Keeping Kids Healthy
It is important to strike a balance between health and illness. First, let's discuss what is normal? The average first born child has 6 viral illnesses (respiratory and GI illnesses) in the first year of life. The average 2nd or 3rd born child has closer to 10 such illnesses. Given that most viruses have lingering effects for up to 2 weeks, it is certainly realistic for your child to have “cold like” illnesses for up to half of the first year. Children in day care are even more exposed with some studies suggesting that they have up to 5X as many illnesses in the first few years. The good news is that children who have more viral illnesses in the first few years, tend to be healthier in kindergarten because their body has built up immune defenses that allow the body to fight future illnesses more effectively. In addition, the “hygiene hypothesis” suggests that building immune defenses also reduces the chance of developing allergies and asthma. The bad news is that if you are trying to go to work, the missed days or the pressure to get back to work makes all of these illnesses inconvenient. And of course, your 9 month old cannot effectively communicate his or her needs so there is a lot more crying at that age.
The following approach is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for home or day care use:
- If washing hands, use liquid soap (bar soap can harbor infections if sitting in water in the soap dish), warm tap water and rub hands for up to 10 seconds.
- Keep the tap water running. It helps remove dirt more effectively.
- Premoistened towelettes do not effectively clean hands and may spread germs from one hand to another. They are useful only during diaper changes but the hands should be washed with water and soap after a diaper change.
- Anti-bacterial soaps are neither required nor recommended. Constant use may cause an increase in resistant germs. Anti bacterial soaps should only be used in food preparation.
- Alcohol based hand rubs (Purell and others) are helpful if the hands are not dirty and should be used only in areas where no sink is available. They are flammable and toxic if ingested by little children.
Common sense ways to keep your kids healthy:
- Encourage kids to wash their hands when they come in from school or play. This allows them to avoid bringing in a large burden of disease into the house.
- Emphasize the importance of washing hands with water after urinating and with soap after “pooping”. This may seem obvious but in a study of airport bathrooms, it has been shown that up to 70% of males do not wash their hands after using the restrooms.
- Teach your kids to “cough into their sleeve”. This avoids spread of illness from hand to hand.
- Do not encourage your children to blow their noses. Many studies demonstrate that when you blow your nose very hard, you actually propel up to 40% of the germs back into the sinuses and may increase the chance of prolonging the illness. Teach them to wipe if there are a lot of secretions but otherwise leave their noses alone.
- Maintain balance. Try not to be overly concerned about illness. If you examine every fork to see that it is perfectly clean, if you immediately dispose of fruits that fall on the floor, if you make your child crazy about illnesses, you will unwittingly be teaching them that illness is to be avoided at all cost. And as we have discussed, that may predispose them to more illnesses or allergies later in life.