A winter characterised by runny noses, coughs and sore throats isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time - yet, for many parents, colds are the sad reality of the winter months.
The good news is that a healthy immune system can help to prevent those common cold-related symptoms such as coughs and a dry sore throat.
Your child’s immune system
Your child’s immune system is a collection of cells, tissues and organs that fight infections and keep your little one healthy. Think of it like a collective of soldiers who fight foreign invaders (like viruses, bacteria and parasites) whose sole purpose is to make their host (your child) sick.
A healthy immune system can assist in fighting off simple everyday illness better and recover quicker than a weaker or compromised immune system.
Does exposure to colds build stronger immunity?
A child’s immune system is constantly maturing and adapting with exposure to each and every new ‘invader’. Some research indicates that childhood colds could play a role in building immunity.
University of Arizona researchers who examined more than 1,000 children as part of the Tucson Children's Respiratory Study found that, while children aged 2 in large day care had more colds than those who didn’t attend, they actually had fewer colds than those who didn’t attend at around age 6. However, by age 13, there was no difference between the two groups.
So while immunity acquired in daycare could be beneficial, it doesn’t completely protect your children from getting colds and coughs.
Weak immune systems
Children who are frequently sick may have a weaker immune system than those who get sick less often. This is partly inherited - however, there are other factors that influence how well your little ones are able to fight off common illnesses, including colds and coughs.
If your children are younger, it’s relatively normal for them to get sick in winter - but as they grow older, their immune system should get better at fighting off colds. So if they’re constantly sick, then their immune systems may be struggling.
Supporting your child’s health
As your child’s immune system develops, you can help to equip them with tools to help keep their immune system healthy and therefore may help prevent them catching coughs and colds.
There is an increasing amount of research suggesting that sleep disruption or insufficient sleep impacts immune function in children. A review by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine published in 2006 concluded that lower immune function was one of several health outcomes that can occur as a consequence of not enough sleep. Children need approximately 8-10 hours of sleep each night.
Psychological stress has been implicated in childhood immunity, with one study published in the Journal of Immunology in 2014 suggesting that children from families with high psychological stress demonstrated lower immune activity.
While frequent hand washing won’t specifically enhance immunity, it will may help germs from spreading throughout the rest of the family and to others at school and daycare.
Serve healthy meals
Children need a wide variety of fresh, healthy meals including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and dairy. Opt for fresh produce in an array of different colours, textures and flavours.
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