Top tips to boost your kid’s immune system
Make sure the young ones get quality sleep and regular exercise
Although it seems the coronavirus outbreak has not affected children and babies as much as it has adults and seniors, their immune systems need constant strengthening against viral infections.
Apart from staying home as part of the Covid-19 circuit breaker measures, experts advise some key ways to boost children's health naturally - without taking vitamins or supplements - before they return to schools and childcare centres next month.
Get your child quality sleep
Dr Lim Kwang Hsien, consultant paediatrician at Kinder Clinic at Mount Alvernia Medical Centre, said sleep deprivation appears to be linked to a decreased production of proteins called cytokines, which are important for the immune system.
Conversely, sufficient and uninterrupted sleep allows the adequate production of cytokines to help keep your child's immune system in optimum condition.
Children aged one to three years need 12 to 14 hours, those aged three to six need 10 to 12 hours and those aged seven to 12 need 10 to 11 hours.
Help them manage stress
Anxiety can often lead to disturbed sleep patterns and altered eating habits, said Dr Lim. This, in turn, translates to a lowered immune response. As most of the stresses in school-going children are related to homework or exams, help children manage their study load with these strategies:
- Plan a daily timetable with them
- Look at which extra activities to cut back on
- Teach them how to break big projects into smaller, more doable tasks
- Encourage them to speak up in class if they do not understand the lesson
- Remind them to take regular rest breaks while studying
Sometimes, they may experience social stress as a result of bullying or friendship issues, Dr Lim added. Encourage them to discuss their feelings if they are affected by these problems.
Make exercise a priority
Dr Lim said: "Like adults, kids who are active and get regular exercise generally tend to be fit and healthy. Exercise is thought to stimulate the production of cells involved in the immune system, as well as improve the body's cardiorespiratory function."
Help your little ones be more active by planning family bonding activities around outdoor exercises and encouraging them to take up a sport. Just remember not to push them to exercise when they are sick.
"It is a misconception that exercise promotes recovery during periods of severe illness," Dr Lim said.
"In fact, excessive exercise when a child is sick can have the opposite effect."
Encourage good hygiene habits
Germs around the house can be good and bad, said Dr Dawn Lim, a paediatrician at Kinder Clinic at Paragon.
Exposure can help the body "create" some memory of that particular germ, so children can fight it easily the next time they are exposed to it.
However, as their immunity is weaker, they are not only more prone to infections but may also suffer more severe symptoms when they do get infected.
To protect them, make sure they wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and especially before eating.
Wash and disinfect their toys regularly, and make sure all their play surfaces are clean. They should also avoid people who are obviously sick.
Keep vaccinations up to date
Vaccines work by imitating an infection, said Dr Chu Hui Ping, a specialist in paediatric medicine and consultant at Raffles Children Centre.
"A vaccine contains a killed or weakened part of a virus or bacterium that is responsible for infection. When a person is vaccinated, they do not fall sick because the virus or bacterium has already been killed or weakened; but their body reacts to the vaccine by producing antibodies specific to that virus or bacterium.
"In this way, these antibodies stay within the body, and when the person gets exposed to the same live virus or bacterium, the antibodies help to kill it before the person falls sick."
In addition to compulsory jabs, you can add optional ones like chickenpox to a child's vaccination schedule.
Minimise use of antibiotics
Asking for antibiotics when your child is ill will not boost his immunity against infectious diseases.
Antibiotics help only bacterial infections such as some ear infections, sinus infections or pneumonia, said Dr Barathi Rajendra, senior consultant from the general paediatrics service at the Department of Paediatrics at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.
Because of overuse of antibiotics over the years, bacteria are becoming increasingly drug- resistant and difficult to manage. Some strains are now resistant to almost every antibiotic available.
As antibiotics can weaken the immune system by killing good bacteria in the body, it is best not to push the doctor to prescribe an antibiotic treatment for your young ones when they are sick.
Antibiotics will not cure most colds, coughs, sore throats or runny noses anyway, since these conditions are due to viruses.
Your child can fight these infections on his their own, or the doctor can suggest over-the-counter remedies to help relieve the symptoms.
This article was first published in Young Parents (www.youngparents.com.sg).