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A parent’s guide to common winter ailments in children

Ear infection can develop very quickly, sometimes overnight. The infection can cause pain, itchiness and blockage in the ears. It is important to regularly check the child’s ears.

February 11, 2019 10:47:39 am
winter ailments kids Cold, cough and flu are common winter ailments. (Source: Getty Images)

By Dr Maninder Dhaliwal

Winters are a welcome break from the heat and perspiration of the summer months. However, the season also brings with it, a few health problems. Children, who often tend to fall sick during cold weather, are the most affected. Listed below are a few common winter ailments faced by children and ways to protect the little ones from these diseases.

Common cold and fever

A person’s ability to fight germs increases with age, so children get affected by common cold more frequently than adults. The symptoms include running nose, coughing, weakness, sniffing, body ache, headache, lack of taste and hunger. Common cold is caused by viruses which spread through direct contact such as touching, holding hands, sneezing and kissing or indirect contact such as touching an object which has previously been touched or coughed upon by an infected person. A good diet and regular hand washing help to protect the child from common cold attacks. Vitamin C rich food including oranges, amla, lemon, pineapples, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach should be consumed more during this time. Following simple cough etiquettes like sneezing or coughing into disposable tissues instead of a handkerchief to prevent spreading of germs and washing your hands after doing so can help prevent illnesses.


This is known as the seasonal ‘flu’ in colloquial terms and is caused by a viral infection and usually affects children between the months of November to February. It spreads by droplets from an infected person while sneezing or coughing. It can also spread by touching infected objects such as sharing water bottles or common towels with an infected person. It tends to linger for a week or sometimes even longer. It causes children to feel very sick and miserable with body aches, fatigue, headache, fever and chills. Other symptoms like cough, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, watery eyes, nausea, and vomiting are usually present. Annual vaccinations after the age of six months can offer some but not complete protection against flu. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to produce antibodies to protect against the disease, so it must be planned before winter commences. Children suffering from flu must be kept away from contact with other young children. They must not attend school and group activities till they are better, and the fever subsides.

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It generally affects children below the age of two. It is an infection caused by viruses which affects the smallest air passages in the lungs known as bronchioles. There is a lot of mucous production and swelling of the air passages leading to breathing problems. It spreads and can lead to other viral illnesses through contact. Washing hands regularly, covering the mouth with a mask in crowded places is helpful. In case the child faces difficulty in breathing, you should seek prompt healthcare evaluation.


This is a serious disease caused due to infection of lungs. The air sacs in the lungs get blocked with pus and fluids hindering the flow of oxygen into the bloodstream. Pneumonia is generally preceded by common cold/ flu. It can lead to fast breathing, cough and high-grade fever. Pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, intravenous or oral and respiratory therapy depending on the severity of the condition. Routine vaccination beginning from the age of two months offers immunity against many common germs which cause this dreadful disease.

Acute ear infection

Excessive cold weather can lead to an acute ear infection. The cold also creates dampness in the ear which make bacteria thrive. Ear infection can develop very quickly, sometimes overnight. The infection can cause pain, itchiness, and blockage in the ears. It is important to regularly check the child’s ears. In case of an infection, a doctor must be consulted immediately.

Viral Gastroenteritis

Also known as stomach flu, it is an infection of the gastrointestinal tract caused by consumption of contaminated food or water. The symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, flatulence, and mild fever. Since the infection is caused by contaminated eatables, the hands must be washed thoroughly before a meal to avoid germs from meeting the food. Once infected, the child should be kept hydrated with adequate fluids such as water, broth and ORS. Dairy products, foods rich in fiber, spices and oily food should be avoided. The child must have plenty of rest as it helps the body fight off the infection. If the urine is less in amount or frequency than usual, it is a warning sign indicating that the child is dehydrated.

Tonsil infection

This is caused when the tonsils, which are located on each side at the back of the throat, get infected. It can be caused by bacterial or viral infection. It causes irritation and pain in the throat and painful swallowing of food or liquids. Gargling with warm water daily with a pinch of salt can provide relief.

Allergies and asthma

In winters, pollution levels are often high (especially in cities) and this leads to aggravation of various allergies and asthma. Allergic sneezing and wheezing may increase in children who are predisposed. Staying indoors in clean environment and use of anti-pollution masks is advisable. A visit to an allergy specialist or pediatrician is usually required for medicines to control allergic responses of body to certain triggers which can be both infectious or non –infectious.

(The writer is Associate Director, Pediatric Intensive Care & Respiratory Medicine at Medanta – The Medicity.)

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