What strange times we’re living in!
We’re being advised NOT to call our GP when we get sick. Whilst this seems crazy, we certainly don’t want to spread any germs by visiting our doctor’s surgery. So, as long as you’re coping, it’s best to stay at home (current govt recommendations here).
However, amidst this ongoing global pandemic, there are still many of the usual winter bugs going around. Our daughter’s had a nasty cold for the past two weeks and our son has had a funny tummy.
As there are no medications that cure a virus, and children under the age of six shouldn’t be given cough or cold medications (although soothing symptoms with homemade onion or elderberry syrup is fine), at this challenging time, it’s simply about supporting your child through the illness and helping them feel as comfortable as possible.
With this in mind, this post is general, offering ideas to help assist anyone at home fighting an infection.
Fighting an infection with the 3 F’s
A fever is a high temperature of 37.5oC or more. Alex, being an infectious disease doctor, always stresses the importance of a fever. After all, it’s the body’s natural and healthy response to an infection. Research shows that a fever may inhibit a virus from spreading, and help your immune system increase its production of fighter cells to kill the bug (reference). Therefore, allowing a fever may be the best way to help you or your child fight an infection and get better quickly.
When either of our children are fighting an infection, we monitor them closely during the day with a digital tympanic (ear) thermometer. If they are coping okay with the illness, we allow them to have a fever. Saving the dose of paracetamol for night-time, when everything feels worse and we want them to get some sleep. The problem with overusing paracetamol during the day is that your child feels well again and becomes active when really what they need is some rest.
There are times, however, when you may want to bring a fever down. For babies that’s when they seemed distressed and uncomfortable with illness. Typically, over 38℃ in an infant under three months old, and over 39℃ in a one over three months old. In these instances, the appropriate dose of paracetamol (for babies over two months old) usually works well, though if they’re under this age, you should seek medical help and call NHS 111.
Whether it’s a cough and a cold or diarrhoea and vomiting, it’s important that your child stays hydrated throughout the illness. Babies and children are particularly sensitive to even a tiny amount of fluid loss because they are so small. As a Nutritionist, I can’t stress the importance of staying hydrated enough. Water is required by every single cell in the body to function. Therefore, dehydration can further complicate an illness and slow recovery and if left untreated can be serious.
The best way to keep a baby under six months old hydrated is milk, in the form of breastmilk or formula, so keep offering them small, but frequent feeds. Boiled water can be given by teaspoon or oral syringe to a baby under six months old if they’re refusing milk. In children older than six months, milk is still appropriate, but you can also give rehydration sachets.
Re-hydration sachets have a balance of electrolytes (mineral salts) to rehydrate quickly. They can be bought from any chemist or supermarket and, using and oral syringe, you can pop a mil into your child’s mouth every few minutes or so. Some little ones don’t like the taste and so refuse to drink them. In these instances, I always recommend you make your own (recipe to follow). After all, it’s better that your child gets some fluids than none at all.
RED FLAGS for dehydration
The best way to watch out for dehydration is to pay attention to how many wet nappies your baby is having, or how many times your child needs to wee. Little or no urine in eight hours is a sign of dehydration and would warrant immediate medical attention.
Breastmilk provides antibodies that are transferred to your baby’s gut, providing protection against disease causing viruses and bacteria until they can make their own antibodies. So, if you’re still breastfeeding, keep that up through any illness.
Beyond weaning age, fruit and vegetable purees are perfect for your child when they are ill and are easy to swallow if they have a sore throat. The vitamin C content protects the immune cells from the harmful effects of free radical damage. This in turn boosts the ability of the whole system to fight infections. Research shows that vitamin C not only improves your resistance to illness, it may reduce the overall infection time (reference). The best purees to fight an infection include sweet potato, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, avocado, apple and melon. Chicken bone broth is also very nourishing during times of illness. Or why not blend up an immune boosting smoothie.
Cuddling is an important part of making your child feel well again, but should we be cuddling our children right now? Read more here..
As always, if you’re living in the UK and you feel you cannot cope with your or your child’s symptoms at home, your condition gets worse, or your symptoms do not get better after 7 days, then use the NHS 111 online service. If you do not have internet access, call NHS 111. For a medical emergency dial 999.
Please read full disclaimer here.