Whether or not you break out the Sudafed at the first sign of a sniffle, there are other (and sometimes better) ways to alleviate your children’s cold symptoms and keep the mucus at bay. We consulted Eriel Hayes, pediatrician with Cook Children’s, and Ray Tsai, pediatrician with Children’s Health, to find out what doctors recommend when it comes to at-home remedies. Here’s what you can put in your cold-fighting arsenal:
Fluids. Both Dr. Hayes and Dr. Tsai urge parents to keep their children hydrated as priority number one. Breast milk or formula works for children younger than 12 months; older kids can drink water, Pedialyte, Gatorade – “whatever you can get them to drink and keep down,” Dr. Hayes says. Pedialyte and Gatorade can help replenish sugars and electrolytes, which is especially important for kids who aren’t eating well.
Chicken soup. Yes, this comfort-food remedy is also doctor-recommended. Besides the hydration benefits, chicken soup supplements your child’s protein and electrolyte intake and the steam can ease congestion. Win-win-win.
Fever medicine. Dr. Tsai suggests Tylenol or Motrin to bring your child’s fever down, if she has one.
Honey. “We really don’t recommend the traditional cough and cold medicines anymore for young children because it really doesn’t work,” says Dr. Tsai, who endorses honey as an effective alternative. Both doctors say honey should not be given to a child younger than 12 months because of the risk of botulism, a kind of food poisoning. But for kids older than 1, honey coats the back of the throat and can soothe that ticklish cough. Dr. Hayes recommends half a teaspoon to two teaspoons, either straight off the spoon or stirred in with warm juice or tea.
Saline rinses, drops and sprays. Cleansing the nasal passages doesn’t medically help the cold, but it can relieve your child’s most frustrating symptoms and make it easier to breathe and eat. “They hate the saltwater drops,” says Dr. Tsai, “but if you can pin them down, [the drops] make them feel better.” Dr. Hayes recommends the drops for kids younger than 2 years and spray for older kids. After squirting the nose with saline, you should wait about 60 seconds then use a bulb syringe to remove the mucus.
NoseFrida. OK, mom – this is one gross accessory, but both doctors recommend it because it works. Instead of squeezing a bulb to suction mucus from your child’s nose, you can suck out the mucus through a tube using superior firepower – your mouth. No, the mucus doesn’t enter your mouth (trust us), but it does exit your child’s nose in a hurry. Find out more here.
Neti Pot. This classic yogic device works by spraying saline solution up one nostril and out the other. Dr. Tsai says a Neti Pot primarily works for kids older than 6, because the sensation is a little weird. He suggests using it in the bathtub as the saline solution can spray all over the place, especially if your child gets antsy during the process.
Cool mist humidifier. A humidifier can help your child breathe easier, but make sure you change out the water frequently to prevent mold and mildew from accumulating.
Steamy bathroom. Dr. Hayes and Dr. Tsai say that sitting in a steamy bathroom can loosen the mucus in your child’s nose, which is especially valuable before bedtime. And a hot shower will make anyone feel better, on general principle.
Elevation. Propping your child upright – especially at night – can help ease congestion. Dr. Hayes recommends sticking towels under the head of the mattress for slight elevation.
“Parents know their kids better than anyone else,” Dr. Tsai says, so if you notice that your child is just not acting like himself, or that his symptoms – especially fever – persist despite chicken soup and Tylenol, it would be wise to see the doctor, as you may be dealing with the flu. Body aches and exhaustion are also common symptoms of the flu. But thankfully, that’s treatable too.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2013.