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Do you ever feel like your child has a constant cold? Well, when you consider that the average kid gets between six and ten colds per year and each bout lasts a week or two, you’re not too far off! Young children tend to get the most colds, and kids in large families or daycare also tend to share more colds.
In my house, we went through a period when my four children were young when it seemed like someone was always sick. I’m not a big fan of over-the-counter or prescription drugs, especially for children, so I was always on the lookout for natural cold remedies. Read on to learn my preferred ways to prevent and treat the common cold.
Wash hands. Washing hands is still the best way to prevent the spread of colds. Skip the anti-bacterial soap, which is usually unnecessary in a home setting and may actually make cold germs harder to fight. Instead, teach kids to wash their hands with warm water and soap before meals, after handling pets, and after playing outdoors.
Boost your child’s immune system. Processed foods high in sugar and fat raise blood sugar levels and suppress the hormones that fight infections. Natural foods, on the other hand, give your child an arsenal of infection-fighting compounds. Serve leafy greens, orange vegetables, whole grains, and fresh eggs, meat and milk to keep your child’s body in fighting shape.
Sleep. An old English proverb says, “Sleep is better than medicine,” and it’s true. Adequate sleep not only helps you stay healthy, but also helps you fight infections better. A recent study by Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University found that participants who slept less than seven hours per night were three times more likely to get colds than those who got eight hours of zzzzs. So make sure your child gets plenty of sleep to prevent colds and encourage even more rest when recovering from illness. Cross off the non-essentials from your to-do list and slow down. Watch movies, read stories, or offer puzzles and games to wile away the hours.
Drink warm liquids. Grandma knows best. According to a study at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that can hasten healing. And more importantly, chicken soup tastes great, soothes the throat, and says, “I love you, and I’ll take care of you.” You can also sip warm organic apple juice or chamomile tea for a soothing cold cure.
Try an herbal remedy. Most colds are viral, so antibiotics don’t touch them. And using antibiotics indiscriminately reduces their effectiveness and leads to “super germs” that are resistant to their effects. Additionally, several studies have found that acetaminophen and over-the-counter cold medications had little effect compared to placebos in easing the symptoms or duration of the common cold.
So what’s a concerned parent to do? I’ve found that an old-school approach is usually the best answer. Herbal remedies are often more effective and safer at treating cold symptoms than anything you’ll find at the drugstore.
Here are a few to try:
- Garlic. Garlic has antimicrobial properties, so it’s one of the first remedies I reach for. For children over age seven, mince one teaspoon of garlic very finely. Cover a spoonful of garlic with honey and give it to your child. Swallow without chewing. For younger kids, try making a soothing lemon-garlic tea. Chop one garlic clove and place it in boiling water. Steep for thirty minutes and discard the garlic. Add the juice of one lemon and three to four teaspoons of honey. Offer warm tea several times a day to soothe sore throats, hasten healing, and keep your child hydrated.
- Slippery elm bark. Slippery elm bark has been used for hundreds of years to treat sore throat as well as gastro-intestinal problems. It contains mucilage, a natural compound that becomes thick and sticky when mixed with water, and it coats the throat to provide pain relief. Buy slippery elm bark lozenges at a natural foods store or make a tea with powdered slippery elm bark.
- Horehound. Similar to slippery elm bark, horehound coats the throat and reduces coughing and sore throat. It is available as lozenges, syrup, or tincture.
- Valerian root. This mild sedative may calm your child and encourage sleep. Follow the dosing directions on the package very carefully.
- Echinacea/astragalus. Available as a syrup, tincture, or tea, Echinacea/astragalus mixes support healthy immune function so your child heals more quickly and gets fewer colds.
- Essential oils. Pure essential oils are irritating to the skin and shouldn’t be taken internally. However, when mixed with oil or added to a warm bath, they ease anxiety and congestion and help your child sleep. Add three or four drops of lavender or eucalyptus radiata to a warm bath or mix a few drops with olive oil and rub on your child’s chest. Do not eat or drink.
Herbs typically come in three forms—syrups, tinctures, and powders for teas. Tinctures are the most potent, but I personally prefer teas for kids. Syrups may contain sugar or corn syrup, while tinctures usually taste downright nasty. To learn more about herbal care for kids, check out two of my favorite books: Naturally Healthy Kids by Dr. Jerry Rubin, et al. and Naturally Healthy Babies and Children by Aviva Romm.
Please note: Herbs may seem benign because they’re plants, but they have strong pharmacological components. Always consult a certified herbalist or your health care practitioner before starting any treatment or mixing herbs and prescription medications. Always follow dosing instructions carefully.
When To Call The Doctor
Most upper respiratory infections clear up with a bit of help from you and Mother Nature. Call your doctor though if any of the following apply:
- Rapid breathing rate or shortness of breath, especially with no fever.
- Severe chest pain.
- Fever of greater than 99.4 under the arm in a baby less than two months old.
- Fever over 105 degrees.
- Fever for more than four days.
- Child is very lethargic and difficult to rouse.
- Signs of dehydration, such as sunken eyes, lethargy, dark urine, dry tongue and lips, and no tears.
- Green nasal discharge lasting more than two weeks.
- No improvement in symptoms after one week.
©2012 Off the Grid News