Healthy Kids : Back-to-School Basics on Child-Safe Cold Care

By Jane Hart, MD and Maureen Williams, ND

Healthnotes Newswire (September 3, 2009)—The prospect of school starting has made many parents’ thoughts turn to the onset of cold and flu season—especially with ongoing concerns about the H1N1 (“swine flu”) virus constantly in the public eye. Look out for an overview on the latest recommendations for H1N1 prevention next week, but in the meantime, here’s a review of some safe, doctor-recommended measures for prevention and treatment for your little one this fall.

Prevention is the best medicine

Parents searching for safe ways to keep their kids healthy during the cold season will be happy to know that several simple steps may help:

• Give them plenty of vitamin C: Bolstering their immune systems with 100 to 250 mg per day is a good idea.

• Stay away from sugar: Sugar inhibits the immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to infections.

• Get them to gargle: Gargling with plain water removes mucous and keeps bacteria and viruses from sticking around. A three-times-a-day habit has been found to reduce the occurrence of respiratory infections.

Treating a sick child

Colds are self-limited illnesses, but their symptoms can be annoying and frustrating. So though a cold will naturally run its course, for those parents who want to relieve their children’s discomfort, try the common sense remedies many of us grew up with:

• Don’t forget the C: The appropriate amount of vitamin C for children varies depending on age and tolerance and should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

• Drink up: Make sure your child gets plenty of fluids in order to maintain water balance and to thin secretions. Avoid sugary drinks in favor of water or a comforting chicken broth.

• Eat healthy: Avoid giving sick children sugar and excessively fatty foods, as they are known to dip immune function.

• Don’t dry out: A warm, humid environment created by a humidifier may provide some comfort while riding out a cold.

• Sleep it off: Make sure your sick child gets plenty of rest, especially those with severe symptoms.

• Sweeten the deal: One exception to the no-sugar rule—honey may improve for cough and cold symptoms as well as for the sleep difficulty that accompanies an annoying cough. Honey has antimicrobial, antioxidant and other properties that can soothe irritated mucous membranes. (Though it does not harm older children or adults, honey can contain bacteria that causes botulism in infants, so babies under 12 months old should not be given honey.)

“Taking vitamin C two or three times a day for several days has been shown to shorten the duration of colds and the severity of symptoms in children,” says Alan R. Gaby, MD, chief science editor for Healthnotes Newswire. “However, two other cold remedies that are effective in adults—echinacea and zinc lozenges—do not appear to work for children.”

Remember, any child who suffers from a persistent cough should be seen by a physician, and parents should also discuss the appropriate treatments for their child’s symptoms with their physician.

Cold medicine dos and don’ts

The US Food and Drug Administration concluded in recent years that medicines should not be given to children under two years old unless instructed by a healthcare provider, as the limited number of available studies on the use of cough and cold medicine in children has not demonstrated effectiveness, and some products currently on the market have never been tested in children.

For kids over age two, be sure to use medicines as directed and ask a doctor before using products in combination.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association asserts that harmful effects of cold medicine in children, while rare, is usually attributable to accidental ingestion, so it is important to store medicines safely out of children’s reach and to administer them properly.

Sources

FDA Public Health Advisory http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/default.htm

FDA Hearing Presentation www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/07/slides/2007-4323s1-03-Petitioner-Sharfstein.ppt

Consumer Healthcare Products Association Statement www.chpa-info.org/ChpaPortal/PressRoom/NewsReleases/2007/07_20_CHPA_Ad_Comm_Statement.htm

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2008;134:67–74

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2007;161:1140–6

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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