Keeping Kids Healthy

Your guide to your child's 3 most vulnerable spots and how to protect them.

Keeping Kids Healthy

Just as winter can seem endless, so can the colds your children bring home from school. The good news is there are easy ways to prevent infections and to alleviate the pain and suffering they can bring.

The Ears

Kids' colds often invite a most unwelcome guest - the ear infection. That's because the passageways that connect the ears to the throat - the Eustachian tubes - are particularly small in children. When they swell during respiratory infections, they trap germ-packed fluid and give it a cozy place to grow. The infection, in turn, causes mucus to build up and push painfully against the eardrums.

Prevention and Treatment

When your child comes down with a cold, make sure they get plenty of fluids to thin secretions, and use humidifiers and steam to moisten irritated airways. Try a few drops of lavender oil in the ear, which has antibacterial properties, and can prevent bacteria buildup in the ears.

Most doctors will watch an ear infection in the initial stages to see if it clears on its own. During that time, you can use pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) to lower fever and reduce pain (Note: Never give aspirin to children or teenagers, because it can cause Reye's Syndrome, a rare, but potentially fatal medical condition). Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, and, if the pain is severe, numbing medication. Apply a warm, moist cloth over the affected ear to alleviate discomfort.

The Nose

When bacteria or viruses breach our defenses, our body reacts by creating immune cells to fight them off. Those cells release chemicals and enzymes to destroy the harmful organisms and give snot its trademark yellow or green color that shows a germ war is being waged in your body.


Prevention and Treatment

Proper hand washing can eliminate more than 50% of all colds and flus. Teach your children to wash their hands often and to sing "Happy Birthday" two times through when they do. Show them how to cough or sneeze in the crook of their arm to keep them from spreading germs.

The common cold is a virus that has to pass on its own, but if it creates an underlying sinus or upper respiratory infection caused by bacteria, it may require antibiotics. Make sure your kids drink plenty of fluids and get good rest and visit the doctor if you are concerned that an infection has taken hold.

The Throat

When your child complains of throat pain, there are a few potential culprits. Colds and flu viruses often cause a sore throat in the early stages of infection that passes after a few days. A sore throat that lasts longer and seems particularly painful may be an infection caused by streptococcus bacteria. Strep throat, as it's called, can cause tonsillitis -- painful and inflamed tonsils. However, tonsillitis can often be the result of a viral infection.

Prevention and Treatment

Drinking warm liquids such as soup, broth, and tea can relieve sore throat pain. Gargling with warm salt water (1/4 tsp salt in 8 ounces of water) reduces swelling, which decreases pain. Hot water with honey and lemon helps in 2 ways: the lemon clears mucus away from the tonsils and the honey gently coats them. Sucking on hard candies or throat lozenges stimulates saliva production to cleanse the throat. You can use acetaminophen to reduce pain and fever.

Your child's doctor can culture his or her throat to look for the presence of strep bacteria and, if they find it, prescribe antibiotics. In rare instances, the tonsils become so inflamed they have to be removed by surgery.

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