Even though it’s a beautiful Spring here in Southern California, we are still seeing some coughs, colds and croup, so here are my tips to help keep your family comfortable as they clear their viruses:
Helping a child with nose congestion:
– Use a nasal saline mist (the kind that comes in a metal can, not drops) to spray moisture into each nostril and help clear her out. I like the mists more than the drops because you can hold the canister right below her nose and spray it in, without touching the canister to the actual nose, and without sticking anything directly up the nose. These are also sterile, so you don’t have to worry about the water source. The mist is gentle and cleans out the nose better than the drops.
– Use a humidifier. Only put distilled or sterile water into it (not tap water). Clean it at least every 3 days. Do NOT use the menthol or eucalyptus discs/drops that come with some humidifiers.
– If your child suffers from allergies and is over age 4, you can use an over the counter antihistamine to help dry her up (e.g. children’s Benadryl). Under age 4: ask your pediatrician about these. Do NOT use the over the counter medications known as “decongestants” or “medicated cough syrups”, as these have been shown to have more risks than benefits in children under age 6 years old.
– If your child is very congested you can steam up your bathroom and sit in the bathroom with your child. Make sure the air is okay and the child does not have any access to the hot water. Never leave a child alone in the steam!
– If you want to, you can use a vapor rub on the feet or chest of a child. It has not been proven to help or hurt. However, do not let the rub get near her nose or mouth! Vapor rub placed under the nose has been reported to cause wheezing in some children, and it is dangerous to ingest. Call poison control if your child eats any of this, or gets it in their eye 1-800-222-1222 (an important number to keep in your cell phone for emergencies).
– Children under age 2 years usually can not blow their noses, so help decongest them (e.g. get the boogies out) by using a snot sucker device such as the Nose Frida (http://www.fridababy.com/) -you put in the nostril and use to literally suck the snot out. Sounds gross, but there is a filter (which needs to be changed every day) which prevents you from getting any snot in your mouth. You can do this before feeds and before sleep, or just as needed to clear out the mucus in your baby’s nose. I like this better than traditional nasal aspirators because it’s much easier to clean, is difficult to put it too far into the baby’s nose, and it gets a lot more of the snot out. The key to good suction is to hold the other nostril closed, when you suck out boogers from the first nostril (should take less than 1 second).
Helping a child with a “wet” or “phlegmy” cough:
Do all of the above for nasal congestion plus the following:
– Have your child sleep propped up at 30 degrees so the mucus drains easily.
– Give children over age 1 year a big spoonful of honey twice a day. The honey has been shown to help relieve cough symptoms in kids & help them sleep, in published randomized control trials (scientific studies). The honey they used was NOT “raw”, which can have dangerous bacteria in it. nor was it Menuka. Just plain pasteurized honey from the store works.
– Warm liquids, such as chamomile (caffeine-free) tea and lemon, or chicken soup, can help people feel better.
– Zinc may help shorten colds and soothe sore throats, but this has not been proven conclusively. You can get this in some non-medicated cough syrups, such as Zarbees (for over age 1 since it also contains honey), or in zinc lollipops (over age 2, observing child while they eat them). If your child is over age 6 years you can give him the zinc cough drops that are available at all pharmacies, but please supervise to prevent choking.
Helping a child with a dry, barking, or croupy cough:
Do all of the above for nasal congestion & wet coughs plus the following:
– Use a cool-mist humidifier. Use distilled/sterile water in it. Clean it at least every 3 days by rinsing out the water tank with distilled vinegar and then washing that out. Do not put oils in the water.
– If the child is having a coughing fit, or breathing like Darth Vader, take him/her for a walk outside in the cool air, or hold him/her in front of an open freezer for a few minutes, to reduce the swelling in the throat. If that is not helping, call your pediatrician for immediate medical advice, take the child to the office or ann ER. Please call 911 if (s)he is actually having trouble breathing.
Check out other mom pediatrician blogs on the topic, such as this one from Dr. Stuppy:
Other Important Stuff:
– If your child is wheezing, noisy breathing, breathing hard, breathing quickly, breathing with flared nostrils, or other signs/symptoms not mentioned, please call your pediatrician or 911, or take them to the ER immediately. This information is not intended to act as a substitution for speaking to your physician or using common sense!
– If your child is breathing so hard that they have trouble walking or talking, or if their lips or fingernails turn blue, please call 911 for immediate medical assistance.