Outdoors

PLEASE DOCTOR, WHEN CAN I GO OUTSIDE?

My mother was convinced that, at the first sign of illness, I was to be sent immediately to my bed. Except for trips to the bathroom, I was not allowed to wander out until every vestige of illness was gone. Mom didn’t discriminate between a little sneeze and the high fever of the flu, sick was sick and my orders were to stay in my bedroom until I was once again healthy. I must admit that this was not entirely unpleasant. I had a break from school, dozed off whenever the mood struck me, and my father and mother waited on me hand and foot. It was my mother’s firm belief that going out when ill was to court disaster: bronchitis, pneumonia or worse. But she was wrong. Studies have not only failed to show any benefit from forced bed rest, they suggest that prolonged immobility can even interfere with healing.

Where in the world did you hear?

Newborns are fragile and shouldn’t be taken out of the house for several weeks.

Sound Advice

I recall one family who asked, during their baby’s 3-month checkup, if they could “start” taking walks in the neighborhood. Ouch! That family probably had a bad case of cabin fever. Most parents are not quite so timid but, let’s face it, there is no universally accepted “exit time” for babies. I’ve had some pediatricians tell me they advise parents to wait until the baby is two months old because they don’t want to deal with fever in young infants. So silly. Has no one told them that the concentration of germs is higher inside the house than outside? Don’t they know that for the first six months, babies rarely get ill, having “borrowed” adult antibodies from their mom before birth. There are no statistics to even suggest that taking babies outside or, heaven forbid, shopping has any relationship with illness or disease. Staying in the house for months or even weeks is a threat to the mental health of the parents, resulting in depression and resentment, a dreadful way to start a relationship with the baby. Using common sense, dressing the baby appropriately to avoid chilling or overheating, avoiding crowds, sick adults and children with mucus dripping from their noses is all that’s needed to justify an outing. With a healthy baby, the first outing is coming home from the hospital. Having survived that trip, there should be no restrictions. Want to get out? Don’t worry if it’s cold or hot or windy or rainy. Dress the baby for the weather and have a ball!

The Conclusion

There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that babies have to be cloistered at home for the first few weeks. They, and the parents, can experience the great outdoors whenever the urge occurs.

Where in the world did you hear?

All sick children have to rest in bed. They’ll only get worse if they run around.

Sound Advice

Now that’s really bad advice! It’s hard to accept, but resting in bed may prolong an illness and, in some cases, make things worse. Surgeons have known for decades that post-op patients who stay in bed develop all sorts of complications including blood clots and pneumonia. Unless a patient is comatose or in intensive care, early ambulation is enforced with a smile.

In the Armed Forces, volunteers infected purposely with cold and flu bugs were studied. Doctors provided some patients with a warm bed, while others donned work boots and performed strenuous chores in the cold and the wet outdoors. The results were surprising. Recovery took longer for the patients who stayed in bed! Are you sick? Get up and rake those leaves!

Naturally, being active while ill does not eliminate the need to take appropriate medicines, drink plenty of fluids and attempt to stay well nourished. Exertion to the point of exhaustion is not a good idea since even the immune system can get tired. Modest activity, on the other hand, helps the body to recover more quickly.

The Conclusion

Being ill does not require staying in bed unless fatigued. If your child feels energetic and wants to be up and around, let him play, he’ll probably recover more quickly.

Where in the world did you hear?

Don’t play in the rain. You’ll catch cold. And don’t you dare go out without your hat, you’ll get sick.

Sound Advice:

Not likely. You can’t get ill with a cold, flu or even pneumonia by exposure to the elements. All infectious illnesses are due to germs, not weather. Getting your feet or head wet might make you sneeze a few times due a phenomenon called vasomotor rhinitis, but it won’t bring germs into your body and it won’t lower your immune system. Unless you’re trapped in a snow storm for hours, lost at sea or have become hypothermic some other way, your immune system will work whether or not your feet are wet.

The Conclusion

Rain or snow, getting caught in foul weather might be a little uncomfortable, but it will not result in illness.

Where in the world did you hear?

Growing children should be protected from germs and dirt. Always keep your home meticulously clean, avoiding dust and animal hairs.

Sound Advice

Would you believe that the opposite appears to be true? At the risk of shocking the compulsive cleaners and animalphobes among us, it seems that infants benefit from exposure to dust, dirt and animal dander. It’s called the Hygiene Theory and there’s growing evidence that infants whose immune systems are exposed to dust and animal dander end up having less allergies, including eczema and asthma, and have a lower risk of autoimmune diseases such as MS later in life. Children who are brought up in large families and those who attend day care derive similar benefits. Who would have guessed that?

The Conclusion

Keeping children in a dust-free, socially isolated, animal-free environment may not be in their best interests. Loosen up, let a little dust accumulate in those corners, get a few pets and make sure your child has lots of contact with other kids.

Have any questions? Please contact Dr. Mesibov

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