(previously published on 1.03.11 in Lawrence Journal-World news)
Catching a “bug”
If you have never had the flu (respiratory influenza), you are one of the lucky few. This virus is freely passed from October through May, and typically with one dose, your family members are protected that year from the seasonal flu.
According to the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), “The rates of infection are highest among children, and symptoms can last a week or longer.”
Symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, headache, chills, muscle aches and fatigue. Some children whose immune symptoms are weakened from other illnesses can become much sicker, and flu can turn into pneumonia.
“There are two types of seasonal influenza vaccine: inactivated (killed) vaccine, which is given by an injection (shot), and live attenuated (weakened) vaccine that is sprayed into the nostrils,” says the AAP. “The 2010-2011 flu vaccine includes H1N1 as one of the three strains it protects against.”
The only way to protect your family from the common cold is to live in a cave, and that still might not do it. Proper handwashing (AAP recommendation: warm, soapy water for 15 seconds) is the best prevention of winter illness. Make sure to wash those kids’ hands before they eat, after leaving school or indoor playgrounds.
Low humidity levels in the air are responsible for many winter woes, including frequent nose bleeds.
Dr. Steven Bruner, a family practice physician with Lawrence Family Medicine and Obstetrics, says, “A whole-house humidifier or a humidifier in the room where the child sleeps” is recommended and also placing “Vaseline on the septum (internal separator of nostrils) can help.”
Dry skin and chapped lips
These can also be relieved with a whole-house humidifier. The added moisture reverses the dry heat from the furnace. Without this your family members’ skin can become dry, cracked or irritated.
When bathing your child, don’t use too hot of water and use soap only on the necessary parts.
“Soap leaches out the moisture in our skin,” Bruner says. And be sure to moisturize right out of the bath. Adding the lotion to wet skin, can help seal in moisture.
For chapped lips, vigilance is key.
Bruner says, “A beeswax lip balm needs to be used often until regular humidity returns.”
This does not occur as often in the Midwest as our northern neighbors, but parents must ensure their kids aren’t out in the frigid elements for too long. If clothing becomes saturated with wetness, the risk of frostbite increases.
Dress your children in many layers which can be removed when they get wet.
“Frostnip is an early warning sign of the onset of frostbite,” reports Nemours Foundation. “It leaves the skin white and numb.”
“Jack Frost nipping at your nose isn’t just a song,” says Dr. Bruner. It really can be dangerous if your child doesn’t know to come in from the cold.
Frostbite mainly is found on nose, ears, cheeks, fingers and toes. “The area becomes very cold and turns white or yellowish gray,” according to Nemours. “If you notice frostbite, take your child immediately to the nearest hospital emergency room.”
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas produced by wood-burning or gas appliances, such as older heaters, stoves, water heaters or dryers.Symptoms of CO poisoning are feeling overly tired, dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath and confusion. If more than one person in your household has these symptoms, you should be suspicious of CO exposure, get out of the house and call 9-1-1.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical Department reported approximately 35 carbon monoxide related calls in 2010.
It is recommended to have carbon monoxide detectors outside of bedrooms. Yearly inspections and cleanings of woodstoves or fireplaces are advised to ward off potential carbon monoxide hazards.
Additional winter dangers:
• Risk of house fires increases in the winter. Extinguish all candles if you leave the room, keep space heaters away from furniture and curtains, and replace your smoke detector batteries twice a year (daylight saving time can be a good reminder to change clocks and batteries).
• Snow shoveling is fine for older, school-aged kids, but young children should not shovel due to risk of muscle strain from lifting too heavy amounts of snow.
• Make sure to have a first-aid kit, extra blankets, snacks and water, and gloves and hats in the car during the winter months just in case your family is stranded on the road. If you have a teen driver, make sure to supply their car as well and let them know of its placement and to actually use it if stranded.