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Help with winter sicknesses

A wrap-up of winter health-care tips for families:

Despite what grandma might say in this rough winter, cold temperatures are not the cause of colds or flu. The culprit is the viruses that cause colds and flu, which tend to be more common during the winter, when kids are in school and in close contact with each other, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Flu cases in the United States are typically highest in January and February. A sneeze or cough, not cold air, can transfer a virus. Frequent hand-washing and teaching your child to sneeze or cough into the bend of her elbow -- not into her hands -- helps reduce the spread of germs and cut down on sickness.

Also, for safety in cold weather, infants and children need to be dressed in layers. But what's overdoing it when bundling up? The rule of thumb for older babies and young children is to dress them in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same weather, pediatricians suggest.

What if no matter the precautions you take, your little one catches a cold? Count on at least one or two this season. But the Food and Drug Administration doesn't support the use of over-the-counter oral cough and cold medications for young children. Studies have shown that for children under age 6, the cold medications don't work and may have side effects.

As an alternative to cold medications, applying a topical vapor rub containing menthol, camphor and eucalyptus oils is effective for treating children with nighttime cough and congestion and improves sleep for children with cold symptoms, Penn State College of Medicine researchers have found.

Remember: Antibiotics do no good as a cold-fighter. But if your child has a fever and is uncomfortable, provide single-ingredient acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Watch the dosage and time interval.

It's not just coughing that keep kids and caregivers awake at night. As many as 75 percent of American children consume caffeine daily, which leads to sleep problems and concerns such as obesity from guzzling sodas, suggests research published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Is your child suffering from asthma? While the cause may be unclear, there are preventive steps to take in your home, says Sandra Eger-McTernan, a pediatric nurse specialist with a not-for-profit home health care organization in New York. Her tips include:

*The use of four or more household cleaners in one home can increase the incidence of asthma in adults and children. Look for environmentally friendly cleaning products with nontoxic ingredients.

*Incense, perfumes and air fresheners, fresh paint and new carpeting add to household air pollution that can cause or worsen asthma in children, the nurse says.

*Keep dust at bay and damp mop often. Wipe down all surface areas, picture frames and bookshelves. Avoid collections of stuffed animals. Vacuum carpets often.

*If you have a pet, keep it confined to areas other than your child's bedroom.


Parenting tip

To boost your child's immune system, add a rainbow of colors to your family's diet. Top choices are deep-color fruits and vegetables, such as blue blueberries, red tomatoes and orange sweet potatoes, according to the William Sears family of pediatricians. Their website is

If you have tips or a question, e-mail

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