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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

My Child is Sick Again

My Kid is Sick Again! Tips to Keep Kids Healthy

This time of year, when winter still lingers and spring hasn’t quite come around, I hear a version of the same question from many parents: “Why does my child get sick so often? Is something wrong with them?”

At times I’ve wondered the same thing about my kids! The answer in most cases is the same reassuring one: No, nothing is wrong. Young children are expected to get colds and other viruses 8 to 12 times per year. That’s a lot! There are hundreds of different cold viruses. Since kids’ immune systems haven’t “seen” these viruses before, they can get each new virus they’re exposed to. Many of these viral infections occur in the winter, when it can seem like kids are always sick. One cold will start to get a bit better just as another one comes on its heels.

You may worry that your child has a weak immune system. Talk with your doctor about this if your child:

  • Seems to get sick more often than the high normal rate.
  • Gets infections that don’t go away, are especially severe, or unusual.
  • Has poor growth.
  • Has a family history of immune disorders.

Kids with truly weak immune systems include those:

  • Born with immune system abnormalities.
  • Infected with HIV.
  • Without a spleen.
  • Who have cancer.
  • Who’ve had organ transplants.

Most kids have a healthy immune system and are getting the expected but high rate of infections each year. But many parents ask what they can do to keep their children as healthy as possible. Here are some ideas.

Wash hands often. Many illnesses are spread through germs shared by touch. When one child has a runny nose and rubs his nose then touches a doorknob, pencil, or toy, he leaves a trail that can be picked up by the next child that comes along. The second child touches the contaminated object then rubs her eye, nose, or mouth and, voila! the cold has spread.

The importance of frequent and thorough handwashing cannot be emphasized enough. As the CDC explains on their website, “Handwashing is like a ‘do-it-yourself’ vaccine.”

Get a yearly flu shot. Speaking of vaccinations, I help protect my children every year against influenza by giving them the flu shot. I recommend the same protection for your family!

This and the other recommended childhood vaccines prevent serious life-threatening illnesses, but your children will still get run of the mill colds and stomach flus.

Cover coughs and sneezes. Teach them to cough like Dracula does: into their elbow every time.

Focus on good nutrition and avoid supplements. Although a lot of research is being done on preventing the common cold, not much of it provides clear guidance for parents. For instance, there still isn’t clear evidence about whether probiotics, vitamins C and D, zinc, garlic, or ginseng will help your child get sick less often. However, findings do show that a diverse and healthy diet will provide many of the ingredients being studied. Feed your children fruits, veggies, yogurt (containing active cultures), and fortified dairy products, and kids will get these substances naturally!

Make sure they get enough sleep. Another common-sense approach to keeping your kids healthy is to make sure they get enough sleep. There are many benefits of kids getting the recommended amount of sleep (anywhere from 8 to 14 hours, depending on age), and research is being done to prove and explain the benefits to the immune system.

Help them exercise. We know that less active kids get sick more often. The good news? If they increase their activity level they’re less likely to get respiratory infections. So keep your kids moving.

And while we’re on this subject, exercising in the cold weather does not give you a cold. Quite the opposite! People do get more colds in the winter but that’s because they usually spend more time indoors in close contact with each other—and all those germs on doorknobs!

Avoid secondhand smoke. Kids whose parents smoke get sick more often than those who don’t. Talk with your doctor for help quitting.

Know that pets are OK. If you’re a pet owner, don’t worry about their germs. Research shows that kids raised with dogs and cats tend to get sick less often than those without!

It’s hard to spend a winter caring for and worrying about sick kids. As spring rolls around, you can expect that the April showers and May flowers will bring healthier kids to your homes!

Additional resources:

My Doctor Online
Cold and Flu
Children’s Health resources
Inherited Immune Deficiencies in Children

American Academy of Pediatrics
Sleep Guidelines

This article was originally published in the Thriving Schools blog