A cold or the flu? Natural remedies can help your child’s body recover from and tolerate the symptoms of a cold or the flu. Because of the recent concerns about side effects from over the counter cold and cough medications for children, a lot of emphasis is now on natural remedies for kids when they have a cold or influenza. Foods, vitamins and minerals, and natural remedies like steam and saline nose sprays can make a huge difference in how your child feels and recovers from a cold or the flu.
Both cold and flu (influenza) are respiratory illnesses, but they are definitely different illnesses and caused by different viruses. They can have similar symptoms, so it can be tricky trying to tell the difference. The common cold typically starts off gradually – over the course of a few days your child will have a sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose, and sneezing. And then, a cough may develop and sometimes a fever will be a part of the illness. The flu (or influenza) is more worrisome because the symptoms can hit pretty hard and fast. Usually the child has sore throat, headache, body aches, high fever, congestion, fatigue, and a cough developing all within 24 hrs. The biggest concerns with influenza are the contagiousness of the illness and the deaths associated with flu every year.
Because colds and influenza are caused by viruses, an antibiotic is not needed. Antibiotics only kill off bacteria, so they won’t help with viral illnesses. Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral medication for influenza especially if your child has asthma or other health problems. These medications don’t cure anything, they help limit the length and severity of the illness which is important for those already fighting off other health problems.
Preventing a cold or the flu
Certainly prevention is the key to these illnesses. Making sure your child gets a healthy balance of nutrition, exercise, and a good night’s sleep –keeping a body healthy to begin with will help your child fight off these illnesses. Teaching your child to wash hands frequently and thoroughly especially after wiping her nose or touching her face, coughing and sneezing into his arm/elbow, and limiting exposure to others when you are ill will help prevent the spread of these illnesses. Usually the first few days of a cold is when you’re most contagious to others. So, limiting exposure to others and resting and getting some TLC (tender loving care) at home can help a child recover quickly from an illness. Getting the influenza vaccine every year can help prevent the spread of this deadly illness also.
So what can you do to help your child with the sore throat of a cold or the flu?
- Gargling with salt water can help a sore throat feel better. The salt in the water will help shrink swollen tonsils and tissues in the throat and mouth. There is also some evidence that salt acts to ward off viruses. Younger children typically can’t gargle – so salty drinks work well. Soups and sports type drinks are wonderful for sore throats. They’re loaded with salt and for this type of symptom, they are a good food to use.
- Zinc lozenges are widely available over the counter. Sucking on these can help decrease the duration of cold symptoms. They can be a choking hazard for young children, so be cautious. Whole grain cereals are rich in vitamins and minerals like zinc. Giving your child a hot cereal like Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain hot cereal with a drizzle of honey can help a sore throat.
- Keeping your child hydrated well will help a sore throat. When the throat dries out, the pain is worse. So, keep your child sipping all day long on water, juices, and herbal or black teas.
- For children over 1 year of age, a teaspoon of honey can help soothe a sore throat.
How can you help your child’s congestion?
- Saline nose spray can help relieve congestion and help keep secretions thin. You can buy saline nose sprays over the counter or you can make your own. To make your own mix 8 ounces of warm water with ¼ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. You can use this mixture in a neti pot too to irrigate the sinuses. Use a saline nose spray or neti pot 3-5 times per day.
- Drinking hot herbal teas, real tea leaf black teas, homemade soups with onions, carrots, parsnips, and garlic, and using a humidifier or taking a warm shower for the steam can help your child breathe easier. The real leaf black teas help the cilia in the respiratory system clear secretions and germs faster.
- For kids 2 years of age & older, using a menthol or camphor ointment rubbed on the skin between the nose and the upper lip can help a child breathe easier. Be cautious if your child has asthma, this may irritate symptoms for some.
- Anise seeds can break up congestion – you can make cookies with anise seeds to use when your child has a cold. Click here to get a recipe. Ginger cookies can also help. Click here to get a recipe.
- If your child likes pasta, make whole grain pasta, top with tomato sauce that you’ve loaded with a clove or two of crushed garlic. The garlic contains allicin which can help relieve congestion and is believed to be an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal.
- If your child enjoys “spicy” foods, then horseradish, cayenne, and wasabi can help shrink blood vessels in the nose and throat and give a temporary relief to congestion.
Some other foods and remedies that can help
- Fresh fruit juices and fruits to eat will load your child with Vitamin C which can shorten the length of a cold. If you have a juicer at home, making a juice with spinach, arugula, garlic, and pineapple can help relieve congestion and shorten the length of the cold.
- Echinacea is an herbal supplement that can help shorten the length of a cold.
- Make ginger tea by steeping a tablespoon of freshly shredded ginger for 2-3 min in boiled water. It is shown to fight off cold viruses and can help quiet a cough. Ginger also soothes an upset stomach.
- A traditional Indian herbal remedy for high fever is a cup of boiling water, ½ tsp of coriander, ½ tsp of cinnamon, and ¼ tsp of ginger. Steep this tea for 10 min and then drink. Fever is not necessarily the enemy when your child has the flu or a cold. It’s the body’s immune system trying to fight off the virus. However, a high fever can dehydrate your child, so a remedy like this can help keep your child hydrated well.
In summary, foods and drinks to offer your child – orange juice, pineapple juice, grapefruit juice. Whole grain cereals and bread. Black whole leaf teas, ginger tea, herbal teas. Immune system boosters are yogurt (with live cultures) and salmon (omega 3 fatty acids). Soups made with crushed garlic, onions, carrots, and parsnips. Cookies made with anise-seed and ginger can help symptoms. Make pasta sauce with loads of crushed garlic or give your child a sandwich with horseradish. Make sure your child has a glass of water to sip on all day long anytime you’re faced with a cold or flu bug.