Home Care Solutions for the Cold Flu

Sniffle Solutions provides guidance for parents and families for staying happy and healthy during the cold and flu season. Content and editorial topic include cough, cold and flu, allergies, rest and recovery

Is The H1N1 Pandemic Over?

Last year’s H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, triggered the first flu pandemic in decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 60 million cases of H1N1, more than 274,000 hospitalizations and approximately 12,500 deaths. Learn what to expect from H1N1 in the coming year, so you and your family can stay healthy during cold and flu season.

H1N1: What to Expect in 2010-11
In August, the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 pandemic over. Out-of-season outbreaks have waned, H1N1 is no longer the dominant influenza virus, and much of the population has either been vaccinated or exposed to the virus. “At this time, we do not see any evidence of another pandemic on the horizon,” says Jeffrey Dimond, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While this is good news, it doesn’t mean you can abandon your efforts to keep yourself and your family safe from swine flu. “The H1N1 virus is still circulating,” explains Dimond. “Like other seasonal flu strains, it will probably begin circulating more aggressively as we get into flu season this fall.”

Vaccination Update
The No. 1 way to protect yourself and your loved ones from H1N1 is to get vaccinated. This year, there are some important changes to the vaccination process:

  • Just one vaccine. Do you remember getting two shots last year? There were two different influenza vaccines -- one for seasonal flu and one for swine flu. That’s because H1N1 wasn’t identified until after manufacturers had already started to produce the seasonal flu vaccine. “This year, one influenza vaccine that also incorporates H1N1 will be available,” says Dr. Peter Katona, associate clinical professor of medicine in the department of infectious diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles, Health System.
  • Increased distribution. In February, a panel of immunization experts voted to expand the influenza vaccine recommendation to include everyone 6 months and older. In past years, it focused on children, the elderly and those in close contact with people at higher risk.

The hope is that these changes will make the 2010-11 flu season less dangerous. One thing that hasn’t changed is when and where to get your vaccine. Check with your doctor, neighborhood clinic or local pharmacy; yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as it’s available. Too often people make the mistake of waiting until coworkers and friends are sniffling and sneezing, but it’s best to get vaccinated before flu season peaks to stop the spread of germs. Not sure where to get vaccinated? Visit the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder at cdc.gov/h1n1flu/vaccination.

Keep Your Guard Up
A flu shot isn’t license to slack off on other stay-healthy strategies. “The flu is unpredictable, so we just don’t know at this time to what extent any rebound of H1N1 flu might occur,” says Dimond. That’s why it’s crucial to follow this flu-fighting checklist to stay well and keep your family germ-free.

  • Wash up. Hygiene is key to stopping the spread of H1N1. “Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available,” says Dimond. 
  • Cover your coughs. Sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hand, if you don’t have a tissue. When you sneeze, thousands of infectious droplets go flying. If they land on your hands, you spread the germs to anything you touch, where they can remain contagious for several hours.
  • Take a sick day. Feeling under the weather? Don’t go into the office, and don’t send your little one to school when she’s ill. “You may think you’re impressing coworkers with your dedication, but you’re not doing anyone any favors by spreading germs around the office,” says Dimond.
  • Bolster your immune system. “Eat a healthy diet, engage in regular exercise and practice stress-reduction techniques,” says Katona. Stock up on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, take a brisk walk most days, and engage in some soothing me-time (try practicing yoga or meditation or taking a long, hot bath).

Are Your Kids Gross Habits Really that Bad?

We’ve all been there: Your son drops an animal cracker on the floor, then bends over to pick it up and eat it. You think to yourself, “10-second rule!” No damage done, right? But how bad is it, really? Are you letting your kids pick up germs and bacteria, or are they actually boosting their immune systems? And what about all the other gross things kids do throughout the day? Inquiring moms need to know.

To find out when -- and if -- being a germophobe mom pays, we talked with Carole Marsh, author of The Here & Now Reproducible Book of a Kid's Official Guide to Germs: Our Enemies and Our Friends!
 

Eating a cookie dropped on the floor: How bad is it?
I don’t think you can protect kids from every single thing that appears to be germy. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that kids are going to eat cereal off the floor no matter what you do, so don’t worry about this one!” Marsh says.

Researchers continue to debate the probable risks of eating food dropped on the floor; several studies have come to varying conclusions. A study at Connecticut College found that after hitting the ground, wet food was safe to eat for 30 seconds and dry food was fine after a full minute. However, another study at Clemson University found that food dropped onto surfaces intentionally contaminated with salmonella picked up enough of the bacteria to make a person sick.

While there is a risk of picking up bacteria from a fallen cookie crumb, think of it this way: Many objects you frequently touch -- like kitchen sponges, faucets and elevator buttons -- can contain significant amounts of bacteria, and you can’t live in constant fear of coming into contact with germs. So when it comes to dropping something edible on the floor, most health experts advise parents not to worry.

Drinking out of the same juice box: How bad is it?
Keeping beverages to yourself doesn’t make you a germophobe. In fact, sharing a beverage with a friend or family member carries multiple health risks, from tooth decay to strep throat and even meningitis.

“Some times of the year, every other kid has a cold, so there’s a good chance that a child with a cold is going to drink out of that juice box. Viruses such as colds can be transmitted through bodily fluids like saliva. And let’s not talk about all the other unmentionable gunky stuff that inevitably gets on the straws,” says Marsh. “Even when everyone’s healthy, it’s important to teach kids good habits -- and learning not to drink out of the same cup or juice box as someone else is simply a healthy habit to teach.”

So do your family a favor and keep juice boxes separate at snack time.

Sharing eye shadow: How bad is it?
Kids love to test-drive the pretty things moms wear, but unless you buy makeup specifically for your child, it’s best to keep her fingers out of the pot.

 “Children have different skin sensitivities, especially around their eyes,” says Marsh.

Moreover, researchers have found that makeup, especially eye makeup, is often packed with germs, infections and even uber-icky Staphylococcus aureus, a toxic bacterium.

“Different people have different hygiene habits -- maybe someone else’s eye shadow has been left open on a bathroom sink and has been contaminated with something,” says Marsh.

Bottom line: It’s simply safer not to share.

Sharing earrings: How bad is it?
You hopefully wouldn’t let your friend stick a finger covered in gunk in your ear -- so letting your daughter use a friend’s earrings should induce a similar sense of ickiness. Hepatitis is common in sharing earrings, as well as a slew of other nasty viruses.

“Never share jewelry for piercings of any kind,” Marsh advises. “It just takes the tiniest opening in the skin for an infection to get in.”

Eating your own boogers: How bad is it?
Health experts generally disagree on the benefits of picking your nose: Some say it’s good for you, some say it’s bad -- and some say it doesn’t matter.

“This one is really high on the gross-factor list, but it’s most likely harmless,” says Marsh. “Just don’t eat anybody else’s boogers!”

Whether or not digging for nose-gold is actually good for your health, those same experts would agree it’s a gross habit that your kid should kick to the curb.

Drinking bathwater: How bad is it?
When you consider the concoction of stuff in bathwater -- shampoo, bacteria and germs -- it sounds, well, disgusting. But just like a spilled cookie isn’t the end of the world, a little bath water is also harmless for your tot.

“Kids don’t typically drink 8 ounces of bathwater -- they’d probably get a handful or a slurp -- so it’s not something to be overly concerned about,” says Marsh. “I just wouldn’t make a regular habit of it, since the soap in the water could cause an upset stomach or diarrhea. Plus, there could be fecal matter in the water, which is obviously not something you want to consume.”

So don’t worry if your child takes a sip of the soapy stuff. Just make sure she goes to the bathroom before taking a bath.

Sharing hats: How bad is it?
This is one problem that’s stood the test of time. Your parents probably advised you not to share hats when you were a kid -- and since then, not much has changed.

“These days, there are a lot of lice outbreaks, so it’s best not to share hats. If it’s going to cause a huge headache, why risk it?” says Marsh.

Lice still love any head -- whether it’s dirty or squeaky clean -- and can lay eggs in any hair they find. Keep your kids safe by asking them not to swap hats with their friends.

At the end of the day, Marsh says moms only really need to worry about getting their kids immunized, making sure they wash their hands and teaching them healthy habits -- like the importance of good nutrition and a full night’s sleep. “When you see a child doing something gross, don’t focus on the germs. Focus on what’s good and healthy for all of us. For instance, say: ‘This is what we do to stay healthy and happy.’”

A Parent's Guide to Cold Medication

When your child’s under the weather, you probably head to the drugstore to pick up a remedy. But with shelf after shelf filled with over-the-counter medications, the vast selection may be enough to give you a headache. How do you know which one is the right one? We asked the experts for a guide to cold medicine that helps clear up the confusion.

1. First, consider your child’s age. “It’s recommended that you avoid giving oral cold medications to children under the age of 6, unless otherwise directed by a pediatrician,” says Maria Marzella Mantione, an associate clinical professor at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions and a national spokeswoman for the American Pharmacists Association. Some topical medications are OK for use in children 2 years and older, but always check the label for age restrictions and be sure to follow the directions for proper application -- they should not be ingested or applied where they can accidentally enter the nose, mouth or eyes.

For younger kids, soothe their cold symptoms with non-medicinal methods: Encourage plenty of fluids and rest, and run a humidifier to relieve congestion and to moisten dry nasal passages. Mantione also advises using saline drops and an aspirator for a stuffy nose, and a spoonful of honey for cough (but only for children over the age of 1).

2. Next, take note of her symptoms. Don’t automatically reach for that all-in-one remedy. “You should only treat the symptoms that your child is experiencing,” says Mantione. “Giving her unnecessary medication may lead to unpleasant side effects, like nausea or dizziness.” If your little one is suffering from more than one complaint, however, using the appropriate multi-symptom formula is a smart move.

3. Check the active ingredients. Once you’ve pinpointed your child’s symptoms, read the label to ensure that you’re buying the correct medication. This cheat sheet can help you make the right choice; make sure that you follow the age and dosing requirements on the package.

Your child has a: Fever
The box should say: Fever and pain reliever (acetaminophen, ibuprofen).
“Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are safe to use for fever or pain, such as an earache or sore throat, in children who are at least 6 months old,” says Mantione, who also advises checking in with a pediatrician. Steer clear of aspirin, which has been shown to cause Reye syndrome -- a rare but dangerous complication -- in children with the flu or chickenpox.

Your child has a: Dry cough
The box should say: Cough suppressant or antitussive (dextromethorphan) or topical cough relief (camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil).
These types of medications reduce your cough sensitivity by suppressing receptors in the respiratory tract or, for dextromethorphan, in the brain's “cough center.”

Your child has a: Productive cough or chest congestion
The box should say: Expectorant (guaifenesin).
Expectorants thin mucus, which makes it easier to cough up. “A productive cough is good for you, so you don’t want to quiet it with a suppressant,” says Mantione.

Your child has a: Stuffy nose
The box should say: Decongestant (pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine).
This medication works by reducing swelling in the nose. But don’t use it for more than three days in a row, since decongestants can make stuffiness worse with repeated use. You can find pseudoephedrine-based products behind the pharmacy counter; Mantione believes they have fewer side effects.

Your child has a: Runny nose
The box should say: Antihistamine (brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine).
Antihistamines work by blocking histamine, compounds that attach to cells and cause fluid leakage. Most of these are sedating and can cause sleepiness, so they’re best used before bedtime.

4. Consult the pharmacist. If you have any questions or want a little guidance, find the in-store pharmacist, says Mantione. “She can also help you figure out the right dose for your child.”

8 Ways to Soothe a Sick Child

No mom wants her child to feel miserable -- and the common cold can really wipe a kid out! Fortunately, combining a few simple moves with time-tested remedies can help ease your little one’s symptoms. So the next time she starts coughing and sneezing, try these savvy tricks to soothe your sick kid in no time.

1. Push an ice pop. “This frozen treat can help soothe a sore throat, plus provide extra fluid to prevent dehydration,” says Dr. Susan Besser, a family physician in Memphis, Tenn., and a mother of six. Giving your child plenty of liquids will also help thin out mucus, making it easier to cough it up.

2. Choose the right remedy. An over-the-counter medication is one of the best ways to relieve cough and cold; just make sure to check the label for age restrictions. A multi-symptom drug is useful in many cases, but don’t assume that it’s a one-size-fits-all treatment. “If your child isn’t experiencing each of the ailments listed on the box, you’re giving her unnecessary meds,” says Besser. “That may cause uncomfortable side effects, like insomnia or nausea.” She advises matching up your child’s specific symptoms with the medicine you give her.

3. Use an extra pillow. “Elevating a child’s head will keep those nasal secretions flowing forward and out of the nose,” says Dr. Peter I. Liber, a pediatrician in Wheaton, Ill., and a father of four. That can prevent postnasal drip from turning into a cough -- and help her sleep more soundly.

4. Have a cooldown. While waiting for that acetaminophen or ibuprofen to kick in, a cold washcloth or icy drink can provide relief for a feverish child. Skip the cool bath, though: Liber explains that may raise his core temperature -- and actually worsen fever.

5. Soothe with steam. “Adding moisture to the air can help loosen up congestion,” says Besser. Keep a vaporizer or humidifier in your child’s room, and remember to change the water daily to prevent bacteria growth. Or run a hot shower and let her sit in the fogged-up bathroom for up to 15 minutes.

6. Teach good hankie habits. “Clamping your nose with a tissue and blowing forcefully can lead to nosebleeds or even a ruptured eardrum,” cautions Besser. Instruct your child to clear her nose gently. While you’re at it, remind her to toss the tissue in the trash afterwards and wash her hands to avoid spreading germs.

7. Calm with creams. Turns out those mentholated topical ointments and creams your own mom gave you really do work. According to a recent study, sick kids whose parents applied a vapor rub to their chest 30 minutes before bedtime slept better, breathed easier and coughed less throughout the night than those who didn’t. Just make sure to follow the directions on the package, and avoid using in and around the nose.

8. Protect his nose. You can’t always help whether your little guy uses a tissue or his sleeve to wipe his nose. “But you can keep his nostrils from getting red,” says Liber. He suggests applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly beneath his nose and on the outside of his nostrils to keep the skin from becoming chapped.