So you got sick. It happens to the best of us.
Fact is, kids typically catch 6-10 colds per year. And while they may not share every virus with you, there's a good chance you'll partake in some of those sniffles.
But don’t despair—if you’ve picked up a cold or the flu, there are lots of things you can do (and lots you can do to help those sneezing kids of yours, too).
Start taking zinc.
There’s good evidence that zinc lozenges can shorten the severity and duration of the common cold—in grownups and kids. For the biggest benefit, start zinc within the first 24 hours of symptom onset (when viruses are replicating like crazy). Those first inklings of a sore throat? Get sucking.
Breathing in nice, steamy air is soothing, which is important. But steam also works to clear your sinuses by thinning nasal secretions and encouraging drainage. Simplest way to harness the power of steam? A nice hot shower. Other ways: a vaporizer or humidifier. Or, cradling a nice hot cup of tea.
Cook up some soup.
Yes, Mom was right. A number of studies have shown benefit to the time-honoured remedy of chicken soup. It appears to help clear clogged nasal passages, and to slow down the inflammatory response brought on by cold viruses. Plus, there’s the inhaled steam factor (see #2, above), and the benefit of drinking fluids. And, of course, the comfort thing. I like chicken soup for colds, but to be honest, my go-to soup when I’m sick is actually Chinese Hot and Sour soup. Sadly, there’s nothing scientific about it. Not yet, anyway.
Salt water, or saline, does wonders to soothe a sore throat. Why does this work? Salt solution draws excess fluid from inflamed throat tissues, easing the pain. Dissolve half a teaspoon of table salt in a glass of warm water. Gargle gently and spit. Repeat frequently.
The typical reaction when I advise “plenty of rest” is exasperation. Who’s got the time for that? And I know, I know. But dammit, I’m not giving up my crusade to get people to slow down and rest when they’re sick. Here's the story: it takes an awful lot of energy for your immune system to successfully fight an infection. Let your body do its thing, because the truth is, a small investment of downtime means a quicker recovery. Keep slogging on, and you’ll only get sicker and then you’re really in trouble.
Try a Neti Pot.
The very idea of this Ayurvedic treatment makes some people shudder: and granted, it doesn’t sound all that pleasant, flushing your nose and sinuses out with something that looks a little like a gravy boat, a little like a teapot. But many people swear by it (especially since Oprah featured it on her show). It certainly can work to clear out all those thickened, nasty secretions. If you’re not wild about a full-on neti pot, try saline drops or saline nose spray. For kids, saline drops and a suction bulb can be very helpful. Convincing them of that, of course, is another challenge.
It’s an age-old balm for colds and the flu. Drinking plenty of fluids like water, juice, tea, and clear soup broth will help thin mucus and loosen congestion. It also helps counteract dehydration caused by fever and respiratory tract evaporation.
Rub on some Vicks.
Score another one for mom. Vicks Vapo-Rub was not considered to have any bona-fide benefit...until a study came out recently showing that children treated with Vapor Rub (Vaseline containing camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol) had more nighttime relief from cough and congestion, and better sleep, than did kids treated with a placebo ointment or no treatment at all.
Take Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is a good old standby. And there’s scientific evidence to support its ability to shorten the severity and duration of colds. Plus, if you get your vitamin C in the form of citrus fruits or orange juice, you’re also doing your body the double service of bumping up your fluid intake.
It’s hard for me to talk about natural remedies for colds and the flu without touching on Echinacea. What’s the deal, here: effective? Or snake oil? I hate to say it, but the jury is still out on Echinacea. Some studies have shown benefit, some studies have failed to do so. But there doesn’t appear to be any major harm. My opinion? It’s probably worth a try. But it wouldn’t be the only thing I do to treat a cold.
Let your fever go to work.
Fever occurs for a reason, and it's a sign of a healthy immune system going to battle. Of course, what makes viruses uncomfortable also happens to make us uncomfortable, thus the urge to lower a fever with medication. And a high fever deserves to be treated. But, if your fever is low-grade, and is tolerable...consider leaving it alone, and letting it do its thing.
Take honey to bed.
In a recent study, children over the age of 2 who were given two teaspoons of honey at bedtime had reduced nighttime coughing and improved sleep. Two excellent outcomes in my book. Never give honey to a child younger than age 1 (due to the risk of infant botulism), but for older kids it’s worth a go. If you’re a grown up, take your honey in the form of a hot toddy. The recipe (from my own mother, who grew up in Wales—where they know a thing or two about rain and colds and tucking into bed with a nice hot drink): whisky, honey, lemon juice, and boiling water.
I'm all about preventive medicine. Here's my list of 12 tips to keep your family healthy during cold and flu season.