Caring for sick children at home: Tips to prepare for seasonal illness
The cold and flu season tends to peak in the first months of the year. Getting sick may feel like a matter of “when” rather than “if,” especially with young children being exposed to viruses, respiratory infections and other illnesses in school and child care settings.
Although prevention is the best strategy when it comes to seasonal illness, now is the perfect time for parents and other caregivers to plan ahead. Having items on-hand and knowing when to seek medical attention can ease stress in the event of a child getting sick this winter.
Stock your home with these care and comfort items to be prepared for seasonal illness.
Over-the-counter medicines: Store pain relievers and fever reducers along with a printed age-and-weight dosing chart from your pediatrician’s office. If you are unsure about which medicine to give or the appropriate dosage to use, call your child’s doctor or the Oklahoma Poison Control Center’s 24/7 line at 1-800-222-1222 for expert advice. The Food and Drug Administration does not recommend over-the-counter decongestants for children under age 2. Instead, talk to your doctor about honey, which is a natural decongestant that’s widely considered safe after age 1.
A digital thermometer, cool mist humidifier, sterile saline and extra pillows: Having a digital thermometer and extra batteries allows you to monitor body temperature. See a doctor if:
A fever lasts more than four days
Temperature exceeds 100.4 degrees F. in an infant under 3 months old
Temperature is 102.2 degrees F. in an infant for more than two days
Temperature is 105 degrees F. or higher in a child of any age
Find more information here from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about symptoms of illness in children.
Adding moisture to your child’s room with a cool mist humidifier can offset the drying effects of heaters in winter and ease breathing issues. Sterile saline makes it easier for children to blow their noses and using extra pillows to elevate their chest and head prevents mucus from accumulating.
Fluids your child will drink: Keeping children hydrated is critical, especially if vomiting, diarrhea or fever are part of their symptoms. Liquid electrolyte serums like Pedialyte should only be given to children over age 1 or under the direct supervision of a doctor. Other options, like ginger ale, juice or ice pops, may help your child stay hydrated but they can make symptoms worse depending on the illness. Get help immediately if changes in eating and drinking patterns persist more than 24 hours or you notice physical changes like sunken eyes, sallow skin or crying without tears, which can indicate dehydration.
Canned soup and other easy-to-eat favorites: Sometimes getting a child to eat anything while sick is a struggle, as apetities tend to wane during illness. Storing ingredients to make a favorite dish or having easily digestible foods like saltines and canned soup in your pantry can save you a trip to the grocery store.
Another good step to prepare for seasonal illness is to know where to seek help in addition to your regular pediatrician’s office, especially on weekends and holidays. If you have private insurance, check for in-network options with your coverage provider, including after-hours urgent care centers and emergency rooms.
Take care of yourself this winter, too, for your own health but also to be able to take care of others. Eat well, exercise and rest. It’s not too late to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19; ask your pediatrician about age-appropriate immunizations for your child.