BUPA doctor, warns parents of the winter illnesses set to soar: We all want the winter months to be a time of fun and laughter for the whole family, especially with Christmas nearly here. However, health issues in children during the winter are more common than you might think. When cold weather arrives, so do coughs, colds and dreaded stomach bugs.
It’s important to be aware of common health issues, and how to combat them. Here Dr Helen Hartley, a Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance, shares the most common winter illnesses to watch out for this winter, alongside tips to prevent your little ones from getting sick.
Bronchiolitis is a breathing condition caused by a viral infection, and most commonly affects babies and young children under two years old. It is most common during the winter months, and it’s possible to catch bronchiolitis more than once during the same season.
Bronchiolitis starts out with symptoms like those of a common cold (blocked or runny nose, a sore throat and headache), but then progresses to coughing, wheezing and sometimes difficulty breathing. Watch out for dehydration and ensure your child is drinking plenty of fluids. You may find paracetamol or ibuprofen will reduce their temperature, too.
For most children, bronchiolitis isn’t serious, and your child will get better within a couple of weeks. If you’re at all worried or their symptoms get worse, you should take them to see your GP. However, if their temperature is persistently 38C or above, they’re lethargic, feeding less than half the amount they usually do, or are struggling to breathe, you must seek urgent medical attention.
2. Strep throat
Sore throats are common throughout the winter months, as they spread easily wherever groups of people are in close contact. It’s a condition that mostly affects children, but it can affect anyone.
For many children, symptoms tend to come on suddenly. If you have strep throat, you may experience throat pain (it may feel sore or scratchy), a fever, and pain when swallowing. You must speak to your doctor if your child has a sore throat that lasts longer than 48 hours alongside a fever and issues swallowing. Antibiotics will often clear up the infection.
Norovirus is one of the main causes of gastroenteritis, where symptoms tend to come on suddenly, with the most common being nausea, vomiting, and watery diarrhoea. Tummy cramps are also common, and it can sometimes cause a fever.
Although it’s unpleasant, the good news is that the bug is short-lived and should be out of your system within one to two days. Though diarrhoea may last a little longer, you can usually treat yourself or your child at home. When you have norovirus symptoms, you need to replace the fluids you’re losing to prevent dehydration. For both adults and children, the best thing you can do to aid recovery is to drink frequent, small sips of water.
If you think you’ve caught norovirus, it’s important not to visit hospitals, your GP surgery, family, friends, or relatives in care homes or other public spaces as it’s easily spread to others. Stay off school or work until you have not been sick or had diarrhoea for at least 2 days.
4. Ear infections
Ear infections tend to peak in winter months, so it’s important to be aware of what you can do to ease how you, or your child are feeling.
The symptoms of an ear infection tend to come on suddenly. You may experience pain inside the ear, sickness, ear discharge, and difficulty hearing. If you have young children, look out for them rubbing or pulling their ear, a high temperature and a loss of balance. All of these are signs of a possible ear infection.
To relieve pain, take painkillers regularly, place a warm flannel on the infected ear, and wipe any discharge from the outside of the ear. Avoid putting anything inside the ear, as this can make the infection worse. You may find it helpful to speak to your local pharmacist or doctor – both can recommend ear drops to ease your symptoms – though antibiotics might be needed if an ear infection persists beyond 3 days.
5. Coughs, colds, and croup
It’s normal to feel anxious right now about winter coughs and colds. However, they’re extremely common in children, particularly during this time of year. Most respiratory illnesses happen in winter when children are indoors, and germs are more easily spread.
While it takes a couple of days for cold symptoms to appear, they’re usually worse in the first 2-3 days. Symptoms like coughing, a runny nose, congestion, and sneezing are all signs of a cold.
Croup is a seasonal illness, mainly occurring in the late autumn. It often starts with a cold and features a barking cough, hoarse voice and breathing difficulty. Though it mainly affects children between six months and three years, it can affect older children too.
If you think your child has croup or they are not improving after 48 hours, it’s important to speak to your GP. They’ll be able to advise on the right care and treatment and check there’s no other reason for the symptoms, such as something stuck in your child’s throat. Some children may need to go to the hospital immediately – your GP will advise on this.
The most important thing you can do is to keep your child relaxed and calm, as otherwise their coughing will get worse. If it helps, sit them on your lap to help soothe and comfort them. Keeping them well-hydrated with regular sips of drinks is important.
How to prevent illnesses this winter:
1. Practise good hygiene
Hand washing is one of the most important things we can do to protect ourselves and others from viruses. Even if they look clean, your hands can still carry many germs. That’s why cleaning hands regularly and effectively is so important. You can also avoid germs by not sharing towels or drinking utensils, or touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
2. Encourage a healthy, balanced diet
Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Fruit and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre, which help to keep you healthy and your body working properly. It’s a good idea for the whole family to eat a wide range of different types and colours of fruit and vegetables to get all the nutrients you need, all year-round.
3. Keep yourself well
Don’t underestimate the importance of staying well and healthy yourself – the healthier you are, the healthier your child is likely to be. Make sure you regularly exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, and get enough sleep.
4. Understand the rules
Although this may seem obvious, being aware and understanding any coronavirus rules and restrictions will help you to protect your family’s health this winter.
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