Why is my child sick all the time? This is a question many of us at Integra are being asked by families.
We certainly see lots of poorly children each year. This includes many catching one illness on the tail end of the last. To a certain extent, this is a normal part of childhood. A ‘healthy’ child will have 8 to 10 infections per year. When you consider that many of these will last for 7-10 days or so, it can easily feel like they are always ill.
Hard as it is as a parent to see your child feeling unwell, it getting sick frequently is a necessary process for them to go through to strengthen their immune system. Meeting and fighting different infections allow children to develop an immune response and protect themselves against becoming unwell next time they meet the same bug or pathogen (bacteria or virus). This is called immune memory.
Now that you know childhood illness is part of nature’s way to help development, let’s explore what you can do to prepare the immune system; tips on caring for sick children; and the impact COVID has had on illness.
Supporting Your Child's Immune System
Keeping your immune system in top shape is essential for overall health. Here are some concise strategies to ensure year-round well-being for your children:
- Vaccinations: Ensure your child is up-to-date on all essential vaccines, including the yearly flu shot, recommended for individuals aged six months and older. An immunization programme is a very important part of developing immune memory by exposing children to pathogens without causing the full effects of the illness but priming the immune system in case those pathogens are encountered in the future.
- Nutrient-Rich Diet: Provide a balanced diet consisting of plenty of fruits and vegetables (aim for five servings a day, filling half of each meal plate), whole grains, lean proteins, dairy or calcium-rich alternatives, and healthy fats like vegetable oils.
- Avoid Processed Foods: Steer clear of processed foods, foods laden with added sugars, and unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats found in animal products. While occasional treats are fine, moderation is key for your child's health.
- Consider Supplements: While some supplements claim to boost the immune system, they should not replace a healthy diet. If your child has dietary restrictions, consult your doctor about the need for specific vitamin.
- Prioritize Sleep: Adequate sleep is crucial for rejuvenating the body. The amount of sleep required varies by age, so establish a regular sleep schedule and limit screen time, especially before bedtime.
- Stay Active: Encourage at least one hour of daily physical activity, which can include playground play, walks, or sports. Be cautious not to overburden your child with excessive exercise, as it may affect sleep and immune health.
- Manage Stress: Reduce stress in your child's life by allowing for playtime, engaging in family activities, and providing a safe space for them to express their concerns. Seek medical advice if you notice any signs of emotional distress.
- Basic Precautions: Practice good hygiene by washing hands regularly, covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow, and avoiding contact with sick individuals, especially in crowded indoor settings. Masks can provide added protection.
- Special Considerations: If your child has underlying health issues that may compromise their ability to fight infections, consult your doctor for tailored precautions.
- By following these guidelines, you can support your child's immune memory function and promote their overall health.
The impact of Covid-19 lockdown measures
Children across the world have had periods of social isolation during lockdown measures and many parents appreciated the ‘illness-free’ periods that were seen as a result. However, children were not exposed to the common illnesses that they should have met. Consequently, their immune systems are less strong. Now that the world is trying to live with Covid and carry on, children are back at school and childcare settings and are encountering the usual childhood illnesses but with no immune memory.
In some cases, delayed immunisations for various reasons related to the pandemic or due to parental choices, contribute to this problem. Our children have an ‘immunity debt’ as described by several scientists.
Across the world, different patterns of respiratory infections have been noted, including RSV (Respiratory Syncitial Virus) and adenovirus- with these infections being seen ‘out of season’ affecting many children significantly. It has been suggested that the ‘immunity debt’ seen in children may have contributed to the much rarer complication of adenovirus infection – hepatitis – seeing an outbreak of cases worldwide but particularly in the UK over recent months. This is still under investigation as not fully understood.
How to manage your child's illness ?
Every time your child fights an infection, they are in fact developing their immune memory. Therefore, this will help them in the long run. Most childhood infections are viral which means that antibiotics are not needed or effective. Viruses can still make children feel very poorly and cause some impressive fevers. However, this is a sign of the body doing what it should and fighting the infection.
You can support this process by making sure your child is:
- Drinking enough fluid
- Passing urine regularly
- Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring fevers down down.
- Up to date with their immunisations.
Doing this helps them to develop their immune memory and protect them from more serious infections. We know how worrying it is when your child is unwell, we have all been there ourselves as parents.
We are always happy to see your child and advise, even if it is just to reassure you and ask you to keep doing what you’re doing at home. The good news is, as children get older their immune systems will be a lot more robust once their immune memory has been built.
Want specific guidance or help? Book an appointment with a pediatrician.