Tips to Help Keep Your Children Healthy During the Winter

Little boy catching snowflakes on his tongue
Tatyana Tomsickova Photography / Getty Images

'Tis the season for runny noses, fevers, and germs everywhere: winter. As parents, we often dread the cold and snowy months. Whether it's a cold, the flu, RSV, strep throat, or COVID-19, it's usually the time of year when so many of our kiddos get sick. There are steps you can take to help your kids stay as healthy as possible through the winter.

General Winter Health Tips for All Children

Some germs will undoubtedly make their way into your home. It may be unavoidable. When it comes to winter health, there are some things you and your children can do to try your best to leave those germs behind and lessen the risk of getting sick. 

  • Encourage kids to avoid people who are obviously sick.
  • Get a yearly flu shot.
  • Stay updated with the latest COVID-19 boosters.
  • Minimize or avoid infections by not taking your newborn or younger infant out and around a lot of other people until he is older.
  • Take a reusable water bottle to school instead of using the school water fountain, which may become contaminated with germs, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Teach good handwashing techniques.
  • Teach your kids 'cough etiquette.' The American Academy of Pediatrics describes recommends teaching children to turn their heads and cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue or the inside of their elbow. Simply coughing or sneezing on their hands will then spread their germs onto everything they touch.

How to Handle Specific Medical Conditions

Unfortunately, washing your hands and getting a flu shot won't help you avoid other health problems that can be triggered by winter weather. You or your children may have conditions that are exacerbated during the winter months.

Asthma: Changes in the weather and cold weather often trigger asthma attacks, which makes it important to have refills of your asthma relief medicines (Albuterol, Proventil, Ventolin, Xopenex, etc.) ready for the winter. Have an asthma management plan ready in case your child starts coughing or having other symptoms of an asthma attack. If your child's asthma always gets worse during the winter, it might be a good time to start an asthma preventative medicine (Flovent, Qvar, Symbicort, Advair, etc.) too.

Chronic Coughing: Many kids have a cough during cold and flu season when they get sick. But if your child typically develops a chronic cough that lasts most of the winter, then ask their pediatrician if they might have asthma.

Dry Skin: A lack of humidity from the cold, dry air outside and the warm, dry air inside often leads kids to have itchy, dry skin during the winter. This can especially be a problem on a child's hands, which is made worse by frequent hand washing, and around his mouth (perioral dermatitis). Using a mild soap or soap substitute when your child bathes and then quickly applying a moisturizer for eczema within a few minutes can help to avoid and treat dry skin. You may have to reapply the moisturizer several times during the day though.

Eczema:  Kids with eczema often have red, itchy skin year-round, but it can be worse in the winter. Talk to your child's pediatrician if your usual eczema regimen isn't working during the winter. They can give you advice on treating hard-to-control eczema, especially if using a topical steroid and moisturizer isn't working to control your child's symptoms.

Nosebleeds: When caused by dry air, nosebleeds can be prevented by moisturizing your child's nose with saline spray or a nasal gel each day. Keep in mind kids can also get nosebleeds when they have colds, sinus infections, or allergies.

Winter Health Myth vs. Fact

Winter health myths are common. Although some may seem silly, they can actually be harmful.

Myth: Extra vitamins and minerals can keep your kids from getting sick in the winter

Some parents load their kids up with extra orange juice, vitamin C, and other vitamins that claim to boost their immunity. However, they likely won't keep your kids from catching colds and the flu during the winter.

Myth: Kids can catch a cold from playing out in the cold weather, especially if they don't wear a jacket or their hair gets wet.

Colds and the flu are caused by viruses, not by being outside in the cold. Of course, if your child is playing outside with someone who is sick with a cold, they may very well get sick too. Being underdressed in cold weather still isn't a good idea, though.

Myth: Kids can play outside as long as they want when it's cold.

Kids are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia, so have them come inside to warm up at regular intervals, especially if they start to feel cold or tired.

Myth: Kids need an antibiotic every time they have a runny nose, especially once the discharge is green or yellow.

This is perhaps one of the more dangerous winter health myths. It can lead to the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics aren't typically needed for most runny noses, as they are often caused by colds and other viruses.

Myth: You can get the flu from a flu shot.

The flu shot is made from a killed virus, so it can't cause the flu. The nasal spray flu vaccine is made from a live, attenuated virus. However, it also won't cause the flu. Still, it shouldn't be used for people with a weak immune system.

Myth: You can't get sunburn during the winter.

Although the sun's rays might not be as strong in the winter as they are in the summer, they can still cause sunburn. The sun can reflect off snow, so be sure to use sunscreen year-round.

Myth: Your kids can stop their allergy medicines during the winter.

Not all kids have seasonal allergies that are only triggered during the spring or fall. Some kids have year-round allergies, even during the winter. These children, who may be allergic to dust mites, mold, or pet dander, would likely do well to continue taking their allergy medicines during the winter.

Winter Health Safety

There are other safety issues to take into consideration during the winter months. When the weather gets cold, not only do you have to dress your children appropriately. But the furnace and fireplace go on, bringing in another set of issues. Don't skip over these tips for making your home safe for your kids, and yourself.

Install a carbon monoxide detector: Everyone should do this in general, but it's extra important if you use a fireplace or other non-electric heating source.

Test your home for radon: The winter months are the best time to do a radon test kit. Exposure to radon in the home is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. It can occur anywhere in the country. Children are at particular risk both due to time spent in the home, and their sensitivity to the cancer-causing effect of radon. This isn't usually something that we think about with pediatrics, but your children will thank you years down the line if you take time now to ensure their safety.

Weigh the pros and cons of using a humidifier: Many parents use a cool-mist humidifier during the winter to help kids with nosebleeds and dry skin. But those higher humidity levels can also increase the levels of dust mites and mold in your home, which can trigger allergies in susceptible people.

Keep your kids physically active during the winter: It is often too cold for outdoor sports unless you live in an area where you can play ice hockey or regularly go skiing or snowboarding. Kids can stay active in the winter by taking up an indoor sport, such as basketball, indoor soccer, indoor flag football, or volleyball.

Dress kids appropriately for the cold weather: You should typically add one extra layer to whatever an adult would wear to be comfortable. Kids should wear several layers of loose-fitting, light, tightly woven clothing under a heavy jacket to keep them warm when they are outside. Don't forget mittens or gloves, a hat, a scarf, and waterproof boots, especially if they are going to play in the snow.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.