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Sick Season Salve: How to Keep Even the Busiest Families Healthy

Local experts share their best tips and favorite kid-friendly products to support busy families during cold and flu season

Published on: December 28, 2015

Photo credit: The Kinsa Smart Thermometer

About the series: The work/family juggle is one of the biggest challenges parents face. In our 2016 special series, Making It Work, we go beyond tired-out debates about “having it all” to explore big issues, real stories and inspiring solutions. Making It Work is sponsored in part by carefully selected partner organizations that are committed to supporting parents and familes. All editorial is developed and directed by ParentMap’s journalists. This wellness package is supported by Coordinated Care, a Tacoma-based health insurance plan that treats the whole person. For more, connect with us on online, and on Facebook and Twitter with #MakingItWork and #MakeItWorkMondays.

While January means that light grows longer by the day, wintertime means that colds and flus lurk everywhere. Illness can hit busy families hard, complicating schedules, sometimes requiring us to play musical-chair child care, and generally leaving everyone feeling blah. When germs come knocking, how do we keep ourselves and our children healthy without resorting to quarantine? And when illness takes hold, how do we soothe our families as effectively as possible? We’ve asked local experts for their best tips and favorite kid-friendly products to support even the busiest families during cold and flu season. We’ve also included products for adults that encourage calm, knowing less stress often means less illness. 

Diagnose the family with your own tech tools

The Kinsa Smart Thermometer heralds a new kind of care, because it may help doctors understand fevers in communities, says Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, executive director of Digital Health at Seattle Children’s Hospital. This may be the easiest thermometer you’ll ever use. Plug this stick into your smartphone’s headphone jack and launch its free app to log each family member’s symptoms. During the 10-second read time, kids can play a bubble-popping game on the screen. “Kinsa remembers temperature history, symptoms and medications, and provides expert medical guidance. As more people use Kinsa, they’ll be able to better understand the health of the community around them,” says Nita Nehru of Marketing and Community at Kinsa, speaking about Kinsa’s “groups” feature, whereby users are alerted to a potential outbreak in their area. $14.99.

The most common cause of pediatric visits entered the digital age with CellScope’s Oto. This iPhone otoscope — the device doctors uses to peek inside ears — enables you to take a video of your child’s ears when you suspect an infection, and then share it with a doctor. In December, CellScope launched Oto’s companion app, Seymour, which walks parents through taking an ear exam and extends the product’s capabilities into skin concerns. Seymour’s software enables parents to take high-quality images of their kids’ skin (bug bites, rashes, allergic reactions, etc.). Parents can share the images with one of CellScope’s board-certified doctors and get a personal assessment and recommendation plan in less than two hours, without the long wait in the germ-filled doctor’s office. $79, doctor assessment is $10 (first consult is free with purchase).

Photo credit: Spire

If Mama isn’t healthy, no one’s happy

Spire adds calm to the wearable tracker toolbox. Although it won’t place you by a river, this tracker looks like an oblong rock and clips onto your pants or bra. Until I wore a Spire, I had no idea my breathing never reaches a level of calm on some days. I wore Spire for four days before my app buzzed to let me know I had achieved calm (while having a post-playdate glass of wine and appetizers with neighbors). Luckily, I can practice breathing deeply with the app’s calm-boosting activity. Spire tracks rate of breath, cataloging activity (steps), focus (stress without anxiety) and calmness (slow and smooth). I’ve yet to explore Spire’s full data-crunching capabilities, but I’m glad to know I need to breathe more deeply more often than once every four days. $149.95.

Photo credit: WishGarden Herbal Remedies

Before buying the Headspace app, I was a theoretical meditator, practicing occasionally. A year later, I meditate almost daily to the soothing, British-accented voice of Andy Puddicombe. After practitioners finish Take 10, they choose from five series. I like that I can choose how long to meditate: 10, 15 or 20 minutes. I love that during each session, Puddicombe gives me factual information on that particular series. So far, I’ve learned about anxiety, stress, relationships and focus. Better yet: My tween, who has trouble falling asleep, falls asleep while listening to Headspace’s sleep meditation. Yearly membership is $7.99 per month.

Pharmaca nutritionist Acacia Wright, RD, CD, carries WishGarden Herbal Remedies’ Kick-Ass Immune Activator in her purse. “It’s great for first-line immune defense for parents and older kids, especially if you are traveling or when petri dishes of sickness are being passed out at school,” says Wright, lead practitioner and dietitian at Pharmaca’s Queen Anne store in Seattle. $19.99 for 2 fluid ounces.

Ear, nose, throat and more

Because cough medicine isn’t safe for children younger than age 6, Swanson recommends honey sticks (but be aware that honey is not safe for children younger than age 1). “Research shows honey can help with productive coughing,” she says. If you can’t find honey sticks, you’ll find local, raw honeys at PCC Natural Markets, says Nick Rose, MS, PCC’s nutrition educator. He recommends 1/2–1 teaspoon to soothe bouts of coughing, and says local, raw honey is the ideal choice as it’s also a known immune-system booster.

Build up your offspring’s immune system by tossing Garden of Life Raw Probiotics Kids powder into their daily smoothie, juice, milk or formula. “It has a blend of different fruits and vegetable, and contains 5 billion life cultures, which is incredible for boosting and supporting the immune system with natural antioxidants and phytonutrients,” Wright says. $28.30 for 3.4 ounces.

Treat pesky ear pain and potential ear infections with Herb Pharm Kids Ear Oil with mullein and garlic. “All of these herbs are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. The garlic helps to open up airways and relieve pressure from mucous buildup, and the mullein helps to heal damaged tissues,” says Wright. Available at Pharmaca, PCC and online ($13 for 1 ounce).

Photo credit: Herb Pharm

Herb Pharm Kids Immune Avenger contains a nice mix of herbs that support a variety of body symptoms, says Rose. “There’s echinacea and elderberry for immune support, thyme and hyssop to support the lungs, ginger and cinnamon to increase circulation and warm the body to help fight off the flu, and horseradish to clear the sinuses.” Available at PCC, Pharmaca and online ($13 for 1 ounce).

Is your family plagued by sinus woes? Make 2016 a year free of infections by adding Kid’s Xlear Xylitol and Saline Nasal Spray to your medicine cabinet. “This a safe and helpful way to prevent sinus infections and remove bacteria trapped in the nasal cavity that may cause colds, infections or runny noses,” Rose says. “This product has additional antibacterial properties from the addition of grapefruit seed extract, and the xylitol helps to moisturize in addition to cleaning out the sinus cavity.” Available online ($6.99 for .75 fluid ounce) or at PCC Natural Markets.The smell of eucalyptus brings comfort to mind. Maybe that’s because eucalyptus is the most effective aromatic herb for helping open up nasal passages for easier breathing. Rose recommends Puremedy’s Eucalyptus Chest Rub to ease cold and flu symptoms. Pine and elderflower are also in this soothing formula. Available at PCC or online ($15.95 for 1 ounce). 

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