Tis the season for upper respiratory tract infections and its not even December. This winter, not only are we faced with the threat of the common flu virus, there's also Covid 19 in addition to RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) added to the mix . I have already noticed an increase in the number of people that have been sick with viral infections this year. The common cold (upper respiratory tract infection) is one of the top reasons for visiting the doctor each year. A virus not bacteria causes the common cold so antibiotics are not useful in decreasing its duration or severity.
In particular, children seem to be at greater risk of RSV infection and this has contributed to increased hospital admissions for this age group across the country. Parents are worried about what they can do to help their children, especially with a shortage of antiinflammatories such as Ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
As we brace for a harsh and stormy winter ahead with the possibility of more viral illnesses, this article explores ways parents can care for their children at home when hit with a viral infection.
What Viral Illnesses Should Parents Be Aware Of This Winter?
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) - is the most common acute respiratory infection in infants and children. It usually starts as mild cold-like symptoms but can lead to severe coughing and breathing difficulties. Infants less than 1 year of age are the most severely affected and require prompt medical attention.
- Signs and symptoms of RSV include nasal congestion, fever, cough, laboured breathing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
- If your child is having difficulties breathing, appears lethargic/unresponsive or appears blue or very ill, please seek immediate medical attention.
Adenoviruses - are usually responsible for mild cold/flu-like symptoms that most people experience during the winter months.
- Symptoms include sore throat, fever, pink eye, bronchitis, pneumonia and digestive symptoms. On rare occasions, they may cause bladder infections.
Human Parainfluenza viruses (PeV) - this causes symptoms such as fever, rash and respiratory infections.
Let's Talk About Fevers For A Second
Most viruses have similar symptom presentations. The majority of children with a viral infection will mount a response by spiking a fever. A fever is a sign that our immune system is functioning well and trying to fight the viral infection in our body.
Children are notorious for running high fevers and this causes a lot of parental anxiety. Some kiddos; mine included can run fevers as high as 104/40 degrees.
Here is a fever guideline for your reference.
- If your child is younger than 1 month with a temperature over 100.4 or 38 degrees, or under 3 months with a fever of 101.5 or 39 degrees call your GP or go to Emergency
- If your child is 3-36 months with a temperature greater than 101.2/39 degrees, call your GP or go to Emergency
- If your child is over 3 years old with a temperature greater than 104/40 degrees and not responding to you like they normally do or they seem lethargic/listless or very sick, call your GP or go to Emergency
A fever causes your body to make chemicals that cause other symptoms such as headaches, body aches, fatigue and loss of appetite. Fevers over 104/40 degrees understandably make a lot of parents very nervous because, at this point, your child is most likely feeling very, very miserable.
Remember that Ibuprofen and Tylenol help to bring down the fever but do not help your body fight the virus. Sometimes, it may be necessary to give your child some fever-reducing medication especially if their temperature is climbing past 104/40 degrees or they appear very sick.
Natural Approaches To Dealing With A Viral Illness At Home
- Hydration, hydration, hydration. Most kids when they are sick tend to have decreased appetite and the fever can quickly lead to dehydration. For older babies, offer breastmilk or formula more often than usual. For toddlers or bigger kids give healthy electrolytes, herbal tea (no caffeine) or natural fruit pops. You can even turn herbal teas into ice pops.
- Nourish with light non-mucus-forming foods. Soups are your go to. Light broths with some garlic, ginger and pepper are helpful for fighting a viral infection. A homemade batch of chicken rice or noddle soup or my favorite, congee is always soothing and easily digestable.
- Rest, Rest, Rest. Create a calm and quiet environment for your child to gather their strength. It is best to limit access to electronics or TV. Instead read a book or play soft music. You might even sneak in a few naps yourself.
- If your child is congested, run a steam shower with essential oils such as eucalpytus, thyme and lavender to help ease their congestion and breathing.
Herbs That Are Helpful For Viral Infections
Since the begining of time, our ancestors relied on herbs that were present in their surroundings for their healing properties. Archeological studies have traced the origins of herbal medicine to as far back as 60 000 years. Herbal remedies can be an effective and successful tool in dealing with viral illness at home.
Herbs that reduce fevers: peppermint/spearmint, yarrow, chamomile, sweet basil, lemon balm, tilia, elderflowers, catnip, lavender and echinacea. These can be made into a tea, tincture or added to bath water.
- Fresh ginger root made into tea and is a great anti-viral. It is also helpful for coughs, runny nose and congestion.
Herbs that clear mucus: elderberry (sambucus nigra), chamomile, cleavers, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
Herbs that help with coughs and sore throat: licorice, thyme, cherry bark, coltsfoot and mullein. These can be made into a tincture or tea and sipped throughout the day.
Supplements That Decrease The Duration Of A Viral Infection
- Vitamin D - helps to make proteins that kill viruses in the respiratory tract.
- Vitamin C - helps to speed recovery.
- Zinc lozenges - shorten duration of colds by 20% to 40%
- Probiotics - improve our overall immune response and reduce severity of respiratory infections.
- Polyphenols - found in nuts, blueberries, green tea, extra virgin olive oil and quercetin prevent viruses from entering our cells.
This is not an exhaustive list of natural ways to fight a viral illness at home. Please consult a licensed Naturopathic doctor or your child's GP before giving your children any herbal remedies or supplements. A licensed practitioner will help you choose the right product and dosage for your child.