Kids' Winter Watch

It's that time of year again when the days get shorter, darker, colder and generally more miserable (apart from the fact that Xmas is nearly here!).

Along with that can come a group of winter bugs that we all need to watch out for…


1.  COLDS...


What is it?

Colds are caused by viruses (there are literally hundreds of different types that can do it) and can affect anyone.  Cough, runny nose, sneezes, temperature, sore throat… we've all been there!


What can I do?

The best treatment is rest, eating and drinking as normally as possible, and paracetamol/ibuprofen for aches/pains and fever (always read the label).  Because they are caused by viruses, antibiotics are no help whatsoever - the body does all the hard work itself and you just need to help it along.  Try not to spread it around in the meantime: remember to throw away snotty tissues and wash hands.  Babies may benefit from saline nose drops to help loosen up snot and help them breathe more easily, especially when feeding.

There's some great advice on colds here: NHS Choices.


2.  'FLU...


What is it?

This is worse than your usual cold.  It's caused by a specific virus (Influenza) and although the symptoms overlap with those of colds, they can be a lot worse and last for longer.  It can also make you extremely unwell, especially the elderly, pregnant or if you have underlying medical problems.


What can I do?

Same as what you do for colds really.  However, if your child's symptoms are really bad and they're not getting better then you may want to chat to your doctor who may prescribe medication.  For instance, we may use antibiotics if we suspect a secondary bacterial infection has 'piggy-backed' on the original 'flu.  There are current recommendations to get the 'flu vaccine - especially if you are in one of the groups at higher risk.  Also as of September 2013, all children aged 2 & 3 are being offered a nasal spray flu vaccine (and this will be rolled out to all 2-16 year-olds in the near future - see ths YouTube video).

There's more information about 'flu and vaccination here: NHS Choices.


3.  CROUP...


What is it?

A viral infection of the throat/voicebox/airways in the lungs which classically makes you bark like a seal when you cough.  It's one of those illnesses that doctors can diagnose from the waiting room! The viruses that cause it make the airway inflamed and swell up which can make it harder to breath (especially if severe) - this results in noisy breathing.  It's usually be preceded by 'cold' symptoms like fever, runny nose etc.


What can I do?

Same supportive treatment as for all viruses, but it's worthwhile getting checked by your doctor as it may need a single dose of a steroid medicine to reduce the inflammation in the airways.  If it's really bad and your child has difficulty breathing then go straight to A&E as they may need to stay in hospital for treatment.  Also, getting checked means we can make sure it's nothing more nasty.

More information on croup and its treatment is available here: NHS Choices.




What is it?

An illness that we are hearing more about at the moment since there have been surges in cases, especially amongst infants, but anyone can get it.  It causes spasms of coughing - sometimes the fits of coughing are so bad the child looks blue and task a big gasp of breath in afterwards (with a 'whoop' sound).  However, the whoop isn't always there.  This infection is different to those above because it's caused by bacteria - that means that antibiotics may be used to clear it.  Also, it can be serious if you catch it as a baby - most of them catch it from an older child or adult.


What can I do?

If you suspect your child has whooping cough then you should get them checked by a doctor.  They may need treating with antibiotics (usually 10 days) and if they are very young or bad, then they may need to stay in hospital.  It's important to know that antibiotics reduce the duration of infectiousness, but the cough can last for a long time even after treatment (it used to be called the 'hundred day cough').  That does not mean the infection is still there!  The best way to prevent it is to make sure your child is immunised and to avoid close contact with those that have it.  There are current recommendations for pregnant women to be vaccinated to protect them and their newborn babies from the disease.

More information about whooping cough and vaccination is available here: NHS Choices.




What is it?

Another viral nasty that tends to mainly affect children under the age of 2.  The vast majority of cases are caused by a virus called RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) but there are many others that can do it too.  It starts off with symptoms of a cold, but the virus goes on to affect the lungs and cause a build up of mucus and debris in the airways.  This results in a raspy cough and means that breathing becomes difficult and sounds wheezy as the lungs are full of muck.  Sometimes it can be very bad and need admission to hospital (especially if very young, ex-premature babies or those with lung or heart problems).


What can I do?

Fortunately, the majority of kids with this are able to cope at home with supportive measures - the same measures can be used as you would for usual colds.  Younger ones may struggle with feeds and so may take less and need feeding more often to compensate.  Because it is viral, there is no specific medication we can use, although sometimes inhalers/nebulisers are tried to see if they help make the breathing easier.  A small proportion need to be treated in hospital for severe symptoms - they may need oxygen, feeding support, and in some cases intensive care.  Get your child checked if they are bad, very young or have underlying medical problems.

More information about bronchiolitis is available here: NHS Choices.




What is it?

It's the dreaded winter vomiting and diarrhoea bug that is going around at the moment.  It's caused by a virus and is extremely catchy.  It gives you fever, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea - feels horrible but usually only lasts for a few days.  There is a risk of becoming dehydrated if you can't keep enough fluid down.


What can I do?

It's all about supportive treatment: rest, rehydration and paracetamol/ibuprofen for pain/fever.  Most kids can be managed at home making sure that you keep on top of their fluid intake (ideally an oral rehydration solution).  If they are very young, cannot keep anything down or are very unwell then you should take them to see a doctor.  Bear in mind it is very catchy so try to keep them away from others and make sure you wash your hands when dealing with vomit/dirty nappies etc.!

There is more information about Norovirus here: NHS Choices.


Obviously, it's always better to try to avoid catching these bugs in the first place if possible, and there is a lot to be said for healthy eating, exercise, sleep and hand hygiene.  Breastfeeding is good because it can help support the immune systems of babies and younger children, meaning that they are less likely to get unwell.  Immunisation is another really important way to help prevent potentially severe illnesses especially at this time of year!