Toddler winter health guide

How to deal with winter’s common complaints, using traditional methods and medicines, as well as natural remedies.

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Winter seems to go hand-in-hand with your toddler suffering plenty more illnesses and health complaints. We look at how to combat common winter health problems using traditional methods and medicines from your GP, and natural remedies.

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Do remember that many natural remedies haven’t yet been scientifically tested, so always consult your GP if you have questions and always check products are suitable for your child’s age.

Coughs

There are two basic types of cough: chesty, and dry. A chesty cough is characterised by the presence of mucus or phlegm on the chest, which is absent in a dry cough.

Your young child is more prone to coughs as her immune system is still developing. She’ll usually cough more at night, as lying down causes mucus to build up in her throat.

If your child has a dry, barking cough, it could be croup. If it’s croup, she may also have a temperature and difficulty breathing. Croup is bacterial or viral infection that causes your child’s airways to become inflamed.

When to see your doctor

If a cough is keeping your child awake at night, try a night-time cough medicine suitable for children. But if it seems painful for her to cough, or she seems very unwell, is struggling to breathe, or is coughing up green or yellow mucus, contact your GP.  If your child has a croup-like cough that doesn’t ease in a couple of days, see your GP.

Natural remedy

Inhaling steam may help ease a cough, so sit with your baby in a steamy room. Sitting her upright can help breathing.

Dr John Briffa, the author of Natural Health For Kids From A-Z (Penguin) suggests that a combination of vitamin C, zinc and echinacea may be effective if the cough is the result of an infection.

Colds

Because your young child’s immune system is still developing, and with germs tending to spread at nursery or playgroup, your toddler probably seems to always have a cold! Children catch, on average, between 7 and 10 colds a year, mostly during the winter months.

Symptoms can include:

  • Blocked nose (which can make your baby or very young toddler go off her food or find it hard to feed)
  • Sore throat
  • Headache

A cold should clear up in three to 10 days. According to GP Dr Carol Cooper, the colour of your child’s snot is an indication of the stage the cold is at. It will be clear at the beginning of the cold and yellow or green towards the end.

When to see your doctor

Usually there’s no need to see a GP. Give infant paracetamol (from 2-3 months) for a high temperature, and offer lots of drinks, rest and cuddles. Try decongestant gel or drops to ease breathing, and keep your child’s room humid if she also has a cough.

Natural remedy

Nutritionist Judy Watson says, “Toddlers over the age of 2 can take an echinacea supplement suitable for children.”

Also increase vitamin C intake in natural forms, such as organic juices, over the age of 6 months, diluting one part juice to five parts water.

Aromatherapy diffusers, which use a blend of menthol, camphor, eucalyptus and other natural oils to help your child breathe more easily, are available from major chemists.

Mum’s story

“He had a constant cold”

“When my son was a baby, he constantly seemed to have a cold. It was there for weeks and nothing would shift it. Eventually, I was recommended a cranial osteopath, who was brilliant. Once the osteopath gently manipulated his skull, the cold cleared up in a matter of days – and it also sorted his sleepless nights and teething pains.”

Helen, 31, mum to Edward, 4

Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and the spine. It can be caused by a viral, bacterial or fungal infection – and winter sees an increase in cases.

Symptoms include:

  • High temperature
  • Drowsiness
  • Floppiness
  • Vomiting
  • A sensitivity to light
  • A pinprick-like purple or red rash which doesn’t fade when you press a glass against it
  • A sore or stiff neck
  • High-pitched, persistent crying

“Meningitis can come on quickly, so if you spot any of the signs, contact your GP,” warns GP Dr Eileen Nolan.

“If they can’t see you immediately, go to A&E – don’t wait for other signs to develop. If necessary, call an ambulance. Treatment will depend on the type of infection your baby has – the bacterial type can be treated with antibiotics, for example.”

Fever

Normal temperature is 36-37ºC (96.8-98.6ºF). If your child’s temperature is more than 38.6ºC (101.5ºF), she has a high fever. This isn’t always serious, and is common with a virus. Symptoms include overheating and sweating.

When to see your doctor

If your child has a temperature of 38.6ºC (101.5ºF) or higher, see a doctor straight away. Otherwise, give infant paracetamol (from 2-3 months) and sponge her down with a tepid flannel. Let her rest and give lots of cuddles and drinks.

If her temperature doesn’t return to normal half an hour after you’ve given paracetamol, or if she seems very unwell, contact your GP.

Occasionally when your child has a high fever she may suffer from a seizure – known as a febrile fit or febrile convulsion. Immediate medical attention should be sought if this happens.

Natural remedy

Dr John Briffa , the author of Natural Health For Kids From A-Z (Penguin), suggests keeping your child cool and hydrated, perhaps giving her vitamin C and echinacea.

Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis causes the lung’s tiny passages to fill with mucus so air can’t get through. It can be caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

In an adult or older child, RSV isn’t much of a problem and just results in a cough and a sore throat.

However, in a baby it can make breathing difficult, with the effort causing the chest to suck in under or between the ribs and, in extreme cases, turning lips or fingernails blue. “With bronchiolitis some babies need to go to hospital for a day or two, and have oxygen or bronchodilators (like in an asthma inhaler) to help them breathe,” explains Dr Eileen Nolan, GP.

When to see your doctor

If you’re worried, contact your GP. Raising the head of your child’s cot or bed will help her to breathe. Also, you could try using a humidifier and offering lots of fluids.

Natural remedy

Certain essential oils are believed to open up the airways, and Dr Briffa suggests mixing five drops of either thyme or eucalyptus oil in a small cup of olive or almond oil, and rubbing this along your child’s spine – particularly the upper back over the lungs.

Mum’s story

“She makes gulping sounds when her throat hurts”

“When Maisie has a sore throat she makes a gulping sound when she swallows, like it’s a real effort for her. Our GP said it was caused by a virus, and recommended that we give her baby paracetamol and warmed up her milk to soothe her throat.”

Michelle, 34, mum to Kittie, 2, and Maisie, 9 months

Eye infections

Runny eyes can just be from a cold, but they may also be due to conjunctivitis or another bacterial eye infection. Symptoms are a yellowish or greenish discharge from your child’s eyes.

“Children can get sticky [infected] eyes from rubbing their eyes with snotty fingers,” explains Dr Carol Cooper, GP.

When to see your doctor

Clean your child’s eyes with a pad of cotton wool dipped in cooled, boiled water, using a separate pad for each wipe, and for each eye.

If the gunkiness continues for more than a few days, and your child’s eyes are glued together in the mornings, the white of the eye is red or the eyelid is puffy or swollen, see your pharmacist or GP who may treat with antibiotic eye drops.

Natural remedy

Although untested, Dr John Briffa, the author of Natural Health For Kids From A-Z (Penguin), suggests using the herb oregon grape. Containing a substance called berberine, which Dr Briffa believes has an antibacterial action, it can help to combat the infection that is often at the root of conjunctivitis. It can be taken both internally and applied to the outside of the eyes.

Simmer 10g of the herb in 600ml of water for 20 minutes. Once the resulting fluid has been strained and cooled, apply via an eye bath or cotton wool balls for 10 minutes, twice a day. Buy oregon grape from Baldwins.

Ear Infections

Three in four children have had at least one ear infection by age 3.Your child might be grumpy, off her food or waking frequently. She may have a temperature or sickness and diarrhoea, too. An older child may also complain of a sore ear. Look out for runny wax just inside the ear.

“Repeated infections can lead to glue ear, where fluid builds up, temporarily making your child slightly deaf,” says GP Dr Eileen Nolan.

When to see your doctor

Give infant paracetamol for a fever (from 2-3 months), and keep your child’s ears dry – no shampooing or swimming. Also avoid flying. See your GP, who may prescribe antibiotics.

Natural remedy

“Recurrent ear infections in children are often related to food sensitivity,” says Dr Briffa. He suggests cutting down on foods that may stimulate mucus formation, such as dairy products. Before you do this, see your GP or health visitor to ensure your child doesn’t miss out on important nutrients.

Mum’s story

“Foul-smelling liquid comes out his ears”

“George has been getting ear infections since he was 5 months old, more often in winter. It causes him a lot of pain, and a foul-smelling liquid comes out of his ears. I take him straight to the doctor now, and he has antibiotics which work very quickly.”

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Kerrie, 39, mum to George, 18 months

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