Cold and Cough
In the middle of cold season, coughing is a symptom that many have to deal with. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics began advising against the use of over the counter cough suppressants for children and infants, many parents are left wondering what they can do to ease their child’s cough. Most coughs resulting from viral infections are self limiting and will run a normal course of 5-7 days. If your child has a persistent cough, labored breathing, a fever, or nausea/vomiting or other serious symptoms along with the cough, he/she should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. If you are confident that your child just has a cold and want to ease the discomfort that comes with the cough, here are some things to try:
- Warm tea with lemon and honey. Black tea is best (decaffeinated is fine) for this purpose, since it contains tannins that help calm inflammation and irritation in the throat. The lemon and honey will help to thin the mucous and make it easier to get out of the respiratory tract or in cases of dry cough, will stimulate respiratory secretions to help decrease the tickling/irritation that causes the cough. For children under 2, consult with a healthcare provider about the use of honey (pasteurized is generally okay).
- Wet sock treatment. I’ve written about this before as a treatment for flu. It is a great treatment for any upper respiratory infection as it helps draw the fluid out of the head and chest and helps to stimulate the immune system. Start by soaking feet in a warm bath for 10 minutes (not hot enough to burn), then apply a pair of cotton socks rinsed in cold water and wrung out. Cover them with wool or polyester socks and allow feet to warm up (about 40 minutes). You may apply a warm compress to the chest at the same time for added benefit. This treatment can be done 3-4 times a day and can be done on infants, children, and adults.
- Humidifier/vaporizor. This can be especially helpful for dry coughs or for infants and young children who have not yet developed the skill of coughing up the mucous that’s clogging up the respiratory tract. The humidity will keep the passages moist and help thin the secretions making it easier to get the gunk out.
- Homeopathic cold and cough remedies. There are many to choose from. Some are tablets, some are cough syrups. My advice is to choose one that matches the symptoms your child is experiencing most closely. For example, a dry, hacking cough may respond to a different homeopathic remedy/formula than a wet, rattly cough. Consult a Naturopathic doctor or healthcare provider trained in homeopathy for more specific remedy options. These are safe and generally won’t cause harm.
- Avoid over the counter cough suppressants unless specifically directed by your child’s healthcare provider. These can actually increase the duration of the cough even if they help ease symptoms temporarily. The American Academy of Pediatrics and most pediatricians advise against these medications in children due to the potential side effects and lack of evidence supporting their use.
- Hydration. Keeping children well hydrated during a cold will help their system get rid of the virus more efficiently. Offering clear broths, herbal teas, and plenty of water (you can even add powdered vitamin C) will ensure that they get the fluids their bodies need.
- Avoid foods that increase mucous production. These include dairy, refined sugar, bananas, and orange juice. If these foods are avoided during the duration of a cold, the child should have fewer days of symptoms. If your child is a picky eater and you are concerned about restricting the diet for nutritional reasons, please consult your child’s healthcare provider.
- Essential oil vapors. Eucalyptus, tea tree, peppermint, rosemary, and lavendar are all helpful at clearing congestion when inhaled. Most drugstores carry eucalyptus drops near the humidifiers–you may add a few drops to the humidifier while running it, or you may add a drop or two to a basin of hot water and have your child breathe in the vapors. These oils should not be ingested and should not be used topically unless directed by a healthcare provider. Vapor rub is another alternative that can be applied topically to the chest, but avoid putting it under the nose of infants, as it can plug the nostrils.
- Avoid treating low grade fevers. Fevers are a sign of a healthy immune system and help to kill viruses. Unless a child is extremely uncomfortable or unable to sleep due to the fever, you should avoid using medications that reduce fever. If a child’s temperature is higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you should seek medical advice, since higher fevers may indicate a more serious infection. Also, newborn infants with any kind of fever should be seen immediately.
- Use your best judgement. If your child is lethargic (not active at all), has no appetite, appears pale, or seems to be in distress, you should seek immediate medical attention. If your child’s cough sounds horrible, but they are eating and playing normally, you needn’t worry too much.