Parents won't be surprised to learn that kids get an average of 8 to 10 colds a year. But they may think twice about reaching for over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, which were recently deemed unsafe for children under age two by the Food and Drug Administration. Even older children may be at risk for serious side effects.
To ease cold and flu symptoms, parents can instead try effective and safe nonpharmaceutical remedies. (Experts caution that for infants you should always consult a practitioner before using any natural remedy.)
Garlic Oil Cold winter weather and indoor heat dry out mucous membranes, which get irritated and produce excess mucous—a breeding ground for infections, according to ayurveda">Ayurvedic practitioner John Douillard, a father of six and the author of Perfect Health for Kids. To moisten membranes and help drain infected sinuses, he suggests filling your child's ear canals with warmed garlic oil (see "Herbal Rx" for instructions) two or three times a day. Insert cotton balls to keep the oil from draining out. Leave the oil in for anywhere from a few minutes to overnight.
Honey This natural remedy has proven to be an effective cough medicine. A teaspoon of raw honey can be given as often as needed (but not to infants under one year of age), notes Sandy Newmark, a pediatrician and faculty member at the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine. For an extra boost, Douillard suggests combining equal parts honey with turmeric, a spice that has both antibacterial and antiviral properties; give your child a teaspoonful of the paste every two hours.
An Integrative Approach If your child develops a high fever or you think he may require medical care, don't hesitate to take him to the pediatrician, regardless of your commitment to natural remedies. "If you're asking 'Should I take him to the doctor?' take him. Always err on the side of caution," says Douillard.
Prepare your own home pharmacy of natural medicines. Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, author of Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal, says several herbs have a long track record of safety and effectiveness in children's health.
Catnip Use a tincture diluted in water, tea, or juice to calm a fever and reduce irritability.
Chamomile Serve as tea or use in a bath to soothe a child who has a cold or fever.
Echinacea Use the tea or a diluted tincture to boost immunity and relieve early cold symptoms.
Eucalyptus For sinus congestion, create a steam tent over a bowl containing 1 drop of the essential oil in hot water. Make sure the child keeps her eyes closed.
Garlic Make an infused oil for ear infections and sinus congestion. Add 1 small garlic clove to 1 ounce of olive oil, and sauté until the garlic starts to pop. Mash the garlic into pieces in the hot oil, remove from the heat, strain the oil, and let cool. Store in a dropper bottle.
Peppermint Use the essential oil (1 to 2 drops) mixed with 1/2 cup honey and taken as a syrup (1/2 to 1 teaspoon) for congestion. Honey is not recommended for infants, but you can substitute maple syrup instead.
Slippery elm bark or marshmallow root As an antidote for a sore throat or irritated lungs, serve as tea or sprinkle the powder in oatmeal.