Dr. Bill Sears gives you the important steps he utilizes during the winter months with his pills-and-skills model of self-care.

With the winter season approaching and the germs that come with it, it’s time to practice the home health care remedies that I have recommended for years. Whats the best way to give your family a healthy lifestyle during this season? I like to call these steps the pills-and-skills model of self-care.

Aside from the usual pills such as antibiotics, flu vaccines and cold medicines, learning self-help skills can be even more healthful. Instead of asking your doctor, What can I take? ask, What can I do? This mindset prompts your doctor to shift from a medical mindset into more of a preventive medicine mindset that is focused more on what actions the doctor advises, rather than what medications the doctor prescribes. Preventing and alleviating the common winter illnesses is where these self-help skills really shine. Try these winter illness-preventing home remedies:

The pills-and-skills model

Keep immunizations up to date

Ask your health care provider if your child’s immunizations are up to date and if the flu vaccine is advised for your family.

Wash those little hands

Many winter illnesses are spread by hand-to-hand contact. Teach your children to wash their hands frequently, especially after group play.

Cover your mouth

When children sneeze or cough near other children, tiny droplets of mucus carry germs from the nose and throat into the air like very small balloons. Play show and tell with your child by demonstrating to them how to sneeze or cough into their elbow or arm. This is safer than coughing into their hands, which then touch other people.

Eat immune-boosting foods

As my mother and grandmother always advised, Put more color on your plate. Frequently, the deeper the color of the food, the greater the health benefits. The same nutrients that give fruits their color those that make a tomato red and a blueberry blue-bell protect the plants, and your body, from illnesses.

Especially during the winter season, I encourage families to follow our immune-strengthening diet that includes fish, fruits and vegetables, spices, herbs and supplements to provide such important elements as omega-3 and vitamin D. These preventive-medicine foods, besides containing immune-boosting nutrients, also enjoy the nutritional principle called synergy. This means when you mix many of them together, such as in a smoothie or salad, they boost the healthful benefits of each other. For this reason, I recommend lots of fruit and yogurt smoothies during the winter months.

The best way to blow your nose

Teach your children to blow gently, one nostril at a time. Dont hold both nostrils tightly while you blow and don’t blow your nose forcefully. This jams nasal secretions into the sinus cavities, which can cause a sinus infection.

Keep the nose and sinuses clear

Germs settle first in the nose and sinuses, so its important to keep these passages flushed out. My clean-nose regimen includes a nose hose and a steam clean. Make your own saltwater nose drops (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of warm water) or buy a saline solution at your local pharmacy or supermarket. Squirt a few drops of the solution into your child’s nose and gently suction out the loosened secretions using a nasal aspirator, which the veteran nose-cleaners in my medical practice dub a snot-snatcher.

Children over 8 can be taught how to hose their nose using a neti pot. Neti in Indian medicine means water cleansing. Kids like this handy gadget because it looks like Aladdin’s lamp and you can tell them it magically cleans out their nose. The water flows through one nostril and out the other, flushing the gunk out of the nose and sinuses. It is a bit messy, so it may take a while to get used to it.

Follow the nose hose with a steam clean. Make an at-home steam bath by turning on a hot shower in the bathroom and closing the door. Expose your child to 15 minutes of concentrated steam to keep her nose clear. Pass the time inthe steam clean by nursing or playing. For older children and toddlers, use a facial steamer. Let your children see you use a facial steamer while reading a book or watching TV and tell them, Oh, it makes my face feel so good!

Vaporizers work well to keep nasal passages clean

In wintertime, turn down the heat and turn on your vaporizer, as the dry air caused by central heating can thicken nasal and bronchial secretions. Vaporizers have a double benefit: Besides adding nasal-friendly humidity to dry winter air, a vaporizer acts as a healthy heat source, and steaming sterilizes the water. As steam condenses, heat is released, which will keep a small bedroom comfortably toasty. You not only save on energy costs, but you wake up with a clear nose. I wish you good wintertime health.

Dr. Bill Sears, M.D.is a father of eight and the author of 42 books on family health, including The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. A practicing pediatrician for over 40 years, he is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Dr. Sears is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a fellow of the Royal College of Pediatricians (RCP).