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5 Ways to boost your child’s immune system for back to school

Despite the relief some quiet time in the house can provide once we (finally!) get the kids back to school, many of us worry about the seemingly inevitable coughs, sniffles, fevers and gastrointestinal issues that often follow. To help your child fend off those classroom-transmitted ailments, here are five ways to bolster her immune system.

Little girl washing hands

Children’s immune systems are vulnerable

Get two or more kids together in any space and it seems as if the welcome sign for germs lights up in full neon. There is actually some scientific basis for this: Children’s immune systems are “naive”— they haven’t yet developed much immunity to common infections because they haven’t had much exposure. Less exposure means less “practice” and less capacity to fight off new threats. In fact, studies have shown that normal, healthy kids with fully functioning immune systems will catch up to eight to 12 common viral infections — each year, with each lasting seven to 10 days and sometimes more. That’s a lot of down time!

5 Ways to improve your child’s immune system

There are many very valuable immune system-supporting behaviors that can be very effective if done regularly. Here are the top five.

1Hand-washing for the whole family

This may be the most important “discovery” in the entire history of medicine in fighting the evil germ hordes. Hand sanitizers help, too. Many, many infections are brought into kids’ mouths (and noses!) traveling on unclean fingers. Teach every family member the importance of regular hand-washing.

2Respect the amazing immune system

Our bodies – yours, mine and our kids’ – all have a common friend in our respective immune systems. The better we take care of them, the better they feel – and the better they are to us. Mom was right: Drink lots of liquids to keep well-hydrated, get plenty of regular sleep, eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies, and maintain regular activity. All of those things really do boost immunity.

3Cover up

Teach your child to cover her mouth when she coughs or sneezes, preferably with the inside of the elbow to keep germs away from the hands. And believe it or not, it’s better to have kids “sniff and swallow” secretions than to blow them out; it lowers the chance of spread to their ears or sinuses.

4Take it easy

If germs do find a way in, double up on the what-your-mom-said stuff, add some chicken soup for the cold (it really does help), encourage your kids to lay low so the body can spend its energy healing instead of playing, and keep them home until any fever’s gone to help stop further spread.

5Find relief

For fever, sore throats or those yucky aches and pains that often accompany common viral infections, I recommend ibuprofen (e.g., Children’s Advil ). It reduces fever fast and relieves the minor aches and pains caused by the common cold and flu, as well as sore throat and headache. Ibuprofen also reduces fever better than acetaminophen.

Lastly, don’t forget: If anything seems unusually amiss, call your pediatrician.

More ways to boost your child’s immune system

Flu prevention tips for kids
10 Tasty ways to boost your immune system
How to avoid H1N1 with a strong immune system

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