Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to keep viruses and bacteria at bay. What helps children is a healthy lifestyle. “Be in the fresh air, get enough sleep, avoid stress,” recommends epidemiologist Dr. Cornelia Gottschick from Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg, who researches children’s immune system. A balanced diet also plays its part.
The influence of the immune system is often overestimated, says Göttingen pediatrician Tanja Brunnert. Above all, daily contact with bacteria and vaccinations ensure that the body gradually builds up protection against certain pathogens.
Regular colds in the little ones are annoying, but usually not a reason to panic: “Many parents want to prevent any illness at all costs,” says Sarah-Linda Manes, teacher and manager of a daycare chain in Munich. First, it doesn’t work, and second, infections have their purpose. Epidemiologist Gottschick: “Sooner or later you come into contact with the cold virus, the immune system does not learn otherwise.” After all, immunity must first be built up and antibodies formed – and this mainly happens in the first years. of life. Hopefully, with our 7 tips, you will get through the cold period well.
Stay clean: Wash hands and more
Kids actually love water – unless it’s about washing their hands. Sometimes good-smelling glitter soaps and stories about dirt monsters help convince little holdouts. Educator Manes believes that the role of mother and father is the most important: “Parents must know that they are role models.” If handwashing is an everyday ritual in the family, it is also easier for the children – when they come home, after using the toilet or blowing their nose and before eating. Tip: Make sure the child can easily reach the sink, for example by using a stool.
One sick, all sick? “If someone in the family has been infected, it is usually unavoidable,” says pediatrician Tanja Brunnert. Nevertheless, it is worth observing a few hygiene tips: ventilate a lot, wash your hands regularly, sneeze into the crook of your arm and do not touch your face with unwashed hands. Please put used disposable handkerchiefs in the bin immediately. If possible, do not share towels, cutlery and crockery with the child. Bed linen and underwear belong in the washing machine at 60 degrees. It is best to wipe down doorknobs, light switches, faucets and the flush button on the toilet with ordinary washing-up liquid. Disinfectants are usually not necessary.
Breathe properly: Provide fresh air
Cold outside, cozy and warm inside: what sounds so cozy is bad for our mucous membranes. Because heating air dries them out and makes them less resistant to pathogens. Therefore: air the room regularly, hang a damp towel in the room or place a bowl of water on the heater. This moistens the air and thus our mucous membranes. Pharmacist Michaela Unglaub from Velburg recommends atomizers. Filled with water, they release moisture. Her tip: “Before putting the child to bed, let the atomizer run in the child’s room for an hour and then turn it off.” However, humidifiers have the disadvantage that they sometimes become contaminated. So make sure to clean it regularly!
It is a common home remedy for cough: inhaling hot steam from a pot. Pediatrician Guido Judex strongly advises against it. “This always leads to the worst scalding,” he warns. Nebulizers are safer. Many parents also have their children inhale 0.9% saline solution from the nebulizer as a preventative measure or when they have a cough. In Judex’s experience, this is unnecessary. A review study found that inhalation of isotonic saline may result in short-term improvements, but further study is needed.
For deep respiratory infections such as bronchitis, pediatricians recommend inhalation aids. They are used to transport medicine into the airways. Babies and toddlers have their own masks that need to fit well. There are inhalers for sprays. Let the pharmacist show you how to use it.
Reach into the bag of tricks: natural helpers
“There is no data on this – but drinking enough is the standard recommendation for viral infections,” says Regensburg pediatrician Guido Judex. He advises: Keep offering fluids without pressure. For older children, favorite drinks and soups often help. Check the diapers for babies: “It should be six to eight full diapers a day,” says Michaela Unglaub. If it is significantly less, make sure to contact the pediatric practice or clinic.
Nature also has a lot to offer to relieve cold symptoms. Medicines with thyme or ivy – as drops or juice – liquefy tough mucus and ensure that it can be coughed up more easily. “Especially in combination, the two medicinal plants work really well,” says pharmacist Margit Schlenk from Nuremberg. Always pay attention to the age information in the leaflet. Essential oils for inhalation, rubbing or adding to bath water are taboo for children under two: these oils, such as those made from camphor, eucalyptus, peppermint or thyme, can cause life-threatening shortness of breath in young children.
Also watch out for honey: honey is often advertised as sweet and healthy. It is also often used to treat colds, whether in the form of fennel honey or as an addition to tea. However, honey is not suitable for children under one year. The natural product may contain spores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. In rare cases, it can cause so-called infant botulism in babies, a life-threatening disease associated with symptoms of paralysis. But pharmacist Schlenk also does not recommend honey for small children: “It consists mainly of sugar and is particularly harmful to the teeth.”
Leave five alone: relaxation is good
Sick children are particularly clingy. One thing helps above all: time, time, time. It’s best to curl up on the sofa and take it easy. Educator Manes finds it important to convey to the child, especially in our meritocracy: You can sometimes get hit and need time to relax. “Children also need to learn to deal with illness and not that after taking a pill it should continue immediately,” says Manes.
Tip for sofa hours: Prepare a tray with everything you need – a thermos of hot tea, a supply of tissues, cotton balls to clean the nose and a snack. So you don’t have to get up all the time. Pedagogue Manes also recommends using the time with reading, drawing and quiet, age-appropriate games such as building blocks or puzzles. If the child is too tired, audio books can be a nice change. Cabin fever? Then a round in the fresh air will do you good. “It is always possible in a pram or stretcher,” says doctor Judex. Even with a fever – if the child’s condition allows it and he doesn’t make an effort, says Brunnert.
Some children with a cough find it helpful to elevate their torso when they sleep. This makes breathing easier. For older children, use pillows or rolled up towels. “With infants, you can put a folder under the mattress. With some beds, the headboard can also be raised,” says pediatrician Judex.
Parents also do best to slow down: process orders, attend virtual meetings, answer emails: with a sick child at home, it is almost impossible to do full work from the home office as usual. “You can offer to be contacted by telephone at the company and handle e-mails during the lunch break or in the evening when the child is sleeping,” says Manes. Parents with statutory health insurance can also apply for child sickness benefit for 30 working days per child in 2022, single parents even for 60.
Stop Boogers: first aid for the nose
Crusts in the nose can be quite annoying and tempting to pop. This in turn can lead to sores and minor injuries. Better: “Remove incrustations by soaking a cotton ball in saline solution and gently dabbing your nose with it,” advises pharmacist Unglaub. Then you can apply special balm for babies and children’s noses (from the pharmacy). Small babies are especially bothered by stuffy noses.
If nasal breathing does not work, it is difficult for the little ones to drink from the breast or from the bottle. Nasal aspirators usually have little effect, says pediatrician Judex. He recommends nourishing table salt or sea salt spray or drops. They moisten the nose and make the mucus more fluid. If the nose is completely closed, a decongestant spray or drops can also help for a short time. This is how parents give nasal drops correctly: “Lay the child on its side and drip into the lower nostril. It is enough if one nostril is free,” explains Judex. Why not put the baby on the back? The drops then get too deep into the nose and, according to the expert, run down the throat.
Bring down fever: Well wrapped
Calf wraps can relieve a fever – but only if the legs and feet are warm. If they are cold, calf wraps are taboo. Pharmacist Michaela Unglaub recommends three towels for a wrap on the lower legs: a damp towel as an inner towel, a dry middle towel and an outer towel. The towel must not be too wet and too cold, at most one to two degrees below the measured temperature (a wrap that is too cold can lead to circulation problems). It is best to use lukewarm water. Remove the wrap after 5 to 10 minutes. Do not use the packaging on children under one year!
When to the doctor? And when back to daycare?
If the fever is high or persistent, children should be treated by a doctor. This is especially true if there are other symptoms, such as the child breathing heavily, not only eating poorly, but also drinking poorly. Even if the little ones sleep badly for several nights, are lethargic and tired, the parents should have it examined by a doctor.
Important: Babies under three months should always see a pediatrician if they have symptoms of a cold. But when will the child be healthy enough for kindergarten again? “If parents can say with certainty in the evening: ‘Today the child could actually have gone back to day care’, then it can go again the next day,” says Brunnert. Before playing with others again, the child must be fever-free for 24 to 48 hours. The rule usually also applies in day care institutions, unless special corona regulations make other requirements.