Can Sick Kids Play Outdoors?

IMG_0331After a lovely weekend in Suffolk, we came back to real life with a crash on Monday, when Mr Techno got a call to pick Tom up from nursery. Poor little man had a temperature, was off his food and generally not his happy, bouncy self. Mr Techno had the day off anyway, so was able to pick him up and take him home for cuddles and naps.

By the time I got home from work, Tom was looking much better and his temperature was back down. He had a very flushed little cheek though and we’ve noticed his canines pushing through, so we guessed he was probably teething. He was fine first thing on Tuesday and ate his breakfast as normal, so we assumed all was well. I headed off to work, and Mr Techno took Tom for his first Nature Club session.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I had a text from Mr Techno telling me that Tom had been very grumpy at Nature Club and had then fallen asleep midway through the session. So either the teething was causing him more issues than we thought, or he is sick.

Straight off, I should say that we wouldn’t have taken him to Nature Club if we had thought he was actually sick, rather than just teething, as passing on germs to other babies is not exactly good behaviour. However, it has got me thinking about whether we should be keeping Tom inside if he is unwell. Logically speaking, I can’t actually see any reason why he should have to stay indoors – of course he should be kept warm, but if he is well wrapped up outdoors he’ll actually be warmer than he would be in our not-very-warm flat. Fair enough he may not feel like running around and will probably prefer to snuggle in the buggy, but do we really need to keep him in?

Like all responsible parents when faced with a medical question, I have turned to Dr Google for the answers. And come up with a bit of a blank, at least when it comes to an actual medical opinion. What I found instead was various forums and blog posts from parents who either advocate letting sick kids play outside, or who are horrified by the thought. So it seems we are left to trust our own common sense on this one, which is, quite frankly, terrifying.

First of all, I thought about how illnesses are caused. And since we no longer live in Victorian times, we are fairly clear that they are caused by viruses, bacterial or fungal infections, genetic issues, or autoimmune conditions. Not being out in cold weather. Having said that, I did wonder whether our immune systems might work less well when we are cold. A cursory search on Google Scholar didn’t turn up conclusive evidence either way – the best I could find was a study from the 1970s that seemed to indicate a reduced immune response in fish when the water is colder, but how applicable this is to humans is questionable. Lets just say that it is miserable to be ill and miserable to be cold, so ill people probably shouldn’t have to be cold if it can be avoided. Having said that, it is perfectly possible to be warm outdoors in winter, as long as you are suitably dressed.

Second, I looked into the claim that fresh air helps prevent sickness. According to this site, a Swedish study found that children who attended a forest school had 25% less sick days. I’ve seen this quoted before, but couldn’t find the original study (which is presumably in Swedish anyway). So I don’t know that this is true. A similar claim is made in this article from an actual academic journal, so there may well be truth to the claim.

Essentially, I could find nothing to say that being outdoors would make Tom worse, and a few things that indicated that being outdoors might help fight illness. So we will be continuing to get outdoors with Tom, although probably shorter trips, with the buggy to hand if he needs to curl up and sleep. We will, however, be keeping him away from the park and other places where he would be likely to infect other kids until he begins to get better. Because that is just good manners.

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