modest effect, and hey anything is better than nothing. The question is if you need extra. Vitamin D supports the immune system, if you are deficient you will have problems with viruses and it will make your flu vaccine less effective. But if you aren’t deficient, more is not better and there is an upper safe limit. So the trick is to make sure you have enough and then not stress.
Vitamin D is produced in your skin in response to UV-B, which is what sunscreens block. So to get enough Vitamin D from the sun you need to spend some time without sunscreen. It obviously depends on where you live and the amount of UV that gets through, but according to the Cancer Council most Australians get enough sun through incidental exposure. In the south during winter you may need up to 2-3 hours per week of indirect sunlight (before 10am, after 3pm) on your face, hands and arms – not something that’s terribly difficult.
Unfortunately we are all going to get colds and most treatment is supportive, because colds and flu are viruses. In Australia we don’t generally use anti-virals except in cases such as the H1N1 pandemic flu, so the idea is to make people comfortable while their bodies deal with it on their own. Anti-biotics will make no difference at all unless you are unlucky enough to get a secondary bacterial infection.
Comfort for little ones
- Lip balm is extremely popular in our household, a favourite little treat with a practical purpose.
- Handkerchiefs – they may seem old fashioned and a little ick, but these are far softer on little noses and faces than tissues. I just cut up some scraps of material then throw them in the wash.
- Humidity – whether it’s a humidifier at night, a steamy shower or bath or even a bowl of warm water in the room they are playing in, some humidity helps noses, throats and lungs.
- Postural drainage – Little ones can have difficulty moving mucous out of their lungs. Having them lie across your lap with their head down or on the edge of a bed or couch and giving them a back rub with gentle percussioning can use gravity to help shift things. Changes in position like lying on their front or being upright can help drain their nose as well.
- Water – throats dry very quickly when you are breathing through your mouth, make sure they have access to water and are drinking often.
There was a huge kerfuffle a few years ago when the recommendations on lots of medicines changed. It wasn’t that they’ve suddenly been found to be dangerous, it’s a bit of scientific history. In the past when many cold medicines were developed, it was acceptable to extrapolate tests. If a medicine was tested on adults and found to work, it was assumed that it would work the same in children. This is no longer acceptable.
So various medicines could no longer legally claim to be safe and effective in children under 2 because they had never been tested in that age group. It has not been cost effective for pharmaceutical companies to do those tests, so the under 2 preparations have disappeared as a business decision. And to be honest, they probably didn’t do much.
Unfortunately this means a lot of things that are legally not medicines, such as homeopathy and herbs, are sold instead – they don’t have to be tested because they don’t claim to work. Yes, you read that right – they are not tested to see if they work, because they are actually food supplements or have no active ingredients (homeopathy admits it is only water).
The recommended treatment for small children is keep them comfortable, use steam, chest rubs and blowing to help them clear the mucous, and use paracetamol for aches and pains. And good luck!
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