Folk remedies soothe kids' cold symptoms

On Jan. 17, 2008, the FDA issued a Public Health Advisory that recommends over-the-counter cough and cold medicines not be used for children 2 years old or younger. In the advisory, the FDA states that they have not completed their review of over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in children between 2 and 11 years of age. They may even have the same recommendation for older children.

Much of the concern stems from the risk of overdose when children are given cold medicine that is really meant for adults or given several products that have similar ingredients. In these cases the risk of serious adverse effects increases.

These drugs, at best, are not proven to be effective in children and, at worst, may cause terrible complications. Medical studies have not been performed to determine what dosage of many cold medicines is effective or safe for our children; the dosing recommendations on the label are often simple extrapolations from observations on adult patients. The trouble with this practice is that the way drugs are metabolized in a child’s body often differ substantially from what occurs in an adult’s body.

Time cures all colds

Another thing to think about is that the vast majority of colds are self-limiting. This means that they eventually resolve on their own, with or without treatment. The FDA states: "Cough and cold medicines only treat the symptoms of the common cold such as runny nose, congestion, fever, aches, and irritability. They do not cure the common cold. Children get better with time."

There are many simple and effective natural folk remedies for relieving the symptoms of a cough or cold. Steam inhalations with menthol help to thin mucous in the chest or in the nose, while steam inhalations with thyme essential oil can relax respiratory passages and have anti-microbial activity.

To do a steam inhalation:

boil a pan of water, place it on a trivet, put menthol or a few drops of thyme essential oil in the water, and inhale the steam with a towel over your head.


To improve nasal and sinus congestion:

soak your lower legs and feet in hot water for several minutes and then wear warm wool socks. This increases the circulation to the the lower part of the body, draws blood from the head and decreases congestion.


The remedies I’ve discussed so far are easy for children; the next one is more difficult. A neti-pot is a traditional form of nasal irrigation that, while effective, is hard for young children to do.

Warm water is placed in the neti-pot along with salt. Baking soda can be added to make it more comfortable while a few drops of goldenseal liquid extract adds anti-microbial action and reduces mucous production.

The mixture is then slowly poured into the nostril with the head tilted over a sink. Ideally, the mixture runs out the other nostril or the back of the throat. While I acknowledge that this sounds gross, it can be very helpful in stubborn cases.

Herbal cold remedies

Two herbs have a long history of use in children that is confirmed by medical research.

Andrographis is an herb that has been used for hundreds of years in India and China, while echinacea was used by American Indians to help prevent and treat respiratory tract infections.

Medical research indicates that andrographis stimulates immune function while decreasing symptoms and duration of illness in young patients. Similarly, echinacea has good evidence for being effective in children.

As with all herbal products, quality is important. Some studies show that andrographis products do not contain the active constituents, or are adultered with other herbs.

Echinacea products vary substantially in regard to ingredients, medicinal activity and dosing. To identify echinacea and determine its strength, American Indians would taste the root to see if it made their mouth tingle. We now know that one of the important active components of echinacea is responsible for the tingling. So, a good quality echinacea will make your mouth tingle pretty intensely.

Finding good herbal products can be hard, but is worth the effort.

As a last note, be aware that andrographis should not be used without medical supervision in people taking blood thinners, and echinacea may cause a skin rash in some people.

Good luck getting you and your family through the cold season — I hope these suggestions are helpful. Remember that many times the best remedies are the simplest.


Richard Malik is a naturopathic doctor with a practice in Lakeville offering comprehensive health care for the entire family.

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