Why do kids become sick in winter?

Have you ever wondered why kids get sick in winter frequently? Read on to learn its causes and ways to keep your children safe and protected.
View All Images Why do kids get sick in winter?
Cold weather can make children vulnerable to illnesses. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Abhishek Chopra Published: 27 Nov 2023, 10:30 am IST
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As winter sets in, children often face a heightened risk of common winter illnesses. The chilly season brings about a surge in ailments such as cold, flu and respiratory infections among kids. This usually happens due to exposure to cold weather, crowded spaces, and weakened immune systems. To reduce the risk of kids falling sick in winter, parents and caregivers must remain vigilant, recognizing symptoms early to provide timely care. Read on to learn why kids get sick in winter and how to protect your kids from common illnesses.

Common illnesses in kids during winter

1. Bronchiolitis

This condition involves inflammation of the small lung airways, causing mucus buildup and respiratory distress. Common symptoms include cough, fever, runny nose, and rapid breathing. Nearly all children experience this infection by age two, with most recovering naturally.

seasonal flu in kids
Beware of the common signs and symptoms of the seasonal flu in kids. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Addressing congestion can involve using saline drops in the nose, while a cool mist humidifier can enhance comfort for a child with nasal congestion. It’s crucial to clean and dry the humidifier to avert bacterial or mold contamination before you use it. Notably, hot water vaporizers are not recommended due to the potential risk of burns in kids.

Also read: Seasonal flu in kids: All that you must know in changing season

2. Common cold

This is a common sickness caused by a virus, and it usually has mild symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, and a runny nose. Young kids often catch a lot of these colds before they turn 2. The reason is that young children still need to build up defenses against the many different cold viruses. Getting many colds doesn’t mean a child has a weak immune system; it just shows they’ve been around a lot of viruses. Colds typically last about a week but can stick around for up to 2 weeks.

3. Streptococcal sore throat

It is caused by bacteria and occurs in children between 5 and 15 years of age. Symptoms include fever, pain in the throat, difficulty swallowing, and headaches. A cough and running nose generally do not accompany it. A red rash can sometimes occur with it, which is known as scarlet fever. It can be easily and quickly treated with antibiotics.

sore throat
Avoid cold items during winter. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

4. Gastroenteritis

This is an intestinal infection with symptoms such as loose motions, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, and body aches. Plenty of fluids should be given to prevent dehydration with the ORS (oral rehydration solution). Avoid giving fruit juices and fizzy drinks, as they can worsen diarrhea. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, proper hand washing, and vaccination against rotavirus are important strategies for the prevention of gastroenteritis.

Tips to manage cold and cough in kids:

  • If an infant is having trouble feeding because of a stuffed nose, use a rubber suction bulb to clear mucus from the nose, apart from using saline drops.
  • Cough suppressants are not recommended for kids under 4 years of age.
  • Nasal decongestants for 2 to 3 days can decrease nasal secretions and antipyretics should be given for fever.
  • For kids over 1 year old, half a spoonful of honey in a warm drink an hour before bed may help the child wake up less often at night.

How to keep children safe in winter?

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water
  • Stay up-to-date on vaccinations, including annual flu vaccine
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep
  • Stay home if you are not feeling well to prevent the spread of germs
  • Never send children outside in extreme weather, such as snow storms
  • Teach children to cough or sneeze into their upper sleeves or elbows with adults modeling the behaviour
  • Dress children adequately
  • Encourage kids to avoid touching their eyes and mouths when out

Also read: Yoga poses for kids: 5 asanas to keep your child active in winter

Tips on clothing in winter for kids:

  • Always dress young children in an extra layer of clothing, as they cannot regulate their body temperature.
  • Always cover the head, neck, feet, and hands.
  • Choose insulated, breathable fabrics to keep kids warm without causing overheating.
  • Ensure kids wear hats and gloves to prevent heat loss from the head and hands.
  • Keep feet warm with waterproof boots to protect against cold and wet conditions.
  • Ensure clothing fits well to maintain warmth and allow easy movement.
winter hair mistakes
Keep your kids warm with right clothing. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Why is the risk of dehydration higher in the winter?

Cold weather increases the risk of dehydration as it alters the thirst sensation. Kids don’t feel as thirsty when the weather is cold, so they don’t drink much, which can cause dehydration. The body also loses water due to increased fluid loss through breathing. The signs of dehydration are dry lips and tongues, sunken eyes, dark urine, passing less urine, and a small volume of urine. The amount of water to be consumed by children depends on their age. Kids under 8 years old should drink 4 to 5 glasses of water and kids above 9 should drink a minimum of 6 glasses.

To prevent dehydration, keep a filled drink bottle handy for regular sips throughout the day. Water-boosting foods such as green leafy vegetables, milk, oranges, strawberries, and yogurt should be included in the diet. If kids are not fond of plain water, incorporating fruits can add flavor, such as cucumber, mint leaves, lime, and lemon.

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When to consult a doctor?

  • If there is difficulty in breathing (breathing rapidly or seems to be working hard to breathe)
  • If the baby is not eating or vomiting
  • Lips look blue
  • The coughing is so bad that the child is choking or vomiting
  • Ear ache
  • A child is unable to be consoled or is drowsy

Keep these tips in mind to protect your child during the winter season and consult with your doctor whenever needed!

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About the Author

Dr Abhishek Chopra is a senior consultant – neonatologist and paediatrician at Cloudnine Group of Hospitals. He is passionate about neonatal care with special emphasis on provision of mothers own milk, focusing on non invasive ventilation and judicious use of antibiotics. He also has expertise in point of care ultrasonography. He is actively involved in teaching and research, with an interest in research methodology.
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