It’s that time of the year when sniffles, coughs, fevers, and sleepless nights surface and stay. Besides the still-raging COVID pandemic, fall brings seasonal allergies, influenza, strep throat, colds, RSV, and a slew of other illnesses. My mommy social media groups are buzzing with posts asking for unprofessional, free medical advice.
I get it. We don’t want to rush our kids to the doctor every time they complain of a headache or a stuffy nose, yet we want to keep our children healthy and others from getting contagious illnesses. What’s a parent to do when their kid comes home from school or sports practice (maybe) sick? I interviewed a pediatrician to get the low down on what parents need to know this sick season.
Dr. Candice Jones is a pediatrician in Orlando and the author of the newly released parenting book High Five Discipline: Positive Parenting for Happy, Healthy, Well Behaved Kids. First I wanted to know, how do we know the difference between something minor, like a bout with allergies, the flu, “just a cold,” and COVID? Dr. Jones shares that it can be “difficult to tell the difference.” If our kiddo has “a runny nose, coughing, fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of taste or smell,” we’ve got to isolate them and then see their doctor. The new normal is to get the child COVID tested. Even if they test negative, we need to keep our kid home until the symptoms are gone, according to Dr. Jones.
We’ve been told, over and over, the symptoms of COVID — but some of those overlap with other medical issues like allergies and other viruses. Dr. Jones says that allergies, in general, produce symptoms “mostly in the head,” there’s itches and sneezes, and the child “generally feels okay.” If your child is having “difficulty breathing, worsening pain, fever longer than four to five days, inability to keep fluids down, lethargy or decrease responsiveness,” you need to take them in to be seen by a medical professional.
Basically, we need to go with our gut and definitely not unnecessarily expose other people until we know for sure what our child is sick with. My family and I have already been there this season. My kids came down with sore throats, runny noses, and fatigue over Labor Day weekend. We took them to the doctor when they opened after the holiday. Thankfully they tested positive for rhinovirus and not COVID, but they were off school a week with their symptoms. Despite all the attention COVID receives, it’s far from the only spreadable illness.
Remember when we all rushed out to buy new thermometers and oxygen meters when COVID started? Is that still necessary? Dr. Jones suggests getting ready for sick season. Her home “sick kit” includes “fever reducers, pain relievers, nasal saline, suction bulb for babies, oral hydration (Pedialyte), thermometer, chicken soup, tea with ginger, dark honey, and lemon.” It’s easier to have these item on-hand now than rush out to buy them with a sick kid in tow. Plus, there are many product shortages across the country. You don’t want to have an ill child at home and be unable to find the comfort food or medicine they need while recovering.
I also wanted to know about our lifestyle choices. After all, we can treat our kiddo with our home “sick kit,” but what about being proactive? Dr. Jones says we need to make sure our families are eating a “healthy, well balanced diet,” drinking “plenty of water,” exercising, getting out in nature, prioritizing stress management, and taking care of any physical and mental health needs. None of these should come as a surprise, but Dr. Jones offers us this important reminder as we head into that time of the year when illness seems to surround us.
Another proactive approach we can take to sick season is getting regular checkups. As a breast cancer patient, I’ve heard from my medical team that many, many people are skipping out on routine exams and screenings—like mammograms–due to the pandemic. Understandably, COVID really messed things up for both patients and the medical community. However, it’s critically important that we make sure our families, including our kids, are being monitored by medical professionals.
Dr. Jones concurs. “We were definitely seeing this early in the pandemic and children were behind on their routine vaccines and health visits.” She adds, “Things are getting better as people have gotten used to how to keep themselves safe and know that we are taking precautions to keep them safe within the healthcare system.” If your child hasn’t seen their pediatrician yet this year for a check-up, now is the time to schedule this important appointment.
Given that the holiday season is quickly approaching, I wanted to know what decisions we may be forced to make given the current, typical sick season plus the added stress of the pandemic. Dr. Jones advises, “Stay home if you are sick and tell others to do the same.” She also urges us to “get vaccinated against COVID, the flu and make sure your routine immunizations are current.” Point-blank, “if you are vaccinated, your risks are lower.”
When making holiday plans, she urges us to “celebrate the holidays with your family only, especially if you or a loved one has at-risk health conditions or age.” What about those bigger family gatherings or friend parties? I know several people who love hosting Friendsgiving each year. Dr. Jones says, “If you choose to have a larger group activity, take it outdoors and require masks if indoors.” Additionally, “Try to improve ventilation and spacing if masks will be removed for eating, drinking, and socializing.”
As we head into another long winter, there are steps parents can take to be proactive, ensuring their kids stay as healthy as possible. When illness inevitably crops up, we know what to do, including utilize our home sick kit, contact the doctor if need be, and keep our sick kids home to avoid spreading germs.