Pediatric HealthSource: Tips to Keep Kids Healthy and Avoid Winter Illness

Be prepared for common seasonal ailments such as colds, the flu and RSV.

Sara Bode, M.D.
Childhood illnesses such as colds, flu and other viruses are common in winter.

Q: As a family, we’ve been really focused on COVID-19, but what other illnesses do we need to be thinking about?

A: Schools are back in session, many adults are heading back to the workplace, and public spaces are open. With families out of the house and around others once again, we expect to see more common illnesses this winter, such as rhinovirus, parainfluenza virus, influenza virus (the flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Rhinovirus, which often causes the common cold, has symptoms like congestion, sore throat and cough. Riding out a cold usually takes three to five days and can be assisted with lots of rest, fluids and fever-reducing medication, when needed.

Parainfluenza virus also causes congestion, but involves swelling of the vocal cords, which can cause a sore throat, hoarse voice and a cough that sounds like a barking seal.

The flu often causes fever and muscle aches along with congestion and cough. This virus can cause more serious symptoms and can be treated with medications when diagnosed early. The influenza vaccine is an important part of preventing this specific virus, and it is recommended for all children ages 6 months and older.

RSV infections cause congestion and cough, resulting from the overproduction of mucus and swelling deep in the lungs. Antibiotics aren’t prescribed for RSV, and unfortunately breathing treatments and steroids don’t help wheezing caused by RSV, as they do with asthma-caused wheezing. RSV infections present like a common cold in older children and adults, but babies can potentially get much sicker due to their tiny airways and the way they mainly breathe through their nose. Babies who have trouble breathing or don’t get enough fluids should be seen by a doctor immediately, and if their symptoms are bad enough, they may be admitted to the hospital.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health.

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Sara Bode, M.D., is a primary care physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

This Pediatric HealthSource column is from the Winter 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.

Sara Bode, M.D.

Be Proactive to Keep Kids Healthy

Families can reduce the risk of illness for everyone in the house with easy-to-follow habits:

  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently; don’t touch your face and nose; don’t share food, drinking glasses or towels; and cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Distance yourself. Stay away from sick people, stay home when you are ill and avoid large gatherings. Wear a mask (ages 2 and older) when you’re indoors in public spaces.
  • Utilize good health habits. Exercise regularly, get lots of sleep, eat nutritiously and keep your stress levels low. Those who can get the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine should do so.