Home Care Solutions for the Cold Flu

Sniffle Solutions provides guidance for parents and families for staying happy and healthy during the cold and flu season. Content and editorial topic include cough, cold and flu, allergies, rest and recovery

7 Healthy Habits in 7 Weeks

Make over your health. Sounds daunting, right? It doesn’t have to be. “The key is to break it down into smaller goals that you can find success with, and build upon them,” says Beth Reardon, a registered dietitian and the director of integrative nutrition at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C. With our easy plan, you’ll incorporate one new healthy habit each week -- so you’ll look and feel healthier in just seven weeks.

WEEK 1

Healthy Habit: Get more z’s.
Here’s a wake-up call: A recent study of over 30,000 people published in the journal Sleep found that people who got less than five hours of sleep nightly had more than twice the risk of heart disease compared to those who slept seven hours every night.

Action Plan: Create a snooze zone -- you’ll sleep more soundly and find it easier to get the z’s you need. “Your bed should only be for sleep and sex. Don’t pay bills, work or do other things you associate with daytime or stress,” says sleep expert Dr. Colette Haward, a clinical psychiatrist in New York City.

WEEK 2

Healthy Habit: Step it up.

It's no secret that exercise keeps you slim: Ninety percent of people in the National Weight Control Registry, a database of those who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year, exercise regularly (on average, about an hour a day). But an active lifestyle isn't just about your waistline. In a recent study in the journal Circulation, each hour in front of the TV per day was associated with a 9 percent increased risk of death from cancer and an 18 percent increased risk of death from heart disease.

Action Plan: Put on a pedometer and challenge yourself to up your steps every day. Going shopping? Instead of parking as close as possible to the mall, park far away to squeeze in some extra steps.

WEEK 3

Healthy Habit: Start with breakfast.

Mom was right that you should always eat an a.m. meal: Nearly 80 percent of the people in the National Weight Control Registry do. And the right breakfast goes a long way. In one study published in Diabetes Care, researchers discovered that cereal fiber improved insulin sensitivity and reduced type-2 diabetes risk in people who were overweight or obese.

Action Plan: Eat a bowl of oatmeal topped with walnuts and fresh fruit in the morning. The combination of protein, whole grains and healthy fat will keep blood sugar on an even keel and prevent hunger pangs. Bonus: You’ll do your immune system a favor. “Oatmeal contains compounds called beta glucans, which are a special kind of fiber that have immune-boosting properties,” says Reardon.

WEEK 4

Healthy Habit: Slather on sunscreen.
We know you've heard it before, but it's worth repeating. According to a recent study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, about one in five Americans will develop skin cancer.

Action Plan: Wear a broad-spectrum (that means it protects against UVA and UVB, both types of dangerous ultraviolet rays) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, suggests Dr. Sandra Read, a dermatologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. Even when it's cloudy, the sun still emits dangerous radiation. "There are so many choices in sunscreen," says Read. "It's important to choose what's right for you, because if it’s inconvenient you won’t use it." If you're an athlete, look for waterproof so you don't sweat it off. If you have eczema or sensitive skin, seek out a product that is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.

WEEK 5

Healthy Habit: Floss regularly.

This daily task doesn't just give you a sparkling smile; it may also protect you from cancer and heart disease. According to one study in The Lancet Oncology, men with a history of gum disease were 14 percent more likely than those with healthy gums to develop cancer. In another study published in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers found that people who had suffered from a heart attack had more bacteria in their gums.

Action Plan: You know you should floss once in the morning and once at night, but how do you make yourself stick with it? Set up a reward system: Complete one month of diligent flossing, and you get that new pair of shoes you've been eying or the novel you've been dying to read.

WEEK 6

Healthy Habit: Eat your greens (and reds and purples … ).

A colorful diet is one of your best weapons against chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. But according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, only 9 percent of Americans eat enough fruits and veggies. Don’t rely on shortcuts, such as a glass of orange juice. “Juicing depletes phytochemicals by up to 40 percent,” says Reardon. “You’ll get more vitamin C from a cup of strawberries than from a glass of sugary OJ.”

Action Plan: Up your produce intake by going vegetarian one night a week; have a veggie stir-fry with tofu or grilled portabella burgers. Or sneak grated carrots or zucchini into the batter next time you make muffins or bread.

WEEK 7

Healthy Habit: Flex your muscles.
Whether you’re afraid of bulking up or think you’ll look silly in the weight room, it’s time get over your fear of strength training. Building muscle revs up your metabolism and keeps bone loss at bay. Brazilian researchers found that women who strength trained three times per week lost more weight and fat -- and less bone mineral­ -- than those who didn’t.

Action Plan: Save time by doing moves that work multiple muscles at once. Pushups and planks are two exercises that you can do anywhere -- no dumbbells required.

Keep It up
According to a recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it took 96 volunteers an average of 66 days to form a new habit. That’s two full months of daily practice. So stay committed to as many healthy habits as you can stand; healthy challenges will soon become daily routines.

Is The H1N1 Pandemic Over?

Last year’s H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, triggered the first flu pandemic in decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 60 million cases of H1N1, more than 274,000 hospitalizations and approximately 12,500 deaths. Learn what to expect from H1N1 in the coming year, so you and your family can stay healthy during cold and flu season.

H1N1: What to Expect in 2010-11
In August, the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 pandemic over. Out-of-season outbreaks have waned, H1N1 is no longer the dominant influenza virus, and much of the population has either been vaccinated or exposed to the virus. “At this time, we do not see any evidence of another pandemic on the horizon,” says Jeffrey Dimond, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While this is good news, it doesn’t mean you can abandon your efforts to keep yourself and your family safe from swine flu. “The H1N1 virus is still circulating,” explains Dimond. “Like other seasonal flu strains, it will probably begin circulating more aggressively as we get into flu season this fall.”

Vaccination Update
The No. 1 way to protect yourself and your loved ones from H1N1 is to get vaccinated. This year, there are some important changes to the vaccination process:

  • Just one vaccine. Do you remember getting two shots last year? There were two different influenza vaccines -- one for seasonal flu and one for swine flu. That’s because H1N1 wasn’t identified until after manufacturers had already started to produce the seasonal flu vaccine. “This year, one influenza vaccine that also incorporates H1N1 will be available,” says Dr. Peter Katona, associate clinical professor of medicine in the department of infectious diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles, Health System.
  • Increased distribution. In February, a panel of immunization experts voted to expand the influenza vaccine recommendation to include everyone 6 months and older. In past years, it focused on children, the elderly and those in close contact with people at higher risk.

The hope is that these changes will make the 2010-11 flu season less dangerous. One thing that hasn’t changed is when and where to get your vaccine. Check with your doctor, neighborhood clinic or local pharmacy; yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as it’s available. Too often people make the mistake of waiting until coworkers and friends are sniffling and sneezing, but it’s best to get vaccinated before flu season peaks to stop the spread of germs. Not sure where to get vaccinated? Visit the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder at cdc.gov/h1n1flu/vaccination.

Keep Your Guard Up
A flu shot isn’t license to slack off on other stay-healthy strategies. “The flu is unpredictable, so we just don’t know at this time to what extent any rebound of H1N1 flu might occur,” says Dimond. That’s why it’s crucial to follow this flu-fighting checklist to stay well and keep your family germ-free.

  • Wash up. Hygiene is key to stopping the spread of H1N1. “Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available,” says Dimond. 
  • Cover your coughs. Sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hand, if you don’t have a tissue. When you sneeze, thousands of infectious droplets go flying. If they land on your hands, you spread the germs to anything you touch, where they can remain contagious for several hours.
  • Take a sick day. Feeling under the weather? Don’t go into the office, and don’t send your little one to school when she’s ill. “You may think you’re impressing coworkers with your dedication, but you’re not doing anyone any favors by spreading germs around the office,” says Dimond.
  • Bolster your immune system. “Eat a healthy diet, engage in regular exercise and practice stress-reduction techniques,” says Katona. Stock up on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, take a brisk walk most days, and engage in some soothing me-time (try practicing yoga or meditation or taking a long, hot bath).

Are Your Kids Gross Habits Really that Bad?

We’ve all been there: Your son drops an animal cracker on the floor, then bends over to pick it up and eat it. You think to yourself, “10-second rule!” No damage done, right? But how bad is it, really? Are you letting your kids pick up germs and bacteria, or are they actually boosting their immune systems? And what about all the other gross things kids do throughout the day? Inquiring moms need to know.

To find out when -- and if -- being a germophobe mom pays, we talked with Carole Marsh, author of The Here & Now Reproducible Book of a Kid's Official Guide to Germs: Our Enemies and Our Friends!
 

Eating a cookie dropped on the floor: How bad is it?
I don’t think you can protect kids from every single thing that appears to be germy. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that kids are going to eat cereal off the floor no matter what you do, so don’t worry about this one!” Marsh says.

Researchers continue to debate the probable risks of eating food dropped on the floor; several studies have come to varying conclusions. A study at Connecticut College found that after hitting the ground, wet food was safe to eat for 30 seconds and dry food was fine after a full minute. However, another study at Clemson University found that food dropped onto surfaces intentionally contaminated with salmonella picked up enough of the bacteria to make a person sick.

While there is a risk of picking up bacteria from a fallen cookie crumb, think of it this way: Many objects you frequently touch -- like kitchen sponges, faucets and elevator buttons -- can contain significant amounts of bacteria, and you can’t live in constant fear of coming into contact with germs. So when it comes to dropping something edible on the floor, most health experts advise parents not to worry.

Drinking out of the same juice box: How bad is it?
Keeping beverages to yourself doesn’t make you a germophobe. In fact, sharing a beverage with a friend or family member carries multiple health risks, from tooth decay to strep throat and even meningitis.

“Some times of the year, every other kid has a cold, so there’s a good chance that a child with a cold is going to drink out of that juice box. Viruses such as colds can be transmitted through bodily fluids like saliva. And let’s not talk about all the other unmentionable gunky stuff that inevitably gets on the straws,” says Marsh. “Even when everyone’s healthy, it’s important to teach kids good habits -- and learning not to drink out of the same cup or juice box as someone else is simply a healthy habit to teach.”

So do your family a favor and keep juice boxes separate at snack time.

Sharing eye shadow: How bad is it?
Kids love to test-drive the pretty things moms wear, but unless you buy makeup specifically for your child, it’s best to keep her fingers out of the pot.

 “Children have different skin sensitivities, especially around their eyes,” says Marsh.

Moreover, researchers have found that makeup, especially eye makeup, is often packed with germs, infections and even uber-icky Staphylococcus aureus, a toxic bacterium.

“Different people have different hygiene habits -- maybe someone else’s eye shadow has been left open on a bathroom sink and has been contaminated with something,” says Marsh.

Bottom line: It’s simply safer not to share.

Sharing earrings: How bad is it?
You hopefully wouldn’t let your friend stick a finger covered in gunk in your ear -- so letting your daughter use a friend’s earrings should induce a similar sense of ickiness. Hepatitis is common in sharing earrings, as well as a slew of other nasty viruses.

“Never share jewelry for piercings of any kind,” Marsh advises. “It just takes the tiniest opening in the skin for an infection to get in.”

Eating your own boogers: How bad is it?
Health experts generally disagree on the benefits of picking your nose: Some say it’s good for you, some say it’s bad -- and some say it doesn’t matter.

“This one is really high on the gross-factor list, but it’s most likely harmless,” says Marsh. “Just don’t eat anybody else’s boogers!”

Whether or not digging for nose-gold is actually good for your health, those same experts would agree it’s a gross habit that your kid should kick to the curb.

Drinking bathwater: How bad is it?
When you consider the concoction of stuff in bathwater -- shampoo, bacteria and germs -- it sounds, well, disgusting. But just like a spilled cookie isn’t the end of the world, a little bath water is also harmless for your tot.

“Kids don’t typically drink 8 ounces of bathwater -- they’d probably get a handful or a slurp -- so it’s not something to be overly concerned about,” says Marsh. “I just wouldn’t make a regular habit of it, since the soap in the water could cause an upset stomach or diarrhea. Plus, there could be fecal matter in the water, which is obviously not something you want to consume.”

So don’t worry if your child takes a sip of the soapy stuff. Just make sure she goes to the bathroom before taking a bath.

Sharing hats: How bad is it?
This is one problem that’s stood the test of time. Your parents probably advised you not to share hats when you were a kid -- and since then, not much has changed.

“These days, there are a lot of lice outbreaks, so it’s best not to share hats. If it’s going to cause a huge headache, why risk it?” says Marsh.

Lice still love any head -- whether it’s dirty or squeaky clean -- and can lay eggs in any hair they find. Keep your kids safe by asking them not to swap hats with their friends.

At the end of the day, Marsh says moms only really need to worry about getting their kids immunized, making sure they wash their hands and teaching them healthy habits -- like the importance of good nutrition and a full night’s sleep. “When you see a child doing something gross, don’t focus on the germs. Focus on what’s good and healthy for all of us. For instance, say: ‘This is what we do to stay healthy and happy.’”

A Parent's Guide to Cold Medication

When your child’s under the weather, you probably head to the drugstore to pick up a remedy. But with shelf after shelf filled with over-the-counter medications, the vast selection may be enough to give you a headache. How do you know which one is the right one? We asked the experts for a guide to cold medicine that helps clear up the confusion.

1. First, consider your child’s age. “It’s recommended that you avoid giving oral cold medications to children under the age of 6, unless otherwise directed by a pediatrician,” says Maria Marzella Mantione, an associate clinical professor at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions and a national spokeswoman for the American Pharmacists Association. Some topical medications are OK for use in children 2 years and older, but always check the label for age restrictions and be sure to follow the directions for proper application -- they should not be ingested or applied where they can accidentally enter the nose, mouth or eyes.

For younger kids, soothe their cold symptoms with non-medicinal methods: Encourage plenty of fluids and rest, and run a humidifier to relieve congestion and to moisten dry nasal passages. Mantione also advises using saline drops and an aspirator for a stuffy nose, and a spoonful of honey for cough (but only for children over the age of 1).

2. Next, take note of her symptoms. Don’t automatically reach for that all-in-one remedy. “You should only treat the symptoms that your child is experiencing,” says Mantione. “Giving her unnecessary medication may lead to unpleasant side effects, like nausea or dizziness.” If your little one is suffering from more than one complaint, however, using the appropriate multi-symptom formula is a smart move.

3. Check the active ingredients. Once you’ve pinpointed your child’s symptoms, read the label to ensure that you’re buying the correct medication. This cheat sheet can help you make the right choice; make sure that you follow the age and dosing requirements on the package.

Your child has a: Fever
The box should say: Fever and pain reliever (acetaminophen, ibuprofen).
“Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are safe to use for fever or pain, such as an earache or sore throat, in children who are at least 6 months old,” says Mantione, who also advises checking in with a pediatrician. Steer clear of aspirin, which has been shown to cause Reye syndrome -- a rare but dangerous complication -- in children with the flu or chickenpox.

Your child has a: Dry cough
The box should say: Cough suppressant or antitussive (dextromethorphan) or topical cough relief (camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil).
These types of medications reduce your cough sensitivity by suppressing receptors in the respiratory tract or, for dextromethorphan, in the brain's “cough center.”

Your child has a: Productive cough or chest congestion
The box should say: Expectorant (guaifenesin).
Expectorants thin mucus, which makes it easier to cough up. “A productive cough is good for you, so you don’t want to quiet it with a suppressant,” says Mantione.

Your child has a: Stuffy nose
The box should say: Decongestant (pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine).
This medication works by reducing swelling in the nose. But don’t use it for more than three days in a row, since decongestants can make stuffiness worse with repeated use. You can find pseudoephedrine-based products behind the pharmacy counter; Mantione believes they have fewer side effects.

Your child has a: Runny nose
The box should say: Antihistamine (brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine).
Antihistamines work by blocking histamine, compounds that attach to cells and cause fluid leakage. Most of these are sedating and can cause sleepiness, so they’re best used before bedtime.

4. Consult the pharmacist. If you have any questions or want a little guidance, find the in-store pharmacist, says Mantione. “She can also help you figure out the right dose for your child.”