Fact or Fiction: Cold Weather Makes You Sick

As cold weather arrives each year, many parents worry that their children may be at a higher risk for becoming ill. Worries are compounded as parents of toddlers and preschoolers struggle to convince children to keep hats, mittens, and jackets on their bodies while they’re outside. In addition, parents of school-age children and teens may fret about children who refuse to wear a coat or insist on wearing shorts in frigid temperatures. Are these concerns warranted? If so, what can parents do?

The Facts

A new study published by researchers at Northeastern University in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has determined that cold weather may, in fact, play a role in how likely you and your child are to succumb to sickness (Thomsen, 2022). However, this tendency may not really be due to exposed heads, arms, or legs. The researchers found that inhaling cool air (<40° Fahrenheit) through the nose in the winter season may impair the nose’s antiviral immune response function (Huang et al., 2022). This impairment makes individuals more susceptible to respiratory viruses such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), influenza, and the common cold. Therefore, ensuring that your child keeps their nose warm may be the battle you must win.

In cold temperatures, the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, which can lead to other serious health problems, such as frostbite and hypothermia. When temperatures fall below 0° Fahrenheit, areas of the body that are prone to frostbite – nose, ears, toes, cheeks, chin, and fingers – should remain covered in warm, dry clothing. Avoid spending time outdoors in temperatures or wind chills below -15° Fahrenheit (American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP], 2022).

Risks of frostbite and hypothermia may be prevented by limiting time spent outdoors in freezing temperatures; however, contracting respiratory illnesses may be more challenging to avoid. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; CDC, 2022), there have been at least 15 million illnesses in the United States during the 2022 cold and flu season. Consider taking the following precautions to lower your family’s chances of contracting respiratory infections this winter.

Ways to Protect Your Family from Illness This Winter

Dress the Part. Wearing layers when outside in cold weather can help prevent physiological conditions that can increase the chance of contracting viruses or more severe illnesses and cold-weather-related conditions. Appropriate outdoor clothing may include wearing layers of light, warm clothing and the following: windproof coats, mittens, hats, scarves, and waterproof boots.

Some children may need extra convincing to wear appropriate cold-weather attire. The Cleveland Clinic offers suggestions for parents of teens. Additional winter-safety tips to keep children warm are available from the AAP. Safety tips include using wearable blankets for infants during sleep time, ensuring children come indoors to “warm-up” during outside winter play, and dressing infants and children in layers rather than thick coats when traveling in vehicles.

Wash Hands Often. Germs are easily spread by handling or using community items (e.g., writing utensils, soap dispensers) and touching high-traffic surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, light switches) and, then, touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth. To help protect against the spread of germs, individuals should wash their hands regularly by scrubbing their hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water. Hand sanitizer can be used when soap and water are not available.

Get a Vaccine. According to the CDC, an annual flu vaccine may be the best way to protect against the seasonal flu (CDC, 2022). Receiving vaccinations can help your body repel infections and ease symptoms for those who do get vaccinated but still get sick with the flu. The CDC recommends that most people ages 6 months and older get a flu vaccine annually.

Get Outside. Viruses can spread more easily through dry air. This is due to fewer water molecules being available to interfere with the droplets expelled through a sneeze or cough (Northwestern Medicine, 2022). The air inside homes tends to be dry in the winter because of heating, and this condition can increase one’s likelihood of contracting a virus. Therefore, take the whole family outside, and get fresh air. Time spent outdoors may also help maintain Vitamin D levels, which is important for overall immune system health (Aranow, 2011). When preparing to go outdoors with your child, check wind chill temperatures because these temperatures reflect actual “feels like” temperatures, and dress yourself and your child appropriately.

Wear a Mask. Masks can help prevent respiratory droplets from reaching other people, which is one of the ways germs are spread. A mask or other face covering can also keep the nose warm, which may help the nose to maintain its germ-fighting ability when exposed to cold air.

More enjoyable winter seasons can happen with your child by taking the appropriate steps! You may be able to prevent you and your child from catching and spreading viruses or experiencing more severe cold-weather-related health conditions – remember, keep your noses warm!

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2022, January 13). Cold weather safety for children. Healthy Children.https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Cold-Weather-Safety.aspx

Aranow C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of Investigative Medicine, 59(6), 881-886.https://doi.org/10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, December 16). Weekly U.S. influenza surveillance report. FLUView. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm

Huang, D., Taha, M., Nocera, A., Workman, A., Amiji, M., & Bleier, B. (2022, December 6). Cold exposureimpairs extracellular vesicle swarm–mediated nasal antiviral immunity. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Advance online publication.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2022.09.037

Northwestern Medicine. (2022). Can winter make you sick?. Healthy Tips. https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/can-winter-make-you-sick

Thomsen, I. (2022, December 6). Northeastern researcher finds new way to prevent the common cold (and maybe Covid-19). News@Northeastern. https://news.northeastern.edu/2022/12/06/why-are-colds-more-common-in-winter/

Supporting the Behavior Change Process: Adding Motivational Interviewing and Values Clarification to your Facilitator Toolbox 

Calling all Professionals!

Join us for the first presentation in our Thrive Educational Series on January 17, 2023, led by Dr. Ryan Chesnut and Ms. Molly Burns from the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State.

Learning how to support parents and caregivers as they work to change behaviors is both rewarding and challenging! Join us as we explore the Transtheoretical Model of Change and unpack the foundational elements of two techniques that facilitators can incorporate into their current practices: Motivational Interviewing and Values Clarification. Learn how to help parents and caregivers grow as competent and capable agents of behavioral change. 

Date: January 17, 2023

Time: 12pmEST

*1-hour of APA Continuing Education Credit is available.

Registration link: https://psu.zoom.us/webinar/register/9016681111034/WN_gNAS5jYgT6yJz1h3Rp8Lxw

Advocating for Your Child

As a parent, there may be times when you may need to advocate on behalf of your child. Advocating for your child means that you work with other adults in your child’s life to ensure that they are getting the support they need. Cultivating strong and healthy attachments with your child helps you learn about and understand your child’s personality, strengths, and needs. Therefore, you are probably the best person to advocate for them when needed.

Advocating for your child can take place in different settings and with different people. It can be you letting your child’s doctor know that you are concerned about your child not meeting a developmental milestone, communicating your concerns to a teacher or counselor in your child’s school because your child is struggling with a specific subject, or speaking with your child’s coach or extracurricular advisor to ensure your child is fitting in with their peers. So, how do you actually advocate for your child? There are a few steps you can take to ensure you are ready and able to be there for them, regardless of the situation. Each step, listed below, includes a scenario that illustrates a situation and how you might handle that situation.

Identify the Question or Concern

What questions or concerns do you have? Recognizing and understanding what the question is, or what the issue is, can help you identify the individual, or individuals, you need to talk to. As you think about what the situation is, write down your thoughts and questions.

Let’s look at a scenario:

Your baby is generally happy, but you notice that, after they eat, they seem to be grumpy and cry until they spit up. You aren’t sure if this is developmentally normal for them, but it is a concern for you. The information you see online is conflicting, and, if you look on social media, you encounter horror stories about other babies.

How to identify the question or concern:

You start to write down when this happens and how often it happens. This information will be useful when you speak to your baby’s pediatrician either at their next well visit or when you call the office.

Connect with Your Circle of Support

Your Circle of Support should consist of people with whom you are comfortable and to whom you can turn when you have questions or need support. Your Circle can include family, friends, other parents, coworkers, or health care providers. This circle will change and grow over time!

Once you identify who is in your Circle of Support, consider whom you could talk to about your questions and concerns. Bouncing your ideas off of someone you already trust can help you feel comfortable going forward and speaking up about an issue or concern who have with your child. You may even have people in your life who have gone through similar situations.

Let’s look at a scenario:

When your child has homework from English class, they cry and/or avoid doing their homework. On the other hand, when they have math homework, they are happy and enthusiastic to do it. However, lately, you have noticed that your child’s math homework has expanded, and it includes more word problems. Your child is, now, starting to avoid doing that homework as well.

How to connect with your Circle of Support:

At this point, getting the homework done is becoming a struggle and has created a point of conflict for the entire family. You think about your Circle of Support and see that some of your friends have children around the same age, so you reach out to them and ask how their children are handling their homework. One of your friends had a similar issue with their eldest child, so you begin to chat and connect with them. Knowing that someone else is going through or has gone through the same challenge can provide you with reassurance and possible advice!

Identify and Connect with an Appropriate Contact

The next step is to figure out whom you need to contact, and, then, you need to reach out to this person or persons. You may need to use community resources, contact people in your Circle of Support, or connect with professionals at your child’s school or childcare facility to help you find the person who can best help you and your child. Contacting this person for their help may be uncomfortable for you, especially if you don’t know them. However, remember, it is okay for you to reach out, it is okay for you to ask questions, and it is okay for you to speak up for your child! In fact, it is vitally important that you do so!

Remember, your child is watching you as you speak up and advocate for them, so they are learning how to advocate for themself!

Try to approach the individual, who you feel can help you and your child, with an open and curious point of view. You should be ready to objectively listen to this person and their ideas. In using this approach, you will be able to better create the connection and foster mutual respect between you and the person you are connecting with. Establishing this relationship will help you and your child move forward. Professionals like doctors, teachers, and school support staff are there to help you and your child! By forming a positive connection and working together, everyone can help your child get the support they need.

Let’s look at a scenario:

After talking with some of the other adults in your child’s life, you have decided that you believe your child should have a developmental screening.

How to identify and connect with an appropriate contact:

You aren’t sure whom you should contact, so you speak with your child’s preschool teacher who directs you to a community program that does this type of screening. Although you are nervous, you connect with them, and, once you convey your concerns, they assign you to a case manager who will help you navigate the screening and any services your child may need.

Take Care of Yourself

These situations may create a lot of stress. Remember, take a deep breath, keep calm, know your limits, and make sure you acknowledge how you feel. Continue to use your Circle of Support as you navigate this challenging time.

Let’s look at a scenario:

After meeting with the school counselor about your child, who is having challenges interacting socially with children in their classroom, you feel stressed.

How to take care of yourself:

Before engaging with other adults regarding this challenge, you could take a few minutes to yourself and listen to your favorite music. Take some deep breaths to help you calm down and unwind. Hopefully, you begin to feel more relaxed and better able to process your thoughts and questions as you prepare to meet with the school counselor.
To learn more about mindful strategies to stay calm and take care of yourself, see Breathe to Thrive.

Know Your and Your Child’s Rights

If, for some reason, you aren’t getting the answers you need and still have questions about what rights your child or you may have, there are federal and state regulations and laws that cover you and your child. You can find your state’s Department of Education website here.

If your family is military affiliated, you and your child may have a unique set of circumstances that might be influencing your situation. Information about your rights and available resources can be found here.

If you or your child has a disability, information regarding civil rights and discrimination can be found here. Knowing what rights, you and your child have can help you navigate challenges and concerns, and you can still ensure your child receives the support they need.

You are in a position to be your child’s best and strongest advocate. Speaking up may feel uncomfortable at first; however, you are advocating for your child and showing your child that using your voice is necessary and important, and, consequently, your child will learn to use their voice for themself and those they care about!

References

Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. (2016). Breathe to thrive. Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. https://thrive.psu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Breathe-to-THRIVE.pdf

Department of Defense Education Activity. (2021, January 05). Parent resources. https://www.dodea.edu/parents/index.cfm

U.S. Department of Education. (2021, August 25). State contacts. https://www2.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html?src=ov

U.S. Department of Education. (2022, January 16). Protecting students overview. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/frontpage/pro-students/protectingstudents.html