Tips, Tricks (and a Few No-No’s!) for Treating Your Child’s Cold this Winter

01/25/2012 at 10:00 AM ET
Courtesy Zak Zarbock, M.D.

Children have as many as 6 – 10 colds per year, with each episode lasting as long as two weeks.

Unfortunately, there is no magical cure. But throughout my career as a pediatrician and as a father of four little boys who are frequently burdened with a nagging cough, I have discovered the safest and most effective way to treat your child is by using natural remedies.

Looking for some relief this winter? To make your child’s life (and your own!) a little easier, I’ve compiled my top tips and tricks for safe cold remedy.

Check them out below:

Tips

Rest. There is no substitute for adequate rest when trying to recover from a nasty cold or flu virus. But if your little ones are having trouble falling or staying asleep because of their symptoms, there is growing evidence that a small amount melatonin may be helpful and a very safe way to help them get the rest they need.

This is why I created Zarbee’s all-natural Nighttime Cough & Sleep Drink ($9) — which contains anti-oxidant rich buckwheat honey, immune-boosting Vitamin C, zinc, elderberry and a small amount of melatonin — to safely and effectively ease your child through the night.

Hydration. You can’t flush the flu or drink a cold out of your system, but drinking plenty of fluids will help keep children feeling better and will provide adequate moisture to the airways.

I suggest plain water, juice, clear broth or warm water with honey and lemon to help loosen congestion and prevent dehydration. Children should avoid caffeinated sodas which increase urination and may make dehydration worse.

Saline nasal drops and sprays. Nasal saline products are very safe and effective at improving symptoms of stuffiness and congestion. With infants, I recommend placing several saline drops into one nostril, and then gently suctioning that nostril with a bulb syringe (the hospital bulb syringe still works the best).

You can use saline sprays with older children, but I prefer a saline bottle with an anti-backwash valve so mucus isn’t sucked back in to the bottle when it refills with air.

Humidity. Cold and flu viruses thrive in dry conditions, another reason why these illnesses are more common in the winter. Dry air also dries the mucous membranes in the nose and throat causing irritation and making it easier for viruses to enter the body.

A humidifier will help add moisture to your home, but it must be cleaned and the water changed daily to avoid mold and bacterial growth. I prefer cool mist humidifiers to prevent accidental burns.

Tricks

Buckwheat honey. Your grandmother wasn’t lying about this one. Recent clinical trials have shown that buckwheat honey is more effective than traditional over-the-counter medicines at reducing coughs associated with the common cold.

Buckwheat and other dark honeys are high in antioxidants, help coat the throat and reduce irritation. And children who use this method not only cough less, but sleep better, and so do their parents. Just remember, honey is not recommended for children younger than 12 months.

To harness this natural remedy, I created the All Natural Cough Syrup ($9) as a safe and effective alternative to the drugs found in most over the counter cough and cold medicines, which have been proven to be potentially dangerous in children.

Zinc. Used for years as an unproven cold remedy, there now appears to be scientific evidence to back up its use. Zinc given orally may help reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms. But, zinc nasal sprays should be avoided as they may cause damage to the sense of smell.

Vitamin C. This seems to be most effective at reducing the duration of cold symptoms if given before or at the initial onset of symptoms. It may also provide benefit for people at high risk of colds due to frequent exposure, for example, children who attend group child care during the winter.

Chicken soup. Parents have spooned chicken soup into their sick children for generations — and for good reason. It contains an amino acid called cysteine, which has mucus-thinning and possible anti-inflammatory effects.

Petroleum jelly. As a child, the worst part of a cold for me was my mom wiping my nose until my skin burned. Place a small amount of petroleum jelly (e.g. Vaseline or Aquaphor) on the skin under the nose to soothe raw and chafed skin. Your kids will appreciate it!

No-No’s

Antibiotics. These medicines are very important when it comes to killing bacteria, but they are no help against the viruses causing colds and flu. Avoid asking your doctor for antibiotics for a cold or using old antibiotics you have on hand.

Your child won’t get well any faster, and inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the serious and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medications in young children. These medications have been tested and shown to be ineffective in children as old as 18 years and may even cause serious and even life-threatening side effects. So avoid them at all costs.

Following FDA warnings against their use in children younger than age 2, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) voluntarily modified product labels on OTC cough and cold medicines to state “do not use” in children under 4 years of age. The FDA is currently evaluating the safety of these medications in older children.

Zak Zarbock, M.D.

Courtesy Zak Zarbock, M.D.

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Showing 9 comments

val on

I just happened to pick up the zarbees this weekend for my nearly 3 year old to help tame his cough. The stuff tastes horrible. My son nearly threw up trying to keep it down..I thought he was just being difficult so I tried and that stuff is nasty. Its hard enough getting “good tasting” medicine in them…this was a waste of money for me.

Tee on

Val, have you ever tried letting your son use a popsicle to numb his mouth up before swallowing medication? It works really well for some kids. I’m sorry he’s been sick!

Michelle Z. on

Val, my son couldn’t take the Zarbees cough syrup, either. (I tasted it, and I agree that the taste was awful!) We use Chestal cough syrup now, and not only does my son like the taste (it just tastes like honey, no additional flavors), but it works really, really well. It’s not a thick syrup, which also helps. The Zarbees was too thick, and that made him gag.

That said, we did get a box of the Zarbees Nighttime Cough and Sleep drink, and he didn’t mind the taste of it. It’s a dry powder that you dissolve in just a little warm water. It tastes a little like honey, but not very sweet. I think it said it was grape flavor, but the flavor is really mild. It did quiet his cough and help him fall asleep. I’ll use it again in the future when he has a cough that acts up at night.

Jurnee on

Delsym is my go-to. It’s mild, but it really works. It’s an OTC cough syrup for ages 4 and up. I think some honey does work great for little ones above age 1, as well as the other suggestions in this article. For over 4, Delsym is great. No side effects either.

Meg on

I actually like this product, but I dislike this “ad as interview” or “ad disguised as medical advice”. This is an advertisement. Why don’t you plainly disclose this?

val on

thanks for the suggestions. I will try them

Dina on

Tis isn’t an article, it is an advertisement.

Kandy on

Agree – ad not article. Disappointing.

Angela on

Hyland’s works great for my kids’ colds. It’s homeopathic and the company’s been around since 1903. I used to use Zarbee’s but it never did anything for my kids.

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