Here we are again, another holiday season. As happy and joyous as this season can be, it can also unfortunately, be quite stressful. With stress, comes increased risk of illness, which can put a significant damper on enjoying this time of year. Although there are never any guarantees at preventing infections, there are many ways in which you can reduce your risk. Hopefully, the information that we are providing here will help you stay healthy.
Let’s start with travel. As we all know, in modern times family can be scattered across the country. Luckily, air travel usually provides a safe and relatively quick way to see your family. Unfortunately, air travel can also be a “bug’s paradise.” Here are a few pointers on how to lower your risk of exposure when flying.
1. Bring disinfectant wipes with you!
Although airplanes are cleaned between flights, they most likely are not disinfected. This is not saying the airlines are doing anything wrong ‒ disinfecting them would be time consuming and not practical. However, each person can disinfect, or at least partially disinfect, their own personal space. With disinfectant wipes, wipe down the armrests, tray table and latch, seat belt buckle, and the air vent. These are places that people touch throughout their flight. One of the main ways that infectious viruses/bacteria are spread are via the hands. Anything that was touched by someone before you, most likely holds the germs that person had on their hands. Wiping the most common areas that people touch with a disinfectant wipe, and then letting it air dry, lowers the risk of exposure.
2. Keep your hands clean!
You will never be able to disinfect everything, and you should not be afraid of this. We touch things all the time that have germs on them. Fortunately, the skin provides an excellent defense against these germs. However, not all parts of the body are protected by this great defense. One big example of this is the eyes. When we touch/rub our eyes (which all people do throughout the day, and children do significantly more frequently), any bugs on the hands can be transferred to the eyes, which is a common place for germs to get inside the body. In addition, when we touch our food, we can transfer germs to our food, which we then ingest into our body. So, keep your hands as clean as possible. Although soap and water is usually the best way, that is not always practical while traveling. Luckily, hand sanitizer provides an excellent alternative in keeping your hands clean. Don’t forget to bring some along!
3. Stay hydrated!
What is something that many people try to avoid doing on an airplane? I am sure you guessed it. We try to avoid going to the bathroom! And, what do we do to try to avoid the bathroom? We do not drink, or drink very little. Unfortunately, this is not good and can increase the risk of getting sick. At high altitudes, the humidity is usually very low. As a result, mucus membranes can dry out. Mucus membranes provide the lining of many areas of the body, including mouth, nose, eyelids, windpipe, lungs, and digestive tracts (stomach, intestines, etc.). When these areas dry out, they cannot work as well at keeping potentially dangerous bugs out of the body. The best way to keep these membranes moist, is to stay hydrated, which means drinking a lot of water. So, drink up, and if you need to use the bathroom, use the bathroom!
Okay, so the first travel segment of the holidays is completed. We have had a safe flight, and kept it “healthy” by keeping our areas and hands clean, and our bodies hydrated. Now we are at grandma and grandpa’s house. How can we stay healthy so everyone enjoys precious family time?
What is the first thing that grandma will give the kids? You got it ‒ cookies, or something sweet. And when the first sweet food item is finished, what comes next? More sweets. This is followed by lots of fun and playing and staying up past the usual bedtime which usually results in less than normal sleep. Although the kids love it (and who wouldn’t!), this disruption in eating and sleeping habits may be an invitation for them to get sick. Here are some pointers on how to keep your kids healthy throughout the holiday season, despite all the temptations:
1. Eat “Nature’s” Sweets!
There is evidence that shows a negative effect on your immune system after ingestion of foods and drinks with added sugar. If the sweet tooth attacks, try Mother Nature’s sugar ‒ whole fruits (not juices)! The deleterious effects of sugar appear to be negated when they are ingested with all the other nutrients that whole fruits provide.
2. Eat Healthy in General
In addition to lowering added sugar foods, a diet that is filled with a variety of whole, unprocessed plant based foods can definitely boost the immune system. There are many healthy and tasty foods/snacks that are available, so substitute these for those sweets!
3. Get Proper Sleep!
Getting a good night’s rest is key to keeping infections at bay. Although travel can definitely disrupt sleep habits, try to get back on schedule as soon as you can.
Although the little ones usually get their exercise by running and playing throughout the day, as kids get older, it is important to remember that exercise helps boost immunity and can lower the risk of getting sick.
5. Get your Flu (Influenza) Shot!
There is no better way to lower the risk of getting influenza than to get the annual flu shot. Even if it does not prevent the flu altogether (which it may not), it can lower the risk of secondary complications and risk of dying from the flu.
6. Remember to Laugh!!
What do you call a germ that just wants to have fun? A Fun-gi!
Hopefully, we just helped your immune system. Laughing has been shown to help boost the immune system, so keep telling those jokes and funny stories!
Many times, we are asked by parents if there is anything they can give their kids to “boost” their immune system. The good news to this question is that the answer is yes. However, it is not as simple as taking a “pill” or a “supplement,” which is what many parents are looking for. Living via a healthy lifestyle is the recipe for lowering the risk of illness (and not just infections).
Some of the ways to do this are:
-Eat a diet filled with a variety of whole, unprocessed plant based foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, etc.). Remember, variety is the key!
-Get a good night’s rest.
-Stay hydrated throughout the day.
-Lead an active lifestyle, which includes not only regular exercise, but remaining active during the day (which means limiting screen time to less than 1-2 hours per day).
Hopefully, these tips will help keep your family healthy during the holiday season, and year round. Although we do not always think about it, the best gift of all is our health, so “give” the gift of health to your family by living via a healthy lifestyle.
In addition to staying healthy, we want everyone to be safe as well.
For a good review on holiday safety, please visit this link from healthychildren.org: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Holiday-Safety-Tips.aspx
All of us at Pediatric Specialists wish all of you a very happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!