Stay Healthy All Winter

6 Ways to Avoid Coughs and Colds

No matter what you do, your kids are going to be exposed to others who have the sniffles, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll get sick. Our experts share their favorite strategies to help protect your children.

1. Wash hands well Make your child lather up with soap and water after playing outside, using the bathroom, and coming home from preschool or day care, as well as before each meal. Carry hand sanitizer that's at least 60 percent alcohol.

2. Prescribe sleep A lack of sleep nearly doubles the chances of getting sick, says Parents advisor Harley Rotbart, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Aurora. So make sure your child is regularly getting enough zzz's, and set an earlier bedtime if your child has been around someone who's sick.

3. Feed him a good diet Instead of relying on vitamins or supplements, make sure your child eats a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants and vitamins.

4. Bundle up A British study found that getting chilled while cold and flu viruses are circulating may triple your chances of getting sick, says Dr. Rotbart.

5. Discourage eye- and nose-touching Otherwise, you really up your chances of infecting yourself after getting germs on your hands. The enzymes in our mouth provide some defense against germs, but the eyes and the nose don't have that kind of protection, says Linda Davis-Alldritt, R.N., president of the National Association of School Nurses.

6. Teach clever coughing Encourage younger children to "catch" their cough in their bent inner elbow, not in their hand. Older kids can be taught to act like they're holding a cape across their face like Dracula. Teach your children to immediately wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.

Keep One Sick Kid From Infecting Your Whole Family

pile of tissues

Disinfect away. Germs can live for hours on inanimate objects. Target toys, doorknobs, remote controls, handrails, tables, books, light switches, crib railings, faucets, the toilet handle, the telephone, the diaper-pail handle, and more, says Dr. Rotbart, author of Germ Proof Your Kids. To sanitize a bunch of small toys at once, place them in a mesh bag and run them through the dishwasher -- but avoid washing dolls because their hair will melt. Or dump toys into a bathtub filled with a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to each gallon of water, and rinse well. Disinfect every time your sick child touches a toy, if you can, or at least once a day while she's sick. And separate her laundry from the rest of the family's, using hot water and the hottest dryer setting.

Give the sick child some space. Some viruses can actually travel 5 to 6 feet from a sneeze or a cough. "Making sure other children stay at least an arm's length away from a sick sibling is a smart strategy," says Lilly Immergluck, M.D., a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. If your children share a bedroom and you have the space, put the sick child to sleep on his own in another room for as long as he has a fever, a cough, or cold symptoms.

Ban sharing. Most of us know that we shouldn't use the same cups, toothbrushes, or eating utensils. But did you know that you should give sick family members a separate place to store their toothbrush, and their own towels or paper towels for hand drying? Even give the patient his own toothpaste. "Toothbrushes pick up germs on the head of the toothpaste tube," says Dr. Rotbart. And each child should have his own set of crayons or markers, if possible -- it's much easier than trying to disinfect them.

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