Does The Weather Make My Child Sick? Separating Fact From Fiction.
“Make sure your hair is dry.
“Wear shoes outside.”
“Put on your hat.”
Does any of this really matter? Is any of it true?
Between well-meaning friends and family members and the wealth of websites devoted to health, parents are bombarded with tips and tricks to keep their kids healthy year round, but especially during the winter. This can make separating fact from fiction difficult.
Not all old wives’ tales are fictitious – some are grounded in truth. However, if you have questions or hear health advice that doesn’t make sense to you, always ask your children’s pediatrician before acting on the information or simply believing a statement is true.
Let’s take a look at the facts on these weather health myths.
Myth 1: Sudden changes in the weather make you sick
One day you are wearing shorts and the next day you are dragging out all of your winter gear. Welcome to Texas. So doe the fluctuating weather make you sick? In general terms, the answer is no. I know no matter how much science I use in my answer, many of you won't believe me. The truth is there's no scientific proof that changes in the weather will make you sick or keep you from getting better.
But as usual there are exceptions. The changes in the weather can be really hard on your child's skin. Moisturizing children's skin during the winter is important and that includes wearing protective lip balm. Also, make sure your child uses sunscreen when playing outside whether it's cold or hot outside.
The other concern would be kids with asthma. People have different triggers for their asthma. The most common ones tend to be weather changes, viral infections and exposure to certain allergens. Cold, dry air can cause bad flare-ups and viral infections are the most common trigger this time of year. Parents should stress to their children the importance of handwashing, especially this time of year.
Myth 2: If children go outside with wet hair or without shoes, they’ll get sick.
Many people believe that cold temperatures are responsible for the spike in illness that typically occurs during late fall and the winter months. People get sick in the winter because they spend more time in close proximity to one another, not because they’ve been exposed to cold weather.
The truth is it’s not really going to matter that much if your kids go outside without socks and shoes – except maybe if you don’t want dirty feet or if it’s extremely cold, your child runs the risk of frostbite.
It’s true we do see more colds, flu and flu-like viruses during the winter. Both the life cycle of common viruses and the fact that people are more likely to be clustered inside their homes and schools when it’s cold outside, which causes viruses to circulate, contribute to this increase.
Myth 3: People lose most of their body heat throughout their heads, so children should wear hats while playing outside in cold weather.
This tale originated in response to several studies conducted by the United States Army in the 1950s. Further research has since debunked this claim, but it’s true that your face, chest and head get colder faster when you’re exposed to winter weather.
Your face is particularly sensitive to the cold. If your children’s faces are cold while playing outside, they should wear warmer clothes. But colds come from germs – not cold temperatures – so children aren’t going to get sick if they don’t wear a hat.”
Myth 4: Feed a cold and starve a fever.
We’ve all heard this and probably most of us can’t even keep the saying straight. But there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that children should fast when running a fever. Children who are sick should eat when they feel up to it and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Even if children don’t feel hungry, we ask parents to encourage their kids to drink as many liquids as they can. I’ve also heard an old wives’ tale that says you shouldn’t drink milk if you’re running a fever, but milk works as well as other fluids when it comes to keeping kids hydrated. Other good choices include water, Pedialyte and Gatorade.
Myth 5: All fevers should be treated with medicine because high fevers are dangerous.
As parents, it’s only natural to rush to the medicine cabinet at the first sign of a high temperature, but fevers aren’t always a cause for concern. In fact, they help your child’s body fight infection. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children’s demeanors are often better indicators of illness severity than the numbers on the thermometer. If children aren’t fussy or complaining of feeling badly, there’s no need to treat a fever unless their doctor says otherwise.
Myth 6: You can’t prevent your child from catching a cold.
While there’s no cure for the common cold, you can take steps that will reduce your child’s risk. In this case, grandma is right. These are the same steps she told you. Wash your hands after you sneeze. Wash your hands after you blow your nose. Wash your hands after you eat. See a theme? Children should sneeze into the crook of their elbow and not their hands. They should blow their nose to get rid of the mucus. For children too young to blow their noses, parents should use a blue bulb syringe and drain the child’s nose with salines. If a cold lasts longer than a week, bring your child in to see his or her pediatrician. It could possibly be a sign of acute sinusitis and may need to be treated differently than the common cold.
Don’t buy into the weather myths. Here are some tips for preventing health issues:
- Help your child eat healthy and get good sleep.
- Get your child up and active in some way every day.
- Teach your child to wash their hand and cover their coughs.
- Get your child a flu shot (it’s still not too late).
Get to know Justin Smith, M.D.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician in Trophy Club and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Smith is an experienced keynote speaker for a variety of topics including pediatric/parenting topics, healthcare social media and physician leadership. If you are interested in having Dr. Smith present to your conference or meeting, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's checkupnewsroom.com. He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” open now. Click here to make an appointment, call 817-347-8100.