Cooler weather has arrived, and so has the cold season. For parents, this means preparing for a lot of runny noses and scratchy throats in the coming months.
There is plenty of advice available on how to relieve cold symptoms in children. But who better to ask than pediatricians who are parents themselves?
dr. Natasha Burgert — a pediatrician in Overland Park, Kansas, and mother of two — told HuffPost that she likes to have some sort of “sick box” on hand so that everything is in one place when the disease hits her home.
“In my hall closet you’ll find a trash can with all the essentials,” she said. “I can take all the essentials to my child’s room, or wherever he wants to rest, to make care a little easier. I just made sure that all medicines were out of reach of my child’s room, for example by storing the paracetamol on a high cupboard shelf.
As the pandemic continues, it’s important to note that the symptoms of COVID-19 in children can be mild and similar to those of the common cold – think congestion, cough or a low-grade fever. If you think your child may have COVID-19, talk to your pediatrician to find out the best course of action.
Below, pediatric medical experts reveal what they always have on hand when their kids have a cold.
1. Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C
Products rich in vitamin C can nourish your body and strengthen your immune system, said Dr. Nadia Sabri, a pediatrician and founder of the Mindful MD Mom site. Good sources include oranges, grapefruit, berries (especially strawberries), red peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. The Brussels sprouts may be a tough sell if your little one isn’t feeling well, but fruit can easily be added to a smoothie.
“If they don’t want the smoothie, freeze the leftover smoothie into popsicles,” Sabri said. “There are many creative ways to add healthy foods, even when kids aren’t feeling well.”
dr. Yami Cazorla-Lancaster, a pediatrician in Yakima, Washington, and founder of Veggie Fit Kids, also relies on antioxidant-packed smoothies when her kids are sick, especially when they’re not feeling very hungry.
“Smoothies are a great way to maximize intake of antioxidant-rich foods like leafy greens, berries, herbs and spices,” she said. “I’ve developed my own antioxidant smoothie and I give the recipe to my patients during the winter months, when upper respiratory infections are more common.”
While some parents swear by vitamin C supplements like Emergen-C Kidz to shorten the duration of a cold, there is no strong scientific evidence to support the benefits of these high doses. So you can better focus on getting your child’s vitamin C through a balanced diet.
2. A cool mist humidifier
It is critical for children to get a good night’s sleep when they are feeling bad. But with nasal congestion, it can be a struggle to fall and stay asleep. Using a humidifier in their bedroom can make your child more comfortable.
“Life in Colorado is particularly dry,” said Karen Gentile, a pediatric nurse at National Jewish Health in Denver. “If my daughter catches a cold, I make sure my humidifier is cleaned really well, then I run it in her room at night to give a little extra moisture to her already irritated nasal passages.”
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If your child has a stuffy nose, try using a cool mist humidifier in his bedroom to open his nasal passages.
“I personally have a cool mist humidifier to reduce the risk of burns from the warm mist versions,” Gentile said. “Toddlers love to touch everything, including their humidifier!”
3. Tylenol, Advil or Motrin for Kids
In case of fever or pain, Gentile always has children’s paracetamol or children’s ibuprofen at home.
“If my daughter has a fever but looks comfortable, I usually won’t give her any medication,” Gentile said. “However, if she looks uncomfortable, such as with an ear infection, I believe it’s important to provide pain relief so she can sleep well and heal.”
If your child has a fever and is not feeling well, you can give him paracetamol. Just make sure they get the correct dosage for their weight.
dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician in Madison, Wisconsin, and chief medical officer at SpoonfulONE, follows a similar philosophy when it comes to children and over-the-counter medications: Treat the child, not the thermometer. In other words, if your child has a low-grade fever but is otherwise in a good mood, Tylenol may not be necessary.
“If your sweet human walks through the living room playing Twister and she feels warm to the touch and you then confirm that she has a fever with her sniffing – the thermometer reads 101.7 degrees – you don’t have to reach for paracetamol Swanson said. “Keep her hydrated, let her cover her cough and make sure she gets some rest so her body can do the dirty work of clearing the infection. The acetaminophen should be used if she’s in pain, feeling unwell, or not feeling well wants to be because of the general malaise.
And if you need the Tylenol, make sure you give your child the correct dose based on their current weight, not their age, Swanson added.
4. Extra pillows
For children older than 2 years, Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, a pediatrician in New York City, recommends supporting your little one with some extra pillows.
“Holding your head higher makes breathing easier than lying flat on the floor [their] back,” she said.
A spoonful of honey is a great alternative to cold and cough medicines, which are not recommended for young children unless advised by your child’s healthcare provider. (Note that babies under 1 year of age should not consume honey due to the risk of infant botulism.)
“Reach for a teaspoon of honey for anything in the medicine cabinet, as long as your little one is over 12 months old,” Swanson said. “Research from 2007 found that honey helps reduce nighttime coughs better than over-the-counter remedies.”
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A spoonful of honey can minimize coughing and soothe a scratchy throat, as long as your child is of the right age.
To soothe your child’s scratchy throat, you can also add honey to a cup of decaffeinated tea along with some ginger and lemon, as recommended by Dr. Candice Jones, a pediatrician in Orlando, Florida.
6. Saline Nasal Spray and Suction Device
Keeping your baby’s small nasal passages clear of mucus is no small feat, especially before they can actually blow their own nose. That’s where a saline nasal spray and aspirator like the NoseFrida come in handy.
“I’ll put a few drops of saline in each nostril and then aspirate that nostril with a suction device,” Gentile said. “I use the NoseFrida because it is comfortable for my daughter and easy to use, but there are many suction devices on the market.”
Gentile uses the combination of saline and suction when her daughter wakes up in the morning, when she gets up from a nap and before going to bed.
“While it doesn’t sound pleasant to the child, with time and consistency my daughter got quite used to the process and is now very cooperative at 2 years old,” she said.
7. Chicken Soup
When Trachtenberg’s kids are confused, she serves a bowl of a sick day classic: chicken noodle soup.
“The warm liquid filled with nutrients, proteins, [and] help provide vegetables [the] body with nutrition, as well as liquid and salt [the] body needs to stay hydrated,” she said.
And a bonus: inhaling the steam from the soup helps open the nasal passages.
8. Disinfection Wipes
When there are a lot of germs, Burgert breaks out the disinfectant wipes to clean high-touch surfaces.
“I keep the Lysol wipes with the sick child to wipe on the solid surfaces nearby — bathrooms, light switch, remotes, game controllers,” she said.
9. A water bottle
Cazorla-Lancaster always makes sure her kids stay hydrated when they’re not feeling well.
“Many kids aren’t very hungry when they’re sick, and that makes sense because the body tries to conserve as much energy as possible to fight the infection,” she said. “Staying hydrated allows our body to perform all its vital functions. In addition, dehydration will increase the malaise and fatigue we feel when we are sick.