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Three Lines of Defense to Prevent the Common Cold

Updated on January 25, 2012

Have you ever fantasized about packing up your home and family and moving somewhere tropical, in hope of foiling the common cold? Daydreaming of a sniffleless existence is my new hobby. This has been a brutal winter in my household. Between my husband, me and my 2- and 4-year-old kids, we have had 21 colds, six ear infections, five sinus infections, two trips to the emergency room for a high fever at risk of seizure, and one trip to the emergency room for an uncontrollable bloody nose. And we’re not even close to the end of winter.

We live in the rainiest of rainy, the dreariest of dreary: Seattle, Washington. I used to love it here but lately I am seriously ready to move to Arizona. When I asked our pediatrician if we would suffer fewer sniffles in a warmer climate, I was surprised that she said “no.” She said the common cold is not a function of our climate. Rather, it is due to kids going to school and trading germs with their friends. And kids will trade germs at school no matter how sunny or rainy the weather. Young kids are the worst about obliviously swapping viruses, and they steadily improve their germ-busting skills as they get older. My kids, both preschoolers, are in the germiest age group.

So, what CAN we do to defeat the common cold? Once you have caught a cold you are contagious for about one week and will continue to experience symptoms for about another week after that. Some products claim they can shorten the duration of a cold, but those claims have not been conclusively substantiated. So defeating the cold is all about prevention. That’s right – this game is all about defense. And there are several lines of defense to employ:

1. Disinfect Germy Stuff

When it’s Not Nice to Share. Stop the spread of germs by not sharing personal items that may be contaminated with respiratory germs. Don’t share towels, lipstick or chap stick, toys, food, utensils, or beverages. In a household where kids drinks and toothbrushes can get mixed up and accidentally shared, look for ways to mark personal items, such as name bands for cups or personalized toothbrushes. Some families assign each family member a color, and that color corresponds to that person’s toothbrush and drinking glass.

Germ Busters. If someone in your household is sick, slow or stop the spread of germs by disinfecting doorknobs, tables, railings, and other commonly touched places. Plastic toys can be washed in the dishwasher and stuffed animals can go in the washing machine. Now is a good time to wash all the sheets and pillow cases, put fresh drinking glasses in the bathrooms, and replace old toothbrushes with new ones.

Promptly Dispose of Tissues. If an adult or kiddo is sniffling so much that they take the box of tissues everywhere they go, they should also take a small garbage can so they can immediately dispose of used tissues.

2. Wash Your Hands: Clean Up the Germ Delivery Service

Wash your hands. According to WebMD, about 80% of infectious diseases are spread by touch.Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, or about as long as it takes to sign the Happy Birthday song. Always wash your hands and those of your kiddos before eating. If your child has germs on their hands, finger foods serve as a perfect vehicle for transferring germs from their little hands right inside their little bodies. Carry an alcohol-based sanitizing gel in your purse or diaper bag for easy and frequent hand cleaning when away from home.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Cold germs enter and infect your body through your eyes, nose and mouth. How do they get into your eyes, nose and mouth? Typically a germ carrier will cough or sneeze germy droplets onto a surface (or onto their hands, and then touch a surface). You come along later and touch that surface, transferring the germs to your hands. Then you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your hand, infecting yourself with the germ.

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3. Strengthen Your Immune System

Build a healthy immune system by eating right and exercising. I explain it to my daughter this way: You have two armies in your body – the good guys (your immune system) who keep you healthy and the bad guys (the germy germersons) who try to make you sick.

What do the good guys like to eat? Lean protein, vegetables with lots of vitamins like Vitamin C, and lots of water. These things make the good guys stronger. What do the bad guys like to eat? Sugar and processed carbohydrates. These foods make the bad guys stronger, so you are more likely to get sick and stay sick longer.

Exercising supports the good guys by facilitating healthy circulation of immune cells to kill viruses.

Keeping the Lines of Defense Up at School

As our pediatrician advised me, the main factor in my household is the age of my kids. According to the article Germs in the School Room, “the average American child has 10 colds a year.” This is because children’s immune systems are less mature so they’re more vulnerable to viruses, kids are in close contact with each other at school, and kids tend to “have germy habits, such as sticking fingers and objects in their mouths.”

How can parents prevent the transmission of germs at school if we’re not even there?

Teach Healthy Habits that Kids Take to School. Encourage good hand washing at school by practicing it at home. Establish good habits of washing before meals, after using the bathroom, and any time hands are messy. Kids find comfort in routines, and my son is now so much in the habit of washing his hands that he insists upon it.

Encourage kids not to touch their nose, eyes or mouth unless their hands were recently washed. My daughter has a habit of biting her fingernails. We’re working on it with her and making progress, but I suspect the nail-biting is contributing to the number of times she gets sick.

Teach your kids which personal items transfer germs, like drinks and chap stick. Just as you don’t share those items at home, teach your child that they shouldn’t share them at school.

Help the School Stay Clean. I know my kids’ preschool is great about having kids wash their hands before meals and snacks, and after using the bathroom. But with all the people coming and going from the building, I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put a dispenser of hand sanitizer in the entry way. As a small, non-profit school, I decided to take the initiative and place the hand sanitizer there for people to use as they come and go.

I also offered to volunteer and disinfect work tables, doorknobs, light switches, and other commonly touched places, but unfortunately they did not take me up on it. When my kids move on to elementary school, I plan to offer again. Schools are strapped for money and teachers are strapped for time. My kids’ health is important to me and it would only take me a few minutes to fly through a room with a disinfecting wipe.

Soothing Cold Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s no cure for the common cold, but you can treat the symptoms and feel better while the cold runs its course.

- Loosen congestion and prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of water and other fluids.

- Relieve nasal stuffiness with an over-the-counter nasal saline spray or nasal rinse.

- Help your body heal by getting plenty of rest.

- Protect your weakened immune system from additional germs by staying home.

Hope Springs like My Toddler’s Leaky Nose

When I started researching for this article, I was disappointed that there was no fabulous cure for the common cold. There is no sure-fire way to prevent illness. “Really?” I thought to myself repeatedly. “Handwashing? That’s the best we’ve got?!” Nonetheless, I plan to redouble my cold prevention efforts with these few simple tips. And hopefully the rest of the winter will be a whole lot healthier.

COMMENTS: How do you prevent the common cold in your home or school?

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    • FitFamily profile image

      FitFamily 6 years ago from Lynnwood, Washington

      Thanks so much for the feedback!

    • bruzzbuzz profile image

      bruzzbuzz 6 years ago from Texas , USA

      Wow, What a detailed explanation of combating the common cold. Thanks so much for this information. I am bookmarking it and keeping it handy as I am sure I will need it more than just now.