With the recent news of the FDA advising parents not to give their children under the age of 2 over-the-counter cold and cough remedies (with a ban for children under the age of 6 expected this spring), what do parents do? If you'll forgive my being trite, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some specifics for natural prevention and treatment.
The simplest way to prevent both colds and diarrhea in toddlers and school-aged children is simply to make sure everyone washes hands with soap and water regularly. Teach your child that if you blow your nose, wash you hands or use an alcohol-based cleanser.
Regular soap and alcohol-based cleansers are adequate. You don't want to use any product that is specifically anti-bacterial on a regular basis, or any cleanser labeled "antibiotic," because the few bacteria it leaves behind will have no competition and can cause especially difficult infections.
Washing hands won't completely eliminate the risk of colds. A study published in the April 2000 issue of the journal Pediatrics found that careful attention to handwashing only reduced the rate of colds 17%--but that's two colds a year for most children.
What if your child already has a cold?
Vick's Vaporub on feet for cough not only is still approved by the FDA for cough and congestion, it works. The menthol, thyme, and camphor vapors reach the nose and gently stimulate movement of mucus and phlegm. Just be sure the feet are covered with socks, and don't give infants Vick's by mouth. Vick's Vaporub is for external use only, and not to be used on the face or near the eyes.
Humidity is an effective allergic cough remedy. Humidifiers and vaporizers help loosen up mucus and phlegm even in children under 2 who cannot take decongestants and expectorants. Adding eucalyptus oil to the vaporizer water is useful when the air dry due to winter heating or desert climate. Infants and babies can be treated with saline nose drops to loosen mucus and a nose bulb to remove the crusts.
Fever is the body's way of healing itself. Temperatures under 104 F (40 C) usually don't require any attention other than a damp cloth for cooling, although higher temperatures require medical attention.
For older kids, basically any cold remedy you have to sign for can aggravate undesirable behaviors of ADHD kids in the classroom. And to prevent the neurological condition Reye's syndrome, never give any child under 12 aspirin in any form or any food containing salicylates (cakes made from mixes, peppermint, curry, prunes, or raisins) during a viral infection.
What to do for a runny nose and cough? Although it's not an immediate cure, an apple (or orange) day keeps the allergies away. Some studies have found that children (and for that matter, adults) who have allergies with runny nose and don't eat fruit, get better from eating as little as one piece of fruit a week. A piece of fruit every day is better.
If your child is fine for a time and then suddenly isn't, it helps to look for reasons why. The coloring agents in over-the-counter colds and flu remedies can also affect undesirable behaviors of ADHD kids in the classroom. Red and orange dyes cause more trouble than green and blue. These dyes are also found in cereal.
There is also a preventive for acute otitis media, the well-known pediatric ear infection. Chewing gum sweetened with xylitol cuts down on the number of ear infections, although recent research suggests that chewing xylitol-sweetened gum all day long is not as effective as simply chewing 1 or 2 sticks a day.