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There are few feelings in the world of parenting that compare with the dread you feel when you welcome your kids home from school only to realize that one of them has a brand-new cough and runny nose.
You may be thinking: “Oh no! Sally’s sick, and then it’s going to be little Bobby … and then Mom and Dad are next!”
Don’t fret! As the #healthboss of the house, you’ve got this.
Between the cold, flu, and stomach bug, there’s plenty of sickness passed around in colder seasons. But there’s a lot you can do to try to keep the rest of the family healthy (including yourself) when illness strikes.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but germs are everywhere. And many cold and flu germs can stay alive on surfaces for several hours.
Here’s the good news: Many of them will never make you sick. But when someone in your family brings them home, you need to be more careful. The most common way people pass on illness is through personal contact. This means that any time you share eating or drinking utensils, shake hands, or breathe in germs after a cough or sneeze, you’re putting yourself at risk.
1. Sink your teeth into the vampire cough
Children come in contact with tons of germs at school and day care, and they’re often the first to bring home sickness. Teach them to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. That will help keep germs from coming into contact with other family members and different surfaces within your house.
And while you’re at it, remind the adults about this coughing and sneezing etiquette rule as well. While people may be tempted to cough into their hands, it can spread sickness faster. Coughing and sneezing into the bend of your elbow — otherwise known as the “vampire cough” — helps lessen the risk. No fangs required, of course.
2. Quarantine those kids!
It sounds crazy, I know, but creating a “sick space” in the house can help keep germs contained to one area of your home. Whether it’s the guest room, family room, or a kid’s room, make it cozy and let whoever is sick sleep there. If another person shows signs of infection, they can hang out there too. Give each person their own glass, washcloth, and towel. It’s not a prison and of course they can come in and out as needed. It’s simply a safe haven for your little invalid to hunker down, sneeze as much as they need to, and contain those nasty germs from siblings (which is especially helpful if you have a small baby in the house).
Other items you may want to keep in the sick room include:
- separate trash can
- hand sanitizer
- ice and water/clear liquids
- face masks
If you have the option, it’s also a good idea for the sick person to use one bathroom in your home while the rest of the family uses another.
3. Remember to reach for those daily vitamins
If you weren’t taking your daily vitamins before, now is most definitely the time to double down on strengthening your immune system.
Even if you already take a multivitamin, you may want to pay special attention to vitamins C, B-6, and E. Fortunately, most people get enough of these vitamins through eating a healthy diet.
Vitamin C is the biggest immune system booster of all, and the body doesn’t store it. In fact, if you don’t get enough, you may be more prone to getting sick. It’s in citrus fruits, kale, and bell peppers, among other foods.
Vitamin B-6 affects certain reactions in the immune system. It can be found in green veggies and chickpeas.
Vitamin E helps the body fight infection. It’s found in nuts, seeds, and spinach.
Even if you do get a lot of vitamins in your foods, doctors occasionally recommend supplementing. If you have questions about taking vitamins and supplements, give your doctor a call.
4. Keep your body strong with broccoli and bananas
You’ve heard it before: The foods you eat may have the power to improve your immunity, so try eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. We’ve got plenty of recipes on hand that are both delicious and good for your immune system!
5. Pop those probiotics
You may have heard that taking probiotics is good for your gut health, but they may also stimulate your immune system. Consider taking probiotics on a daily basis, but read labels carefully to make sure you’re taking the right ones.
These six probiotic strains have been linked to improved immunity:
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG
- Lactobacillus casei Shirota
- Bifidobacterium animalis Bb-12
- Lactobacillus johnsonii La1
- Bifidobacterium lactis DR10
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii
6. Double down on your hand-washing routine
Not to keep harping on this gross realization, but you can pick up germs from virtually everything you touch during the day. Washing your hands frequently and correctly is one of the best ways to stay healthy. These five steps lay it out very easily:
- Get your hands wet with hot or cold water.
- Add your soap and lather well.
- Wash the soap around for at least 20 seconds. And don’t forget the backs of your hands and between your fingers. (You may find that singing “Happy Birthday” or a few versus of Bobby Darin’s classic “Splish Splash I was taking a bath” helps pass the time.)
- Rinse your hands well and dry with a clean or disposable towel. An air dryer works as well.
- If you can, turn off the faucet with your elbow or a towel to avoid re-contamination.
You also don’t need to worry about using soaps that are marketed as “antibacterial.” Regular soap works just as well. It’s more important that you wash long enough and get all surfaces clean.
If you aren’t around a faucet, hand sanitizer is another good option. Just make sure that yours contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
7. Explore using elderberry syrup
Many people swear by taking elderberry syrup at the first sign of a cold. Elderberries contain both flavonoids and antioxidants that can ward off damage to your body’s cells. It certainly helps that it tastes delicious, so even your little ones will enjoy the sweet flavor!
With regard to colds and flus, elderberry is anti-inflammatory, so it may alleviate your congestion and any swelling in the sinuses. It may even protect you from getting sick in the first place!
You can find elderberry in liquid, syrup, tincture, capsule, and lozenge form. Speak with your doctor before taking supplements. This is especially important if you want to give elderberry to children or take it if you’re pregnant or nursing.