Flu season is around the corner. As a parent, it's your responsibility to keep your children healthy.
Simple preventive measures, such as giving them flu shots and ensuring they get enough vitamins in their diet, can go a long way toward preventing the flu.
Each year, this condition is responsible for over 3,500 deaths and 12,200 hospitalizations in Canada alone. In the U.S., the flu killed 56,000 people between 2012 and 2013. Most deaths occur due to pneumonia, brain infection, and other complications of the flu.
Babies, pregnant women, seniors, and children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable. The same goes for people with a weak immune system or underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Bad eating, lack of exercise, stress, and other factors can make your child sick, especially in the winter. That's why it's important that you watch his diet and lifestyle habits.
Not sure where to start? Follow these steps to keep your kids healthy this winter!
How Does Cold Weather Affect Children's Health?
First of all, make sure you know a thing or two about the most common illnesses your child could catch in the cold season. The flu isn't the only bug slowing people down this time of the year.
During the winter, children are more likely to develop a chronic cough, asthma, nosebleeds, and dry skin. If your one of your kids has eczema, his symptoms might get worse when the temperature drop.
Another problem is the common cold, which causes coughing, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, muscle aches, and pressure in the ears. These symptoms tend to last longer in children.
Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics are not a suitable treatment for this condition. They are only effective against bacterial and viral infections, such as the flu.
Children may also catch the catch the norovirus. Also known as the winter vomiting bug or stomach flu, it affects about one in 15 Americans every year. It's more common in schools, hospitals, hotels, and other places where the infection can spread easily.
Beware that your child's skin is more sensitive than yours. That's why it tends to dry out faster during the cold winter months. To prevent dry skin, teach your kids to use moisturizing creams and lotions on a daily basis.
Other winter health woes include croup, seasonal affective disorder, ear infections, and cold sores.
Even though these issues are not a medical emergency, they can affect your child's quality of life. Not to mention hypothermia and frostbite, which can lead to death.
Is Your Child Sick All the Time?
No parent wants to see his child sick. Yet, some children are constantly ill. Their symptoms tend to worsen during the winter or in early spring.
Most times, a weak immune system is to blame. Sometimes, recurring illnesses are due to bad eating. Unless your child has an underlying condition, you can strengthen his immune system through simple lifestyle changes.
Nutrition plays a major role in children's health. A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can boost their natural defenses and keep viruses at bay. That's why health experts recommend eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially during the cold season.
Make sure your child stays active throughout the day. Encourage him to play sports and exercise regularly. Physical activity improves immune function, promotes bone growth and development, and supports overall health.
Children who get repeated infections, such as meningitis or pneumonia, might have an immune deficiency.
A pediatrician can recommend specific blood tests that assess immune function and then prescribe appropriate treatment. If left unaddressed, these problems can get worse and cause complications.
So what can you do to prevent your child from getting sick in the winter? Here are simple tips to keep his immune system strong and ward off diseases:
Sneak in Fruit and Vegetables Wherever You Can
Children have special dietary requirements. Even the slightest nutrient deficiency can weaken their immune system and affect overall health.
Calcium, for instance, promotes bone growth and development. It also plays a key role in nerve and muscle function as well as in blood clotting. Dairy foods, tofu, spinach, and broccoli are among the best sources of calcium for kids.
Your child needs optimum doses of vitamin C for a strong immune system and healthy bones.
This nutrient may help prevent the flu and reduce its severity. Berries, citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables, mangos, papayas, and melons are all excellent sources of vitamin C.
Another key nutrient is vitamin A. It supports eye and skin health, protects against oxidative stress, and wards off infections. Make sure your child eats sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots, apricots, squash, and other foods containing this nutrient.
What if your kids hate fresh produce? Get creative in the kitchen and trick your little ones by hiding fruits and veggies in their favorite foods.
Make a large batch of muffins with avocado and blueberries. Just remember to swap white flour for whole wheat flour or rye flour, and sugar for stevia or raw honey.
Does your child love chicken nuggets? Prepare them at home, but add spinach or kale to the mix. He won't even notice the difference!
Replace white bread with homemade banana bread to ensure your kids get more fiber and potassium in their diet. Cook veggie-packed enchiladas for a Mexican feast.
If your kids have a sweet tooth, prepare their favorite cookies using dark chocolate and avocado.
Swap Breakfast Cereals for Whole Grains
Breakfast cereals are packed with sugar and artificial flavors. These popular foods have little or no nutritional value, and cause blood glucose spikes.
Replace your child's favorite cereals with whole grains. Oats, whole wheat, whole rye, and brown rice make are all a great choice for breakfast.
Whole grains boast large doses of fiber, iron, zinc, calcium, and B-complex vitamins. Fiber, for instance, keeps your child's digestive system running smoothly and prevents blood sugar spikes. Zinc fights inflammation, boosts immunity, and helps prevent acute diarrhea in children.
If your child has celiac disease, oats are the best option. These grains contain no gluten and provide more protein than other grains.
Get Your Kids to Exercise
Kids with an active lifestyle are healthier and get sick less often.
Physical activity strengthens their immune system, boosts self-confidence, and promotes muscle and bone development. Furthermore, exercise has been linked to lower rates of anxiety and depression in children.
Encourage your child to spend more time outdoors and engage in team sports. Buy him a bike so he can get more exercise on a daily basis.
Make active weekend family plans. Take hiking trips, sign up for a race, or go jogging in the park rather than staying at home. Get the whole family involved; be a role model yourself.
Get Your Kids the Flu Vaccine
This may come up as a surprise, but less than a quarter of Canadian children get the flu vaccine. Flu shots are considered preventive care; they work by helping the immune system produce antibodies that fight the flu virus.
Your health insurance plan covers this vaccine and others. Get your kids the flu shot to keep them safe from viruses during the winter.
It's recommended that all children six months and older receive the flu vaccine unless they have kidney or liver disease, blood disorders, cardiovascular problems, or certain lung conditions.
Visit a local pharmacy or see your doctor in order to find out more about this year's recommendations for the flu shot. Even though the vaccine isn't foolproof, it can make a world of difference.
If your child is under nine years old and has never got a flu shot, give him two doses, a month apart.
Teach Your Child Good Hygiene Habits
The easiest way to keep your children healthy during the winter and year-round is to limit their exposure to germs.
Teach them good hygiene habits, such a washing their hands before and after eating, taking daily showers, and covering their noses and mouths when sneezing or coughing. Also, make sure they wash their hands as soon as they come home.
Tell your children not to share their toothbrush, towels, water bottles, and other personal items with their friends. The flu viruses and other germs can easily spread from one person to another, so good hygiene is paramount.
Keep Your Children Happy and Healthy This Winter
There are many other things you can do to keep your kids healthy during the cold season. Consider giving them vitamin C, multivitamins, fish oil, and probiotics. These supplements will improve their natural defenses and provide them with the nutrients needed to function optimally.
Also, beware of any factors that can make your child sick. Stress, for example, weakens the immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to bacteria and viruses.
Make sure your kids get plenty of sleep. Their immune system depends on it. Sleep deprivation raises the stress hormone cortisol levels, which in turn, affects the body's ability to fight diseases.
Looking for more tips to keep your children healthy? Or perhaps you're interested in Child-Only Health Insurance? Check out our other blog posts to find out more!