A sneeze and you look warily in your child’s direction
A cough and you are shaking your head and rolling your eyes
And a warm forehead and you have already imagined the worst diseases possible
Such is parental attachment and love.
If you are a parent it is impossible to disentangle yourself from the clutches of paranoia. We are all victims of it.
It is nightmarish to have a sick child at home. Not only is it heart wrenching to watch your child suffering. It also disrupts any semblance of routine that you may claim to have in the house on regular days when everyone is well.
When your child is sick, you are ready to do just anything to make them well soon – and that is when you reach for antibiotics.
You know that antibiotics cure infections – and the cold and fever are obviously because of infection. So why not use this easily available remedy? Why not give antibiotics? You reason with yourself.
But even as you reach for the antibiotic – somewhere at the back of your mind – something tells you shouldn’t.
And so rages the eternal debate in the mind of the parents of all sick children.
Should we give antibiotics or should we not?
A lot of these doubts come from not knowing enough about antibiotics.
These are the answers to some of the questions that parents ask about antibiotics
“Why do doctors wait for three to four days before starting an antibiotic?”
When we train as doctors – we are taught this in medical school.
“A viral infection left untreated – gets better in 7 days. And if it is treated with antibiotics – the patient gets better in 1 week.”
This is a humorous way of teaching young doctors the futility of using antibiotics in viral infections.
Learn more about Viral infections
Antibiotics kill bacteria. They have absolutely no effect on infections caused by viruses. It is common knowledge that most childhood infections are usually viral infections. That is why doctors wait for 3 -4 days before they start antibiotics. They want to be sure the infection is not a viral infection before they start antibiotics. And this is usually evident in 3 – 4 days.
“But children really do get better rapidly once the doctor starts antibiotics. How does that happen?”
When a doctor starts antibiotics – he is certain – that what started out as a viral infection – has now turned into a bacterial infection and that is why – when he starts antibiotics – the child immediately improves.
When you start antibiotics yourself without prescription – things sometimes improve too. This is not because the antibiotic starts acting against the virus or because the disease was a bacterial infection in the first place. The improvement is usually an illusion.
Viral infections are at their worst on the third day and start to get better by the fourth day. It is usually the third day that parents find unbearable. They are unable to tolerate their child’s suffering and they are tired of the havoc the illness in the family is wreaking on their lives – and so they start antibiotics. The next day the child is better and all the credit goes to the antibiotic. What has really happened here however is – that by the time the antibiotic was started, the viral infection had run its course and was on its way out anyway. This would have happened anyway – even if the antibiotic had not been started.
“Is there a way to know if an infection is bacterial or viral?”
Yes there are several clinical signs that doctors are trained to identify that tell them that an infection is a bacterial infection. And what these clinical signs tell the doctor – can usually be confirmed by lab tests.
While most childhood infections are viral – there is the possibility of infections being bacterial as well. Also viral infections considerably lower the immunity of the child that they infect. This makes it easier for bacteria to overpower the immune system and cause a bacterial infection. So sometimes there may be a bacterial infection superimposed on a viral infection.
Bacterial infections must be treated immediately by starting antibiotics. And only a doctor can tell if an infection is bacterial or viral. That is why it is important to consult a doctor as soon as your child falls sick. And also trust his advice
“Is there any harm in giving an antibiotic even if the infection is not a bacterial infection?”
Yes. Giving an antibiotic when it is not required can do a lot of harm.
The human body houses millions of bacteria. Most of these bacteria are useful bacteria and help in the normal functioning of the body. Antibiotics however do not consider the role of the bacteria in the body before they kill them. When an antibiotic is administered – it indiscriminately kills any bacteria that it comes across in the body. The loss of good bacteria make the body weak and prone to more infections.
The loss of good bacteria can also lead to stomach upsets and diarrhoea
By taking antibiotics when they are not required you build antibiotic resistance. Resistant bacteria are difficult to cure with antibiotics. It takes longer to cure future infections and the antibiotics have to be stronger. If these stronger antibiotics don’t work – hospitalization and use of injectable antibiotics could also be required
Sometimes resistant bacteria do not cause infection in the person who has taken the unnecessary antibiotics because the person who has taken the antibiotics has good immunity. But these bacteria are still alive and can be passed on to other people. At special risk are siblings of the child who has taken the antibiotics and other family members.
Viral infections are terrible. They make you and your child miserable. However the answer to feeling better lies in getting rid of the symptoms. And relief from symptoms does not require antibiotics. Instead of requesting your doctor to start antibiotics – ask for something that will relieve symptoms and make your child feel better.
When you are a concerned parent – it is extremely worrying and terribly annoying when your child says “I am not hungry” at mealtimes.
Parents who are faced with children who say they are not hungry rush to doctors requesting a prescription of appetite stimulants – but that is NOT the solution. Definitely not the permanent solution.
To ensure that your child is hungry – it is important for you to understand the gut.
The gut or the gastrointestinal system is one of the most important organs in the body and it is really important to understand how it functions.
In my workshops on nutrition when I introduce parents to their children’s guts and tell them that in a child - the gut is an inexperienced new organ that needs patience and understanding to function well – I get incredulous looks at first.
Then as I go about explaining how the gut functions – its needs - what makes it happy and what makes it sad – I have the satisfaction of witnessing the very rewarding
“Aha!”moment when parents realize how they have ignored and neglected the needs of their children’s guts.
The gut needs a lot more than just FOOD and that is what parents need to understand.
One of the most important things that the gut needs besides food – is ROUTINE.
The gut thrives on routine and when it is happy – the other organs in the body that depend on it for food – thrive as well. As a result you have a healthier and happier child.
To keep the gut happy - it is important to serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day.
This is because the gut is like the kitchen of the body. And it is a kitchen that caters to the needs of millions of cells. The food that your child eats has to be cooked further in the gut to become cell food. Each cell needs to be fed on time and so the gut has a mammoth task to perform at all times.
When the gut is relatively sure of food coming down at specific times it keeps the ingredients and sufficient manpower at hand to tackle the food. This then makes its life much easier.
So when meals arrive in expected amounts at specified times - the gut is able to digest meal 1 and get ready for snack 1 and then digest snack 1 and get ready for meal 2 at just the right times. As a result - it never feels overburdened.
Forcing the issue – never works with the gut. It begins to protest by aching and paining and packing up.
Serve meals on time so that you never have a misunderstanding with your child’s gut.
Wishing you happy meal times!
There is no way you can allow a nose to run and drip.
And so - when a cold has you in its grip - mopping up is the primary task at hand.
And it is important tomop up right.
Containing the discharges from sneezes and coughs is really important because every droplet of snot and phlegm is laden with the infectious virus and most of us know that.
So as soon as we feel the aaaaaachooo aproach………….. we reach for our handkerchiefs or tissues……….we manage to avert the disastrous spread of snot and phlegm by placing our handkerchiefs and tissues in the path of our coughs and sneezes just in time……...and then with a grateful sigh of relief …………..deposit the handkerchiefs and tissues that have just successfully averted disaster……….. back in our pockets or on the nearest available surface.
And as we do that - we help the virus find its next victim.
The common cold can be caused by many different viruses - and the one thing that these viruses have in common - is their resilience to destruction.
So viruses like the Rhinovirus - that cause the common cold - can survive for up to 24 hours after they leave your body in a cough or a sneeze.
When a used tissue or handkerchief is placed on a table or chair - the virus from the tissue gets transferred to the table or chair. From there - it moves to the hands of the next person who touches the table or chair - and infects her / him.
And that is just TERRIBLE !!!
You cannot and should not allow this to happen - and you can prevent it - if you go DISPOSABLE !!!
Use disposable tissues to mop up!
And as soon as you mop up - make sure the tissues make their way into a dustbin.
When you carry virus laden handkerchiefs or tissues around or leave them lying around on tables or other surfaces - you allow the virus to get onto these surfaces - and infect other people who touch these surfaces and then their noses and eyes.
And that is how you help the virus find new victims.
Getting up to find a dustbin to drop your tissue into - when you are in the clutches of a viral malaise - however is certainly not easy.
Make life easier for the sick. Place enough boxes of tissues at handy spots around the house - and place dustbins next to them. And then - to be doubly sure that you are one step ahead of the virus - place a hand sanitizer there as well to ensure clean hands.
When the common cold virus encounters all this it will soon beat a hasty retreat.
All of us were raised to know that covering our noses and mouths when we cough or sneeze – was the right thing to do. It was a regular part of our lessons in politeness and courteousness.
So – as the Aaaaaaachooooooooo approaches ……all of us……….with the years of reminders and admonishing playing in our minds - .automatically galvanise our hands …the fingers and the palms into action.
Our hands have an important mission ……they are rushing to contain the snot and phlegm and keep it from raining onto everyone and everything around ……. and with good reason
Colds spread from person to person by droplet infection.
The “Droplets” that spread the infection – are droplets of snot and phlegm loaded with the cold virus.
These droplets come out at a tremendous velocity when an infected person coughs or sneezes because of the force of the sneeze or cough.
Because of their great velocity – these virus laden droplets travel great distances and allow the virus to attack every susceptible person around. And so - covering up - is definitely the wise thing to do.
However - when hands are used to cover up – and contain the mess – they do get some amount of snot and phlegm on them and become virus laden themselves.
When these hands touch door knobs or taps and other objects - they deposit the virus there. The next unsuspecting pair of hands touching that door knob or tap thus gets infected and infects the hand owner.
It is possible to prevent the cold virus from spreading by ensuring frequent hand washing – as I said in my previous article – but how often can you get children to wash their hands?
It is therefore better to teach children another technique to cover up.
It is now recommended that the CROOK OF THE ELBOW be used to contain coughs and sneezes instead of hands – by children and adults alike.
Infected droplets that get onto the crook of the elbow are unlikely to travel further because the crook of the elbow is unlikely to touch objects that other people touch. The virus in the crook of the arm can therefore go no further.
Of course it is really important to ensure that the shirt or the jacket that the person has worn be put in to be washed at the end of the day.
Sneezing into the crook of the elbow - is called the “Sleeve Sneeze” and can go a long way in keeping colds from spreading – so let’s do it.
“Have you washed your hands with soap?”
As a parent I am sure it is question you are used to asking every time your child begins to eat.
That is because you know that germs that cause stomach problems usually make their way into your gut through dirt transferred to food that is being eaten - through dirty unwashed hands. And these germs then cause stomach aches, loose motions and vomiting.
But it is important to know - that when there is a sniffling nose or a cough in the family
“Wash your hands”
is something you need to holler much more often.
The viruses that cause the common cold are present in the discharge from the nose of the sick person. And when a nose has a cold - it runs and runs - it just runs everywhere.
And when a nose is running - hands with handkerchiefs and tissues (and sometimes without) are desperate as they try to prevent snot overflow disasters.
And as they go about this disaster management - hands end up getting virus laden.
When these virus laden hands touch eyes and noses of the hand owner they infect that person.
And when they touch other things like tables, plates, pencils etc. they leave the virus there - so it gets onto the hands of the next person touching that surface - making him / her an easy target for the virus.
Hands therefore need to be cleaned frequently and adequately so that they do not spread the virus.
Getting motivated to wash hands however - is really not that easy. Especially- when a cold has you down.
A hand sanitizer that can be readily accessed by everyone in the house - can be a life saver at such times. Encourage everyone in the house to use it frequently
Of course employ the soap water routine as often as you can.
There is no way you can keep viruses out of your house - but when everybody has clean hands - you can drive out this unwelcome visitor much faster.
Happy hand washing!
If you are a parent – you hate the word ‘fever’. It scares you and gives you nightmares.
And because fever is so frightening – as a parent you want your child to have nothing at all to do with that ominous word.
But in your enthusiasm to keep the thermometer reading normal – should you do.......just anything?
NO YOU SHOULD NOT!
What is fever?
Fever is the manifestation of disease – rather than a disease itself. Fever can be caused by a variety of disease processes – Malaria, Typhoid, Hepatitis, Dengue etc. – but in the case of children - it is by and large caused by an array of viruses.
What should you do when your child has a viral fever
Most childhood fevers are viral – and viral infections usually do not require aggressive treatment. So, when you first take a child with fever to a doctor – all doctors usually prescribe mild medication to relieve the child’s symptoms while waiting for the illness to run its course.
However, when you are an anxious parent, desperate for your child to recover immediately, you are often unhappy with such treatment and urge doctors to prescribe antibiotics. What is important to realize here is - that antibiotics are for bacterial infections and are useless and superfluous in case of viral infections.
It is a tough to swallow – but what is crucial to understand is – that sick episodes are like extra coaching for the child’s immunity.
When a child is born – he / she has very little immunity. And "sickness" is the school the immune system goes to, to graduate to eventual good health. It is best then - to grit your teeth and get over viral episodes.
As a conscientious parent then - resist the temptation to over treat with medicines and overwhelm with love and comfort.
Beware of excessive antibiotics
Remember that antibiotics are two edged swords. Unnecessarily using an antibiotic is like sharing war strategies with the enemy. Every time an antibiotic is used, the bacteria learn how to fight it and develop new resistance mechanisms. The next time the antibiotic is used, it is not as effective.
Also antibiotics are indiscriminate killers who do not care about the identity of the bacteria they kill. They not only kill disease causing bacteria, they also wipe out other bacteria that keep the body healthy.
Fever is not necessarily always the “Bad Guy”
Fever is extremely discomfiting, but as hard as it maybe to believe - it is actually a protective mechanism. The elevation of body temperature that one reads as fever is protective because it does not allow the disease causing organism to thrive in the body which is therefore compelled to leave the body.
Also fever ensures that the child is compelled to rest thus enabling the body to use all its resources to fight the pathogen.
Fever therefore should be medicated prudently on the doctor’s advice. It is not uncommon for parents to indulge in the misuse of fever lowering drugs. This can prolong the illness and result in a harmful overdose.
Suppressing fevers indiscriminately – without consulting a doctor can also result in some major illnesses going undetected for too long and becoming difficult to cure as a result.
A wary – wait and watch approach is what is best employed with a childhood fever.
Build a fortress against infection
As your body builds up your immunity the hard way – contribute to its efforts in really easy ways.
Ensure that your child has a clean healthy environment. Ensure adequate age appropriate vaccination for your child. Emphasize a balanced diet, exercise and sufficient sleep. Remain stress free and ensure your child is too.