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Colds, strep throat and dry skin: Keeping kids healthy in winter

The return of winter might have a lot of us bummed out, but what’s even more of a drag is all the illnesses and ailments the cold season brings with it.

Yes, it’s time to start preparing for colds, flu, strep throat, croup, ear infections, dry skin — all those health issues that tend to pop up in children as the temperature drops. And often these aren’t the kinds of things that just appear once and then go away for good. In fact, the average child can have up to 10 colds per year.

While prevention can be tough for some of these maladies — except for the flu shot, which all children older than 6 months should receive — the best defense is often just remembering the basics: proper hand-washing, covering mouths during coughing and sneezing, and keeping them home from school or daycare when symptoms are present.

When you do have to deal with wintertime blahs, here are some tips that can help:


Colds are caused by viruses, and result in bothersome symptoms — fever, sore throat, sneezing, runny nose, headaches, labored breathing — that can last up to 14 days.

Since they are viral, antibiotics are not effective, as antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections. It’s also been my experience that most over-the-counter cold medications, beyond not being recommended for children under 6, are simply not effective. Try acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with pain or fever, and if allergies are a factor, use an antihistamine. A half-teaspoon of honey at bedtime can be a good cough suppressant, either by itself or in warm water or herbal tea. Just avoid giving it to any infants under 1, however, because of the risk of botulism.

Colds are usually not worrisome, and pass soon enough, but if symptoms like labored breathing and fever linger more than five days, have your child see the doctor.

Strep throat

Strep throat, on the other hand, is bacterial and usually requires antibiotics. When strep comes with a rash, that is what’s called scarlet fever, but it is not more severe or dangerous than any other type of strep.

One treatment method I prefer, and the kids don’t mind either, is encouraging them to eat popsicles and ice cream when they have strep. It gives them their needed fluids and helps with throat pain.

With the right care, your child should be back to a normal routine in a few days. To keep the strep from coming back, throw out your child’s toothbrush and get a new one.

SEE ALSO: Is your child’s sore throat really strep throat?

Eczema/dry skin

Almost everybody gets dry skin in the winter — we’re in Wisconsin, after all. But eczema is a more severe form and should receive some special attention.

  • Moisturize: Use a thick, fragrance-free moisturizer at least twice a day to replenish the skin. The thicker, the better: Think of creams and ointments scooped from a jar as opposed to lotions pumped from a bottle. And make sure it says “fragrance-free,” as “unscented” does not always mean the same thing.
  • Avoid: Aside from knowing what substances trigger stress on your skin, it’s good to steer clear of things like household cleaners, drying soaps and detergents. Also, too much hot water can dry out your skin, so take warmer, shorter showers.
  • Don’t scratch: Seriously, just don’t. The old saying that it’ll only make it worse is true, because scratching can break the skin and let in bacteria, which can lead to an infection.