Does Your Child Have a Weak Immune System? Here Are Ways to Lower Their Risk of Infection

Schools will reopen fully in Malaysia soon. COVID-19 prevention steps can help their immune system resist a possible infection.

Schoolgirl scanning her body temperature with a thermal scanner

The world is starting to adapt COVID-19 prevention steps as part of daily living, especially since we have to live with the virus as an endemic, and not a pandemic as was previously declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). In Malaysia, schools have started to welcome students back in the new year. 

This is a refreshing change for many young children, but COVID-19 safe management steps still need to be taken to avoid infection, especially for those with weak immune systems. This is because certain children have an immune system that makes them more susceptible to disease than others. Most children have also not received the COVID-19 vaccinations yet. 

Here are the notable causes of a weak immune system, and five steps you can take to lower your child’s risk of contracting COVID-19 as the schools in Malaysia reopen. 

A girl sitting up in her bed as she sneezes into a handkerchief
Compromised immunity since birth can increase a child’s risk of having a weak immune system.

The Causes and Symptoms of a Weak Immune System 

In Western medicine, there are several reasons why your child has a weak immune system. The first is a primary immune deficiency. This describes a child having compromised immunity since birth mostly due to a defect in the genes. 

Second, they may develop a disease or infection that weakens their immune system. This is called acquired immune deficiency. In addition, an allergic reaction might also weaken their immune system by turning it hyperactive. An autoimmune disease, meanwhile, will cause the immune system to mistakenly attack a child’s own bodily cells. That will expose them to viral and bacterial infections.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) states that a child’s body constitution relates directly to congenital and acquired factors. “Children with a good body constitution are less likely to get sick. In addition, proper health care after birth is also very important.

Other than diet, daily living habits play a huge role in children’s healthy growth and development”, explains Eu Yan Sang Traditional Chinese Medicine Physician Tiang Sack Sing.

A child eating a piece of carrot
A weak immune system can make a child prone to viral and bacterial infections.

6 COVID-19 Prevention Steps You Can Implement at Home 

Taking steps to keep your child’s immune system strong can help protect them and the people they come into close contact with — including yourself — from coming down with COVID-19 or any flu virus. 

Go to sleep and wake up at the same time daily 

Sleep can help to rejuvenate our bodies. Nocturnal, deep sleep, in particular, promotes the release of growth hormones when the anti-inflammatory actions of cortisol and catecholamines — adrenaline, noradrenaline dopamine — are at their lowest levels. 

Hence, ensuring your child gets enough sleep every day will help to boost their immune system against potential infections. The recommended sleep duration for children aged 5 to 6 years is 9-11 hours, and 6 to 12 years 9-12 hours a day. 

Encourage regular physical activity in children 

Children’s exercises have been found to demonstrate numerous positive health benefits. It can advance motor skills development, reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors, and aid the achievement of a healthy body composition. It can also improve lung function whilst fortifying the child’s defence against inflammatory diseases.

Use acupressure  

Stimulating the Zusanli (ST36) acupoint on your child’s body for 5-10 minutes every day can make their immune system stronger. Specifically, applying pressure to the acupoint eliminates pathogens, nourishes qi, enhances disease resistance, and regulates the Spleen and Stomach, as well as the body’s immunity. 

This acupoint is located on the anterior, outer side of the calf, about four-fingers wide below the kneecap of the outer side of the leg, one finger-wide from the outer part of the shin bone and above the tibialis anterior muscle. 

Give your child health supplements  

Supplementing your child’s diet with probiotics, manuka honey and Brazilian green propolis generally help to maintain their immune system. In like manner, the consumption of different soups can strengthen your child’s body constitution and enhance their immunity; that can also act as COVID-19 prevention.

Physician Tiang suggests, “Boil some Chinese herbal soups that invigorate qi and the Spleen, such as Ning Shen Calming Herbal Soup, Superior Nurturing Herbal Soup, Four Herbs Soup, and Cordyceps Flower Soup.

All of these contain codonopsis, astragalus (huang qi, 黃芪), jujube (zao, 枣), Chinese yam (shan yao, 山药) , Poria (fu ling, 猪苓), Cordyceps (chong cao, 虫草 ), and lotus seeds (lian zi,莲子). Kids with more severe nasal allergies can consume a mixture of cordyceps and American ginseng powder. Take a small amount every day to increase lung capacity, improve overall health, and enhance immunity.” 

Introduce your child to a healthy yet moderate diet 

Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamin C, which can promote better wound healing and suppress infections. An antioxidant, vitamin C can also calm inflammation and neutralise free radicals in the body, also acting as COVID-19 prevention.

Plant-based and fermented foods are also a rich sources of gut bacteria. This bacterium is especially beneficial for preventing illness by inhibiting microorganisms from entering the body through the gut. Using spices like cinnamon, oregano and cloves when cooking can also provide your child with an adequate intake of folate, iron, selenium and zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12. 

In Chinese Medicine, a poor diet may impair Spleen and stomach function and weaken the immune system. As such, it’s recommended for parents to feed their children foods that regulate both organ systems.

The “Five Cereals” refer to grains — cereals and beans — which are sweet-tasting and neutral in nature, and therefore capable of invigorating the Spleen and Stomach. These grains are Adzuki, black beans, mung beans, soybeans, corn, glutinous rice and Job’s tears.

However, a child shouldn’t overeat, as this can lead to gastrointestinal stagnation and make a child susceptible to fever. Excessive consumption of cold, raw foods and iced beverages will also deplete the body’s qi, thus causing the body to become weak. 

Practice basic precautionary measures 

Keeping a minimum distance of three feet from other people is difficult in a school setting. However, children can still adhere to basic respiratory and hand-washing etiquette.

An example of this is learning how to wear protective masks properly. This starts with remembering to wash their hands before putting a mask on and after they touch any items or surfaces. It’s also crucial for children to wash their hands before and after taking off a mask. 

Once they’ve taken off their masks, they should store them in a clean plastic bag. They need to wash their fabric mask daily but dispose of the medical ones immediately after use. Also, refrain from providing your children masks with valves as these enable unfiltered breath to escape. 

These COVID-19 prevention steps are not a replacement for the vaccine. Though, practicing them from an early age will help to protect your child against infection. Especially when going back to school, despite the prevalence of Category 1 and 2 cases in Malaysia. 

If you wish to incorporate Chinese medicinal formulas and therapies to support immune system function, do speak to both a clinical physician and a TCM physician beforehand. In doing so, you’ll be able to identify if adjunctive preventive measures are suitable for your child, or contrarily trigger adverse effects.

References

  1. Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Immune System Disorders. [Accessed 10 December 2021] 
  2. US National Library of Medicine. 2012. Sleep and immune function. [Accessed 10 December 2021] 
  3. US National Library of Medicine. 2021. Association between Compliance with Movement Behavior Guidelines and Obesity among Malaysian Preschoolers. [Accessed 10 December 2021] 
  4. COMPREHENSIVE SLEEP CARE CENTER. 2020. KIDS, SLEEP AND COVID-19 
    BOOST YOUR CHILD’S IMMUNE SYSTEM DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC WITH QUALITY SLEEP. [Accessed 10 December 2021] 
  5. National Library of Medicine. 2016. High physical activity in young children suggests positive effects by altering autoantigen-induced immune activity. [Accessed 10 December 2021] 
  6. MedicineNet. 2021. What Are the Signs of a Weak Immune System? [Accessed 10 December 2021] 
  7. Chinese Medicine Regulatory Office. Health preservation by food in Chinese medicine – The five cereals, fruits and vegetables. [Accessed 10 December 2021] 
  8. World Health Organization. 2021. Advice for the public: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). [Accessed 10 December 2021] 

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