Germ factories: to avoid or not to avoid, that is the question…

The Wee Lad has been sick since Thursday. Just a cold, which started out as not much more than a sniffle. He seems more-or-less fine in the daytime – cheerful and playful as ever, if a little stuffy – but at night, getting to sleep and staying asleep is tricky for a little guy whose node id all stubbed ub! And then when he finally does get to sleep, he starts coughing. It’s a nasty, phlegmy cough now, which means it’s loosening up in his chest, but again, hard to sleep through. 

We don’t take extraordinary measures with a simple cold – just some Vicks vaporub (baby version) on the chest, and good ‘ol Hylands homeopathic Cold and Bronchial Cough remedies. We also run a vaporizer in the bedroom, and go in to comfort him whenever his coughing wakes him all the way up. 

And, much as we curse the germ factory that is our local drop-in play centre (where we spent last Tuesday morning, and where we suspect this latest bug was picked up), we don’t consciously keep him away from other kids, even in settings where we know he will probably contract some kind of illness. As difficult as it can be sometimes – both for him and for us – we also know that his childhood illnesses are actually strengthening his immune system.

That said, we DO take pains to keep sick kids home when they are coming down with something. And we warn other parents if we do find ourselves in public and suspect that a kid may be coming down sick. It seems only courteous. Wish more parents would do the same, or better yet, stay home when their kids are ill.

There is some debate as to how much we need to ‘sanitize’ our homes and our children in today’s world. The prevalence of anti-bacterial detergents and hand sanitizers in our everyday lives on on the shelves at the supermarket speaks to a growing demand (and increasing paranoia?) among consumers. These products, along with a greatly increased reliance on antibiotics for every illness, are thought to be major contributing factors to the rising number of ‘super-bugs’ out there – bacteria and viruses that are resistant to antibiotics. 

Obviously those of us with allergic children need to be vigilant of known – and suspected – allergens. But we also need to walk a tightrope between wrapping our kids in bubble wrap, and letting kids be kids. Much of the recent research indicates that it may actually be to our kids’ benefit to let ’em get a little dirty.

It is now being suggested that “Overcautiousness with sick children may be increasing allergies. An excerpt from this article:

 

About 55 percent of Americans report some sort of allergy, a percentage that has ticked upward over the years. In the last decade, food allergies in children, for example, have risen 18 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control, even as parents removed common allergens from their diets.

Some doctors blame a culture obsessed with hand sanitizers, antibiotics and antibacterials.

In the early ’90s, a few dozen household products contained antibacterials, but today, more than 700 are available, according to research from Tufts University.

And the National Association for the Education of Young Children – whose accreditation is considered the gold standard for day-care programs – mandates classroom sanitization and hand washing upward of 10 times a day.

But these restrictions may be doing more harm than good.

Studies have found that children who grew up on farms exposed to animals and plants had fewer allergies than those who did not. And a 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that children raised with dogs and cats have a significantly reduced risk of developing allergies – up to 50 percent in some cases.

In our case, there is a history of allergy in both of our families, obviously a big contributing factor to our son’s allergies. We were never big hand-sanitizer, antibacterial or antibiotic users, and our home was never ‘allergen-free’ before our son came along. It still isn’t, really. We live in the forest. We have cats. And cleanliness is as much of a priority as we can make it in our daily lives, but we don’t make a religion out of it.

We have taken some steps to eliminate allergens, or at least minimize their impact. We have eliminated detergents from our home, so far as that is possible, and use only natural soaps for all cleaning – dishwashing, all-purpose cleaners, hand soaps, shampoos, you name it. If it contains SLS (sodium laurel sulphate) or derivatives, we don’t buy it. This began when our son’s eczema was off-the-charts and we were looking for answers. It has continued because it helps his skin to stay clear and rash-free. We learned a lot about the properties of SLS from this site. It’s pretty intense in terms of content, but worth reading if you’re still chasing your tail trying to help a kid with serious eczema or asthma.

So now we have a couple of sick kids on our hands, because of course the boy passed his cold right along to his baby sister. We could be in for another rough night of it, but I’m hoping for a quiet one and a good night’s sleep for everyone. Hey – it could happen!

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