“Humid air may also be helpful once infection is established. One of the first things doctors often recommend when a child comes down with a cold or other respiratory virus is to use a humidifier, to improve comfort for the child and help them to overcome the virus.”

Dr. Trisha Macnair,
hospital doctor, Surrey UK.

A greater chance of fewer colds

Three levels of precautions

Colds happen. But you can give your family a greater chance of fewer colds if you understand more about what causes them.

There are hundreds of viruses that can cause colds. Many of them are called 'nose viruses' or, using the Greek word for nose, 'rhinoviruses'. (Just think of what's distinctive about a 'rhinoceros'.)

Your aim is to prevent the viruses from getting up your child’s nose. Here are three levels of action (bronze/silver/gold) that you can take:

BRONZE (common sense)

Avoid being close to people who already have a cold.

When cold sufferers cough or sneeze, the viruses are carried through the air. The further away your child, the less chance of these airborne viruses reaching their nose. Also keep your child away from used tissues, which should be thrown away.

Avoid rubbing eyes when in contact with someone with a cold.

Viruses may reach your child’s fingers. These, of course, are usually kept some way from the nose. But when your child rubs their eyes, the viruses can sneak down the tear ducts into the nose.

SILVER (pretty thorough)

Wipe all surfaces touched by a person with a cold.

Nose viruses can survive for up to three hours on table tops, doorknobs and other surfaces. A person with a cold may have touched their nose and then one of the surfaces. So when there is a cold in the home, it’s a good idea to clean surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant.

Wash hands more frequently than usual.

When there is a chance that cold viruses are about, you can encourage your child to wash their hands not only at the usual times but at other times too. For example, when there is a change of activity.

Ensure that the air in the home is not too dry or too humid.

Viruses can lurk around for longer when the air is dry or too humid. Ensuring a humidity level of between 40-60% will make life tougher for the viruses. You can measure the humidity in your home using a hygrometer, and control the levels with a humidifier (or dehumidifier).

GOLD (serious stuff)

Double cleaning

There can be a two-day delay between people getting a virus and starting a cold. So to be on the safe side, some people always wipe surfaces that have been touched by others, even if those surfaces appear to be clean. mAnAge time spent with others

A person who lives alone on top of a mountain wouldn’t catch a virus; they probably wouldn’t have much fun either! In a child’s life, there are more important considerations than possible colds. However there may be times when it pays to be a little cautious about events with close contact with many other people.


The right level of humidity for all the home’s inhabitants

Environmental humidity levels ultimately determine our perception of comfort and most people feel very uncomfortable when humidity is either very high or low. Parents may not even realise that their babies and juveniles are affected by the indoor air they breathe.

Dr. Trisha Macnair believes “Keeping the mucus membranes which lines the respiratory system (from the nose and mouth down into the lungs) moist is essential particularly for children, for the lungs to work effectively to take in oxygen and get rid of the waste gas carbon dioxide. Moisture is also vital if the membranes are to work as an effective barrier to micro- organisms and protect a person or child from infection.”

The level of humidity also directly influences the survival of viruses responsible for respiratory diseases, including influenza viruses and the myriad of viruses which can cause the common cold. The moister the environment, the lower the chances of survival of influenza viruses in the air and on surfaces – with the majority of viruses showing the lowest level of survival at a humidity level of between 40% to 60%1. Therefore, maintaining an appropriately high level of humidity could be a useful step towards getting you and your family through the cold and flu season.

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USEFUL WINTER COMFORT TIPS BY DR. MACNAIR, HOSPITAL DOCTOR IN SURREY, UK:

  • Aim for a clean atmosphere that is a comfortable temperature and humidity
  • Make sure your home is well ventilated – even though it is tempting to shut out the cold winter, throw windows open at least once a week or more to provide a regular supply of fresh air
  • Keep all gas fires, cookers, burners and chimney flues regularly serviced or swept to avoid blockages or the build up of dangerous gases
  • Don’t overheat your home even when it is very cold outside – the ideal temperature should be around 20°C. If you feel cold at this temperature, then put on another layer of clothing rather than turning the heating up
  • Central heating can dry out the air very quickly in the winter. Buy a hygrometer to measure humidity and use a humidifier if humidity is lower than the recommended 40-60%
  • Make sure all chemicals (such as cleaning agents) are properly contained and safely stored, ideally outside the home in a shed or a garage
  • Vacuum and dust your home regularly to remove dirt and house dust which can build up very quickly, and keep down numbers of house dust mite (microscopic insects found in every home which can cause allergy problems)
  • Frequently wash touched surfaces like doorknobs, phones and light switches where the viruses responsible for colds and flu can be deposited and then spread from person to person
  • Make sure the dampest areas of the house such as the bathroom are especially well ventilated to prevent humidity rising so high that mould and other micro-organisms can proliferate
  • Limit sources of pollution in your home, including cigarette smoke and chemicals. Use exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning in food service areas to get rid of irritant vapours and smells
  • Try to keep pets outdoors if possible. This can help reduce exposure to pet allergens indoors
  • Keep your body well hydrated – we need to take in about 1ml of water for every calorie we burn, so about 2500ml for men and 2000ml for women (remember we get some of this water from the food we eat). You need more if you exercise
  • Keep your skin well moisturised to prevent it drying and cracking. If you develop a respiratory infection such as a cold or flu, drink extra fluid, make sure to moisturise lips and nostrils to prevent cracking, and seek medical help sooner rather than later if you develop breathing problems

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