Monday, December 04, 2006

Cold and Flu Season: Five More Ways to Keep A Sick Family Member Comfortable

The best cure for colds and flu is prevention. So, it's wise to encourage healthy habits in your family. You may want to consider flu shots for those who are especially susceptible to flu complications, such as family members with asthma. But, even with preventative measures, most families will have to deal with colds or flu at some point.

1) If your family has frequent illnessess -- particularly sore throats -- have your indoor pets checked out by a vet. Pets often carry strep and other germs. Treating pets along with family members may break a cycle of sickness.

2) A book that I read from the turn of the twentieth century cites keeping the air fresh in a sick person's room as of primary importance. Some of the author's suggestions for how to accomplish this are out of date; we have different forms of heating and different methods of ventilation in today's homes. However, the principle remains: It's not good for either patient or caretaker to breathe the same germ-infested air over and over again. Also, fresh air is more soothing to the sick person than stale.

Some ways to keep the air pure in a sick person's room are to dust frequently, to change sheets and bedding often, to keep emptying wastebaskets full of used tissues, and to quickly clean a sick person's used glasses and dishes. Also, frequently wipe the bathroom that the sick person uses.

3) You can also experiment with opening the windows to air out the room of a sick person for ten minutes once a day. Unless the doctor objects, this can be done even in cool weather. Just be sure to keep the patient bundled-up and warm. Or, let the patient sit in another part of the house while you air out his or her bedroom. During the airing process, you can prevent cold air from entering the rest of the house by closing the door of the room. Obviously, allowing fresh air into a room is not a good idea if the person's illness was triggered by outdoor dust or pollens. Sometimes, asthmatics are greatly bothered by irritants that come into a home through an open window. Today's central air and heating systems do circulate the air and keep it from becoming as stale as rooms used to get in great-grandmother's day. So, airing a room with outside air is not as crucial as it used to be. If the fresh air is agreeable to the patient and ok with the doctor, however, it can be very soothing.

I love ceiling fans. However, they can be problematic for people with asthma, as they do sling dust around. Fans over beds also can push dust down onto a sleeping person. For that reason, some doctors advise that you take ceiling fans out of rooms where people with asthma sleep. If an asthmatic catches a cold or flu, they will be even more suspeptible to respiratory problems. So, it may not be wise to operate a celing fan when the person has a cold. You probably would not use a ceiling fan while a person is sick or feverish, anyway, as that would create a chilly draft. But, if for some reason, you should use a fan in patient's room, be sure to dust it first.

4) The busy wife and mother may feel selfish if she takes time out to care for her own health. However, if we allow ourselves to get too run-down, we will be more susceptible to colds and other ailments. Investing some time in our own health can benefit our families in the long run.

If you have been through a string of weeks when your children have passed a cold or other illness from one to the other, you are probably exhausted. As soon as the children are well, you may want to get some extra rest and some outdoor exercise to compensate.

5) The last thing a person in the first grip of flu's high fever wants to do is to attend to personal hygiene. This is where you can help. If necessary, you can wash and dry a patient's face and hands for them. You can do this with a damp wash cloth, or you can investigate the waterless cleaners I mentioned in yesterday's post. If you use towels and a blanket while you work, you can even manage to give a person a full sponge bath, while at the same time keeping him or her warm and protecting modesty. Also, try to change the person's clothing once a day. Again, you can use a blanket to warm the part of the body that is exposed as you change the person's garments piece by piece.

If the person is a girl or a woman with long hair, do what you can to keep the hair from matting as the person tosses in feverish sleep. You can try putting long tresses up on top of the head in a scrunchie or slipping an old-fashioned night cap on the patient to protect the hair. Also, silky pillow cases help prevent tangling. You can also try braiding the hair.

An old secret for cleaning the hair when a patient cannot get up and wash it is to sprinkle a bit of baby powder or cornstarch on the crown of the head, and then to brush the hair thoroughly. The powder absorbs excess oil and leaves a fresh scent in the hair. Of course, this method doesn't work as well as a shampooing. But, it can help a person feel and look fresher.

If the person is old enough to use mouthwash, bring them a cupful, along with a little basin. Let the person swish and spit. You can also bring someone a toothbrush with toothpaste on it, a cup of water, and a basin to spit in so that they can brush their teeth. Be sure that you purchase a new toothbrush for your patient when he or she gets well.

As the person feels a little better, ask him or her if they want to wash their own face and hands. When the patient is strong enough, he or she will enjoy a bath or shower. If a child has been sick with a fever for a few days, he may drag his feet at getting wet even after the fever breaks. Even a teen or adult may be very fatigued after a flu episode or a bad cold. Getting up and attending to self-care can seem like a daunting task to the person whose body is drained and whose spirits are tired from being sick. But, once the dreaded shower or bath is over, the patient will feel so much better. The more interest a person can take in keeping fresh and clean, the more comfortable he or she will feel while resting.

If someone's still wobbly after an illness, you may need to be near by in case the person gets light-headed in the bathroom. And, you may need to help the person get dry and warm after the bath. When it's time to wash the hair, be sure to dry it right away.

As little girls, teen girls, or even grown women recover from a bad cold or flu, they may enjoy having you brush their hair. They may also like it if you give them a manicure. (I'm personally not a fan of letting little girls wear nail polish at too young an age, but if you don't mind, it can be a treat.)

Note: Doctors can glean a lot of information about a person's health by looking at their finger and toe nails. The color of a person's nails can indicate if a person's blood is fully oxygenated. So, if you suspect that your patient might be heading for bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, or some other respiratory problem, use only clear polish or paint only the toes and not the fingers. Your doctor may want to check the nails if he has to make a diagnosis of new and worsening symptoms.

Unscented lotion is especially nice to have around. It can soothe the skin without triggering sneezing fits.



Mrs. U said...

Most helpful information, indeed!!! Thank you for sharing this!

Mrs. U

Elizabeth said...

Hope you and yours have a happy and healthy holiday season.