35 Ways to Keep Your Kids Cold-Free

Anticold Strategies

Washing Your Hands

child washing hands

Andy Crawford/ Getty Images

Theory Behind It
The easiest way to catch a cold is by getting the virus on your hands and then touching your nose or eyes.

Does It Work?
Yes, but only if you wash with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. "An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is equally effective," says Donald Goldmann, M.D., medical director of infection control and quality improvement at Children's Hospital, in Boston. In fact, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that kids who regularly use a hand sanitizer have 50 percent fewer absences from school than those who don't.

Covering Your Mouth When You Sneeze

Theory Behind It
Millions of cold germs are expelled into the air with every sneeze.

Does It Work?
Surprisingly, cold viruses don't spread easily through the air--unless someone sneezes right into your face, explains Dr. Jaffe. In fact, you're unlikely to catch a cold in the doctor's waiting room or on an airplane. Even so, it's somewhat protective--and certainly more polite--to contain a sneeze behind a hand or a tissue.

Bundling Up in Winter Weather

Theory Behind It
You can catch a cold from getting chilled.

Does It Work?
It makes sense to dress your child warmly when the temperature is low, but a jacket won't keep him from getting sick. Researchers have actually made people wet and cold and then infected them with viruses to see if they were more likely to get sick than people who stayed warm. Though the cold people were more uncomfortable, they got sick at the same rate.

Skipping Good-Night Kisses When You're Sick

Theory Behind It
Cold germs from your mouth can infect another person.

Does It Work?
"Studies have shown that kissing is not an efficient way to transmit cold viruses--probably because you need to get them in your eyes or nose in order to get sick," says Dr. Goldmann. "However, some germs can be spread effectively by a kiss, such as the bacteria that cause strep throat."

Medicine Alert

medication

Over-the-counter cough and cold medications aren't completely safe, even though you can buy them without a prescription. In an article published last year, doctors at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, reported three cases of children who had significant reactions to such products. "These drugs can cause agitation, irritability, and hallucinations," Dr. Jaffe says. Both pseudoephedrine (a decongestant) and dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) can cause heart-rhythm disturbances and agitation. In addition, some studies have found that these products don't even relieve symptoms in kids under the age of 5. The best advice: Avoid them for children under 1 year old. Check with your doctor for older kids.

Feel Better Fast

  • Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are the best ways to relieve the aches, pains, and fever caused by viral infections, Dr. Goldmann says. If your child has a fever, don't hesitate to call your doctor.
  • Grandma was right: Chicken soup contains anti-inflammatory substances that may ease cold symptoms, according to researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha. "While there's no magic recipe, soup is easy to digest, helps prevent children from becoming dehydrated, feels soothing on a sore throat, and is liked by most kids," Dr. Baker says.
  • To unstuff your baby's or toddler's nose before bed, put a drop of saline nosedrops in each nostril, then suction with a bulb syringe.
  • You might place a cool-mist humidifier near your child's bed to keep her nasal secretions more liquid. Clean and dry the humidifier daily to prevent bacterial or mold contamination.

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