Are you back at home caring for your sick child? If your child seems to be sick every two weeks since starting childcare or school, you’re not alone.
We talked with a senior consultant, Dr Cassandra Loo, from the Department Of Internal Medicine at Raffles Hospital, about why it feels like your child is getting sick every other week and got answers to other common questions such as how to boost their immunity.
How often is too often for a child to catch a cold?
In Dr Loo’s view, we can divide children under the age of 7 into two groups: those younger than two and those between two and seven.
Children two years of age and younger have an immune system like an empty whiteboard. As they grow and contact different people with different germs, they will accumulate immune memory of those germs.
“The reality is that it is common for babies and toddlers to have eight to 10 colds a year when the immunity they received from their mum starts to fade,” says Dr Neil Ginsberg, a paediatrician with the Sydney Adventist Hospital.
“This number will reduce as their immunity builds. However, with more than 100 different cold viruses, this may take some time,” he continues.
Dr Loo says that most children will have built up a decent armoury inside their immune system to cope with most common colds by the age of two. Unless they have been very sheltered, children should not be catching a cold more than once a year by this age.
Dr Loo offers a few considerations if your child is sick more frequently:
- Is it environmental? Check with their childcare or school to determine if it is just a bug being passed around.
- How much are sleep is your child getting? Are they sleeping the appropriate number of hours for their weight and age group because sleep and rest are essential for the immune system to work at optimal levels.
- Examine their nutrition. What are your children eating and drinking?
How to boost a child’s immune system?
You can also do some things to help boost your child’s immune system to stay fighting fit and keep flu and cold symptoms at bay. Dr Loo shares four simple suggestions.
- Eat meals at similar timings every day and cut out snacks between meals. This fosters regularity in the body’s biorhythm. As Dr Loo puts it, we can think of our bodies as machines. Whenever we overload our gut with food and never allow it to rest, we are more likely to become sick.
- Have at least three food colours at every meal, besides beige and brown. These can come from vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains. Colourful plant chemicals — such as carotenoids, phytochemicals and flavonoids — contain antioxidants that can strengthen your immune system, protect your body’s cells from disease-causing free radicals and may prevent some types of cancer or heart disease.
The ideal is to eat a rainbow of colours every day, but Dr Loo admits it’s hard to achieve that at every meal. She recommends thinking of one green and then getting creative with the other two colours.
3. Choose fresh, whole fruit over processed fruit. This includes dried fruit or juices. Dr Loo’s trick is to freeze fruits such as blueberries and bananas and then blend them to make ice cream substitutes. Also, contrary to popular belief, there are non-citrus sources of vitamin C found in many fruits and vegetables.
Text “Vit C” to +65 9868 0004 to get a list of fruits found in Singapore high in Vitamin C.
4. Avoid processed foods that contain sugar or corn syrup in the first three ingredients.
Are there any foods to avoid when falling sick?
When someone starts feeling an itch in their throat in Dr Loo’s home, the whole family goes on an “anti-sickness campaign”. Here are the steps they take:
- Remove food and beverages high in sugars, such as desserts, sweets, and even fruit juices. Think of white blood cells as your immunity cells. In a sense, they are always at war. They flow through your bloodstream to fight viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders that threaten your health. When your body is in distress and a particular area is under attack, white blood cells rush in to help destroy the harmful substance and prevent illness. However, if sugar is present in our bloodstream, our white blood cells become sluggish, and their capacity to fight infection is weakened.
- Consume more water instead of sugary drinks. Water allows your kidneys to remove toxins from your body. It allows your cells to take in nutrients, and it also allows them to expel waste products. If you don’t drink enough water, toxins will build up, weakening your immune system. Drinking plenty of water ensures that our white blood cells can travel swiftly throughout the body to fight disease.
- Avoid super sweet fruits. When fighting a cold, Dr Loo advises against consuming very sweet fruit, such as durian, watermelon, mangoes, and grapes. While they contain immunity-boosting vitamins and minerals, their higher sugar content can impede the body’s ability to fight off the infection.
Dr Loo’s metaphor is that medicine is like plaster applied to a hole, but the hole needs to heal. By having the right building blocks, we would never have a hole in the first place. In her opinion, food can be our medicine since we must eat anyway. So, use food as medicine instead of taking medications like food.
Dr Cassandra Loo received her medical degree from Loma Linda University in California, USA in 1999. She completed a residency programme in Internal Medicine at the same university in 2002. During her training, she developed her distinctive “Whole Person Care” philosophy which embodies not just the physical, but, the emotional and spiritual, too.