10 tips to strengthen children's immune defenses

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In this article

  • Delaying entry to nursery or school if possible
  • Do not force recovery times
  • Open windows
  • Sleep and eat well
  • Wash your hands often
  • Be outside
  • Yes to vitamins (without DIY)
  • Evaluate probiotics or immunostimulants
  • Beware of herbal products
  • Beware of antibiotics


It often happens: the child goes to the nursery or to the maternal and throughout the cold season it is a long sequence of diseases, from colds to coughs, from sore throats to earaches, perhaps with a more or less high fever.

"The first thing to do is don't be too alarmed"advises the pediatrician Marzia Duse, president of the Del Paesena Society of pediatric allergology and immunology." In the vast majority of cases, these recurrent infections are physiological, in the sense that they are linked to a normal maturation process of the immune system. "What is certain is that, with today's frenetic pace, a child who is always sick can be difficult for the family to manage, and it is normal to wonder if something can be done for strengthen its immune defenses. "The answer is yes: there are some useful strategies", reassures Duse. Let's see what it's about.

Read also: Fever in children: what to do when they get burned

1. Whenever possible, delay entry to the nursery or kindergarten

Especially in the nursery, community life - in classrooms which, in winter and with the windows closed, become a aerosol of microbes - represents a strong stress for an immune system still in formation.

On the one hand, exposure to microbes helps them mature. On the other hand, however, it may be a problem if the maturation process is still behind. "Some children, even very young ones, still react well to the nursery and get little sick, while others get sick more. For the latter, if possible, you can try to keep them at home a little longer"says the pediatrician. Which does not mean abandoning the idea of ​​the nursery forever, but proceed step by step. "If you see that your little one is jumping from one disease to another, you can try to keep him at home for a couple of months and then see what happens by sending him back to kindergarten. stay home a little longer ".

Don't worry, the process doesn't last indefinitely. "Even the most frail children, in the last years of kindergarten or at the beginning of elementary school they stabilize and they begin to get sick much more rarely "reassures Duse. 

Read also: Seasonal ailments and children

2. Do not force the times of convalescence

It's true: he coughs a little less, the fever has subsided, his nose has stopped running, but in fact the baby is not completely healed. So, better to keep it at home an extra day or two, otherwise you risk encouraging relapses.

"If he hasn't fully recovered, he ends up getting sick again because the immune system is still weakened," she said. The result is those cycles well known to many parents: two days at school, two weeks at home and so on ...


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Cold, cough, sore throat, earache and fever. Or vomiting and diarrhea. During the winter, children often get sick from influenza and non-influenza viruses. In most ...

3. Open the windows!

"City smog and exposure to secondhand smoke, in addition to the fact that the mother smoked during pregnancy, they are known risk factors for recurrent infections "explains Alberto Villani, head of the department of general pediatrics and infectious diseases at the Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital in the city.

This is why not only should you not smoke at home, but you must also remember to ventilate the rooms often. In short, remember to change the air in the rooms often!

4. Watch out for sleep and nutrition

"Sleep and nutrition also play their part" underlines Villani. The child must sleep a certain number of hours - at least 10-12 hours between 3 and 5 years, even more if he is younger - and must eat well, following a varied and balanced diet: two measures that reinforce it in general and therefore also on the immune front.

A healthy diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, guarantees a good one intake of vitamin C, which is important for the prevention of infections. By the way: a healthy diet with a preventive effect starts from birth: it is in fact proven that exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months reduces the risk of recurrent infections in babies.

Read also: Children's sleep, what to do if they don't sleep well

5. Wash your hands often

Colds, Fevers, Flu: The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes it clear that washing your hands often helps keep them away, and also applies to children.

How? It's simple: wet them, distribute the soap well on the back, palm and spaces between the fingers, rub and rinse. And beware: no antibacterial detergents are needed, common soaps are fine.

5 tips to teach children to wash their hands well

From the American Disease Control and Prevention Centers (CDCs), here are five tips for children to always keep in mind to wash their hands properly:

  1. WET hands with clean running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and take the soap.
  2. SOAP hands rubbing them together with soap. Lather the back, between the fingers and even the nails.
  3. SCRUB hands for at least 20 seconds. How to find the right time? Hum the song "happy birthday to you" in your mind, from start to finish twice.
  4. RINSE hands in clean, running water.
  5. DRY hands with a clean towel or air dryer.  

6. Life in the open air

Of course you have to take it in moderation and with the right precautions, but a little sun is always good, because it helps to fix vitamin D, which according to various studies is very important in preventing infections. But be careful: even living in the open air it is not certain that you can reach a good dose of vitamin D, especially in the winter months and in less sunny regions. In these cases, the pediatrician may recommend a supplement.

Read also: Why they have to be outdoors even if it's cold or the weather isn't nice

7. Yes to vitamins (with medical supervision)

Vitamin C and Vitamin D they are important for the prevention of infections, and children are often deficient. For this, it can be useful to take them as supplements, but always on medical prescription. "We must avoid doing it yourself, because there is always the possibility of overdoing the doses, and overdose can lead to intoxication" Duse specifies.

To learn more:

  • children and vitamin D
  • children and vitamins

8. Evaluate the desirability of a probiotic or an immunomodulator

Obviously this is an evaluation that is up to the doctor, but it is one more possibility. Indeed, in recent years the results of some studies have suggested the usefulness of some substances for strengthening the immune defenses of children.

On the one hand, these are probiotics, "good germs", effective in particular against intestinal infections, and on the other, the so-called immunomodulatory or immunostimolant, substances of bacterial origin - for example pidotimod, one of the most widespread - or products by chemical synthesis that have a more general action, also valid against respiratory infections. "Immonomodulants - but it also applies to probiotics - work by stimulating a particular type of immune reaction, which is called innate and is non-specific" clarifies Duse. In practice, they boost the immune system's ability to be alarmed if a bad germ arrives, and to react accordingly.

Immunomodulators have given excellent results in studies conducted in vitro and on animal models, while clinical studies conducted on children are more discordant: in some cases they seem very effective, in others substantially useless. For this reason, not all doctors agree in recommending them. "Indeed, studying how they work in vivo is not easy, but the most recent data looks encouraging," Duse points out.

Typically, these products are prescribed in cycles for the critical season: duration and frequency of cycles vary from product to product. "But be careful, don't expect miracles"warns the immunologist. Meanwhile, they don't necessarily work for everyone, and even when they work, they often limit themselves to mitigate the problem, not to make it disappear. "It means that maybe they avoid an infection in 10 to the child, or they reduce the duration of the illness by a day or two." Better than nothing - considering that they have no contraindications - but precisely not a miracle.

Health starts with the mouth

We certainly cannot say that the regular intake of probiotics protects us from any type of infection or that it is able to protect the entire immune system, but it is good to know that a microbiota rich in "good" bacteria he's able to effectively counteract the entry of "bad" bacteria. This is even more true if we talk about the oral microbiota, the first real line of defense against pathogenic viruses and bacteria.

If the oral microbiota of the child (but also the adult) is in balance, it will be more difficult for pathogenic viruses and bacteria to cause infections such as pharyngitis and tonsillitis. This is confirmed by some recent scientific studies that have investigated the relationship between the intake of probiotics and the frequency of respiratory infections in children. The integration with probiotics, in particular with some specific strains such as Streptococcus salivarius K12, reduces the frequency of streptococcal (and non) streptococcal pharyngo-tonsillar infections and thus allows the need to avoid, whenever possible, the use of antibiotics.

9. Beware of herbal products

Even for some herbal products - in particular echinacea, perhaps in association with vitamin C - the scientific literature suggests minimal utility. Even in this case, however, the advice is to don't rely on DIY, by randomly purchasing some product from a herbalist's shop or supermarket.

"The herbs they work and are not toxic when taken at particular dosages, but it must be a doctor expert in phytotherapy to prescribe them and it is he who must be contacted to use them "concludes Duse.

Watch out for antibiotics

Certainly one thing not to do if the child undergoes recurrent infections is to stuff him a priori with antibiotics: some doctors still do it, both independently and responding to the pressure of the parents, but before administering these drugs one should be sure that they really are needed.

"Most of the infections that affect children in the first years of life are from viral origin, and antibiotics are not needed "explains Marzia Duse." If there is an infection in progress, the little one must certainly be kept under control, but it must also be remembered that generally these are not dangerous infections, while the phenomenon is certainly dangerous. , more and more widespread, of the antibiotic resistance. Facilitated precisely by excessive and non-targeted administration, it risks leaving us without weapons to fight diseases that can really be important ".

Read also: When to give antibiotics to children

  • 1-2 children years
  • 3-5 children years
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