Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eleven safe home remedies to soothe your child's cold and flu symptoms

By Karen Miles
Reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board
Last updated: September 2008

What can you do when your child comes down with a cold or the flu? Try these gentle, effective, and safe home remedies.

1) Honey (12 months and up)
How it helps
Honey coats and soothes the throat and helps tame a cough.

In a study conducted by Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine, parents of 105 children ages 2 to 18 rated honey helpful and better than cough syrup for treating children's nighttime coughs.

What you need

Honey, available at any grocery store.

Honey often gets hard at room temperature. To soften it, spoon some into a container and heat it briefly in a microwave or boil some water and then set the honey jar in the very hot water for five or ten minutes.

Your child must be at least a year old to try this remedy.

How to use it
If your child is 1 to 5 years old, give him 1/2 teaspoon of honey. If he's between 6 and 11 years old, give him 1 teaspoon.

Some people mix their honey with hot water and add a squeeze of lemon, which provides a little vitamin C along with the soothing honey.

Because honey is a sticky sweet, it's important for you or your child to brush his teeth after he takes it, especially if you give it to him at bedtime.


Don't give honey to a child before his first birthday. It can cause a rare and sometimes fatal illness called infant botulism. Find out more.

2) A neti pot (4 years and up)
How it helps

A neti pot flushes a mild saline solution through the nasal passages, moisturizing the area and thinning, loosening, and rinsing away mucus. Think of it as nasal irrigation.

According to a report published in 2008, researchers in Europe studied 390 children ages 6 to 10 and found that a nasal spray made from seawater relieved cold symptoms faster than standard cold medications. It's not certain whether the salt water simply helps clear the mucus or if trace elements in the water are beneficial. But other scientists who studied the effectiveness of saline nasal wash solutions also found benefits.

What you need

A neti pot, which looks like a very small watering can or teapot and is typically ceramic or metal.You can buy neti pots at drugstores, natural food stores, and online.


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You'll also need a cooperative child. Your child must be old enough and willing to go along with the procedure, which isn't painful but does feel strange at first. It's definitely not for babies or young toddlers, and older children (and adults) might not go for it. Some people think it's neat, while others are grossed out.

How to use it

By tilting your child's head sideways over the sink and placing the spout of the pot in the top nostril, you can run water through the nasal passages to clean and moisturize them. This takes a little trial and error, but it's easy once you get the hang of it.

Try practicing on yourself before teaching your child to use a neti pot. Then let your child watch you use it. And finally, help him if he's up for it.

Here's the basic method:
Fill the pot with the warm saline solution.
Bending over a sink, tilt your head to one side and place the spout of the pot deep in the top nostril. The water will flow gently through the nasal cavity and out the other nostril. (Breath through your mouth while rinsing.)
Repeat on the other side.
It may be easiest to practice with your child in the tub or shower.


Don't force a child who's not interested. This needs to be a very gentle procedure, to prevent both traumatizing him and damaging his nasal passages if he struggles

3) Nose blowing (2 years and up)
How it helps

Clearing the nose of mucus helps your child breathe and sleep more easily and generally makes him feel more comfortable. And he'll be nicer to look at, too!

What you need

A container of soft tissues.

How to do it
Many kids don't master this skill until after age 4, but some are game by age 2.

Tips for teaching nose blowing:
Let your child copy you. For some kids, that's all it takes.
Explain that blowing your nose is "backward smelling."
Have your child hold one nostril shut and practice gently blowing air out one side. A mirror or a little piece of tissue under the nose will help him see his breath, too.
Teach him to blow gently. Blowing too hard can hurt his ears.
Give your child his own little package of fun tissues.
Teach him to discard used tissues in the trash can and to wash his hands after blowing his nose.
If your child's nose is sore from all the sniffling and blowing, you can rub a little petroleum jelly or other child-safe ointment around his nostrils.

Find out more about when your child will be old enough to blow his own nose and how to teach him.

4) A bulb syringe (best for babies)
How it helps

Clears the nose of kids who are too young to blow their nose. A bulb syringe really comes in handy if a stuffy nose interferes with your baby's breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. Try using it about 15 minutes beforehand.

Clearing a stuffy nose with a bulb syringe works best for young babies, but if your older baby or child doesn't mind the procedure, there's no reason not to do it.

What you need

A rubber bulb syringe
Saline (salt water) solution. You can buy bottles of saline nose drops at a drugstore or make your own.
Recipe for homemade saline drops: Dissolve about 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water. Make a fresh batch each day and store it in a clean, covered glass jar. Bacteria can grow in the solution, so don't keep it for more than 24 hours.

How to use it

Tip your baby's head back and squeeze ten to 20 drops of saline solution into each nostril to thin and loosen the mucus. Try to keep her head still afterward for about ten seconds.
Squeeze the bulb of the syringe, then gently insert the rubber tip into her nostril.
Slowly release the bulb to collect mucus and saline solution.
Remove the syringe and squeeze the bulb to expel the mucus into a tissue.
Wipe the syringe and repeat with the other nostril.
Repeat procedure if necessary.
Don't suction your baby's nose more than a few times a day or you might irritate the lining of her nose. Don't use the saline drops for more than four days in a row, because they can dry out her nose over time, which would make things worse.

If your baby is really upset by the syringe, use the saline drops and then gently swipe the lower part of her nostrils with a cotton swab. It doesn't have the suction of the syringe, but it's better than nothing!


Don't use nasal decongestant sprays on your baby unless her doctor tells you to. They may work for a bit, but they can also cause a rebound effect, making congestion worse in the long run.

5) Vapor rubs (3 months and up)
How it helps

Vapor rubs may help kids sleep better at night. Many of us remember being rubbed with a potent eucalyptus, camphor, and menthol vapor rub when we were sick as children. Research suggests that these ingredients actually have no effect on nasal congestion, but they make the cold sufferer feel as though she's breathing better by producing a cooling sensation in the nose.

What you need

You can now find vapor rub products made specifically for babies 3 months and older. The familiar commercial rub contains petrolatum, oils, and eucalyptus (though no camphor or menthol).

Natural vapor balms are available, too, if you'd prefer not to use products that contain petroleum or paraben. These are typically made with aloe, herbs, oils, beeswax, and essential oils. Search online for "baby rub," "baby vapor rub," or similar words.

You can also find recipes to make your own rub. Try searching for "vapor rub recipe natural" or something similar.

How to do it

Massage the vapor rub into your child's chest, neck, and back.


Don't put vapor rub on broken or sensitive skin or apply it to your child's mouth or nose, around her eyes, or anywhere on her face, for that matter.

6) Gargling with salt water (4 years and up)
How it helps

Gargling with salt water is a time-honored way to soothe a sore throat. It also helps clear mucus from the throat. While scientists haven't determined exactly why it works, studies have shown that the remedy is effective.

What you need

Warm salt water.

Simply combine 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and stir. If your child doesn't mind the taste, a squirt or two of fresh lemon juice can be a soothing addition.

Your child must be old enough to learn to gargle. For many kids, that means school age or older. But some children can manage it sooner.

How to do it
Aim for gargling three or four times a day while your child is sick.

A few tips for teaching your child to gargle:

Practice with plain water.
Tell your child to tilt her head up and try to hold the water in the back of her throat without swallowing it.
Once she's comfortable doing that, have her try to make sounds with her throat. Show her what that looks and sounds like.
Teach her to spit out the water rather than swallow it.

7) Elevating the head (all ages)
How it helps
Elevating your child's head while he rests can help him breathe more comfortably.

What you need

Towels or pillows to raise the head of the mattress, or pillows to raise your child's head.

How to do it

If your child sleeps in a crib, place a couple of towels or a slim pillow between the head of the mattress and the crib springs. Never put towels or pillows in the crib with your baby, as they could suffocate him. Don't try to raise the legs of the crib, either. It could make the crib unstable.

If your child sleeps in a big bed, an extra pillow under his head might do the trick. But if he's at all squirmy while he sleeps, it's better to raise the head of the bed by sliding towels or a pillow underneath the mattress. This also creates a more gradual, comfortable slope than extra pillows under his head.

Another option: Let your child sleep in his car seat. Like many adults who sleep in a favorite recliner when they're ill, he may rest better in a semi-upright position. In fact, if your grade-schooler needs propping while he sleeps, he may slumber more comfortably in a recliner.


Whether it's a crib or a bed, don't overdo it. If your child's a restless sleeper, he might flip around so that his feet are higher than his head, defeating the purpose.

8) Lots of rest (all ages)
How it helps

It takes energy to fight an infection, and that can wear a child (or adult) out. When your child's resting, she's healing, which is what exactly she needs to do.

Studies show that stress plays a role in illness, too. If your child is under pressure -- because of school or friends, or something happening at home -- giving her a break may be just what she needs to fight off her symptoms.

What you need

A comfortable place for your child to rest and things to occupy her.

How to do it

Now's the time to let your child watch that favorite video or television program one more time. Or bring her a new set of crayons and paper or coloring book. Even a puzzle can be manageable in bed.

Of course, a bed isn't necessarily the best place to rest. Sometimes a change of scenery is helpful. If the weather is good, set up a comfortable place in the yard or on the porch for your child to rest. Indoors, fashion something more fun than her bed -- like a tent in the living room or a snug, pillow-filled area near you.

If your child finds it hard to rest, help her by cuddling up with some books. Teach her some finger rhymes (like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider") or tell stories together. Or bring her the phone so she can chat with Grandma or a friend.

9) Steamy air (all ages)
How it helps

Breathing moist air helps loosen the mucus in the nasal passages. A warm bath has the added benefit of relaxing your child.

What you need
A humidifier, cool-mist vaporizer, or steamy bathroom.

Be sure to clean humidifiers often (every three days is one recommendation), and according to the manufacturer's directions. Humidifiers accumulate mold, which they then spray into the air if they're not kept scrupulously clean.

How to use it

Have a humidifier or a cool-mist vaporizer going in your child's bedroom when she's sleeping, resting, or playing in the room.

Give your child a warm bath in a steamy bathroom. If she's old enough, let her play in the bath as long as she likes -- supervised, of course, unless she's old enough to hang out on her own. Adding a few drops of menthol, eucalyptus, or pine oil to the bath water (or vaporizer) may also help her feel less congested. These oils are available at most natural food stores.

If it's not a convenient time for a bath, simply turn on the hot water in the tub or shower, close the bathroom door, block any gap under the door with a towel, and sit in the steamy room with your child for about 15 minutes. (Bring a couple of books.)

10) Extra fluids (6 months and up)
How it helps

Drinking plenty of fluids helps prevent dehydration, and flushes and thins your child's nasal secretions.

What you need
Fluids that your child enjoys drinking.

How to use it

Plain water is great, but your child might not find it very appealing. Try fruit smoothies and other favorite healthful beverages, and ice pops made from juice.


Stick to breast milk or formula for babies younger than 6 months old unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Babies that young don't need water, and too much could even be harmful. Find out more.

11) Chicken soup and other warm liquids (6 months and up)
How it helps

Warm liquids can be very soothing and help relieve congestion. Studies have shown that chicken soup actually relieves cold symptoms like aches, fatigue, congestion, and fever.

What you need

Soup and tea or other warm liquids that your child likes.

How to use it

Serve soup warm (not hot). Canned soup works as well as homemade, according to researchers at the University of Nebraska.

If your child is at least 6 months old, she may enjoy some weak, lukewarm chamomile tea.


There are other herbal teas that are safe for children, but consult your healthcare provider before trying herbal teas other than chamomile, as not all "natural" products are safe.

Stick to breast milk or formula for babies younger than 6 months old unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Babies that young don't need water, and too much could even be harmful.

1 comment:

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