Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why kids always have colds and snotty noses.

My cousin wrote to me recently saying that she was worried that her 17 month old son gets so many coughs and colds. So, I thought I'd write a blog busting some of the myths surrounding children and infection.

The first thing to say is that children get ill...lots. Mostly coughs, colds and snotty noses, with the occasionally vomiting and/or diarrhoea bug thrown in for variety. As upsetting as it is, this is all part of their immune systems maturing and learning to cope on their own. When they are born, they borrow an immune system from their mother. They have lots of antibodies (things that fight infection) swimming round their bodies. Antibodies can recognise specific illnesses if they have been exposed to them before (which is how vaccinations work). Because the mother's immune system is mature, i.e. has seen lots of bugs, the baby has help fighting off illnesses. If they are breast fed, this affect is increased because there are antibodies in breast milk.

As the baby gets older, the maternal antibodies wear off and the baby starts to make them for themselves. However, this doesn't happen overnight so young children are more vulnerable than adults to infections. Each time they get an illness or a bug, their immune system increases its ability to recognise things as bugs. However, there are so many bugs around that just as they are getting over one, another comes along and they have to start over again. (Sometimes it feels as if a child has been ill with the same bug for weeks and weeks, but probably it is several different bugs in a row.)

Children are 'allowed' to have (as a rule of thumb) 10 coughs and colds a year before a doctor would even consider doing tests to see if there were any other problems. (And even then the doctors wouldn't really get excited unless they had 'significant' illnesses, for example, needing to be admitted to hospital.) Given that most of these 10 coughs and colds occur in the winter months, it can feel like your child has a snotty nose all winter.

Children who are exposed to more bugs (go to nursery or have older siblings in nursery or school) will get ill more often. Washing hands is a very good way of preventing illnesses as a lot of bugs are spread by touch. 

The (nearly) last thing to point out is that colds are viral infections. Most infections are caused by bugs that are either viruses or bacteria (fungi can also cause infections.) Antibiotics only work on bacteria, they don't do anything to viruses. (It is possible to get antiviral medicines, but generally they are used for very severe infections.) The vast majority of coughs, colds and tonsillitis are causes by viruses. Antibiotics won't help at all. So mostly children don't need antibiotics when they have coughs, colds and tonsillitis. (If they have 'bactierial tonsilitis' they will benefit from antibiotics.)

Finally, children who have asthma may be more affected by coughs and colds because it can trigger the asthma. If you are worried about your child's breathing when they have a cold, you should go and see your doctor. 

Quite a lot of information in one blog but I hope it has given you some insight into why children always have snotty noses.

Check out for more information on breathing problems and fever.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Children carrying heavy back packs causes back pain.

A recent study in Spain showed that children aged 12-17 were carrying backpacks to and from school that were so heavy that they caused the children back pain. Over 60% of the 1403 children studied were carrying bags that were over 10% of their body weight. The authors say that this could lead to back pathology.

This is surely not a new problem. I remember lugging heavy bags to and from school. In fact, some days it was school bag, sports kit, instrument, basket full of cooking stuff and huge folder of arts stuff. Anyhow, that was a very long time ago! It seems like things haven't changed much (and the poor Spanish children have to do the trip twice as many times as those in the UK as they have morning school and then afternoon school.)

Back pain is a huge problem. 80% of people will suffer from back pain at some stage of their life. (Having heavy children who need 'hoking' in and out of car seats and cots and who aren't quite up to walking in the right direction when required is definitely a source of back pain.)

I'm not quite sure what the answer is to this problem, but it does seem to me that we should be addressing it at an early age. Perhaps schools could add 'back education' to the sex education classes. Or perhaps we should exchange all those heavy school books for a sleek, light-weight iPad.

Here's a link to the article, but you'll need an athens password to access it. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

To share or not to share (a bedroom)

When we moved to Spain, nearly a year ago, my husband announced to me that our 2 young sons, then just 1 and 3 were going to share a room. I think my first response was "are you as mad as a goat?" (Spanish saying). We had recently spent a rather sleepless week in Spain, with them sharing a room, albeit a very small room. However, I could see my husband's point of view, the children's bedroom was very large and if they didn't share a room, one would have to take up the spare room and they wouldn't have much space as there is a large unmovable double bed in it.

So, they went into the same room with reasonably good results. Occasionally the oldest wakes up screaming and by the time I've hot-footed it downstairs, he has already woken up the youngest (who is the more 'fragile sleeper'). More often, the youngest wakes up. He is going through one of those 'phases' of waking up, apparently it won't last forever. In the meantime, he can cry for some time. (I keep meaning to dig out my ear plugs). If left in his own room, he will eventually wake up his older brother who surprisingly manages to sleep through quite a lot of crying. Normally, I put him in the travel cot in the spare room. The door in the spare room closes properly which means that his cries are muted somewhat. (I would happily have him in bed with us which is, I think, what he wants, but after about half an hour, he starts playing and singing and more to the point, I know it means he'll wake up again the next night.)

On the whole, I would say putting them in the same room has been a good move. They clearly like being in the same room together. Some times the little one cries because the oldest has already gone to sleep and he doesn't have anyone to amuse him. Last night one of them was blowing raspberries to the huge amusement of the other. They talk to each other and sing before going to sleep. And in the morning occasionally they entertain each other before I've made it downstairs. 

Soon perhaps they'll be making me breakfast in bed!