How to Build A Natural Cold-Fighting Kit for Your Family

Patient Expert

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, over-the-counter products are ineffective for treating coughs and colds in children under six, and shouldn't be given because of the risk of side effects. The FDA is echoing that parents shouldn't give the medicines to kids under two.

In the meantime, with kids already in school, chances are that the first round of sneezing and hacking has already begun, and the kids are bringing home the germs to mom and dad. Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., author of Raising Baby Green explains the conundrum, "Parents think that the FDA is taking something away from them, but they're not. The reason they took the medicines away for kids under two is because the studies have not shown that they worked any better than placebo. So, you're not losing anything."

The good news is that there are many safe and effective ways to counter cold symptoms.

Quiet a Cough: A recent study showed that buckwheat honey is an effective cough suppressor (Never give honey to children under one year old; it can cause a rare but serious form of food poisoning). Researchers divided 100 children with colds into three groups: One group was given honey before bed; another group was given a cough syrup containing dextromethorphan; and the third group was given nothing. The next day, parents reported that the honey was more effective than the cough medicine.

Dr. Greene recommends another surprising food remedy for cough: two ounces of dark chocolate, which will quiet a cough for up to two hours. In addition to chocolate, don't overlook cough drops. "I'm a huge fan of cough drops for kids," says Dr. Greene. "For children who are over four and old enough to use them without choking, cough drops not only relieve the cough, they stimulate you to create saliva, which has antibodies to help fight the virus."

Be careful with any cough syrup or drop containing dextromethorphan (DXM). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, very large doses can cause numbness, nausea and vomiting, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Ease a Sore Throat: To ease a sore throat, try Throat Coat or warm tea. Warm water with honey and lemon can also be soothing.

Loosen Congestion: To fight congestion, use a vaporizer in the bedroom for young babies, and hot steam before bed for older children and adults. Try standing in the bathroom with a hot shower running for a few minutes or lean over basin or sink full of steamy water with a towel draped over the head and basin. Just make sure it's not too hot. In addition, preservative-free saline nose rinses help as does keeping the head elevated while sleeping.

Get more sleep: Dr. Greene recommends valerian root, which has been used safely for hundreds or years, or a cup of Sleepy Time Tea.

Boost Immunity: Yes, chicken soup really does help, says Dr. Neil Schachter, author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu, who has the science to back up the claim. "In addition to providing nutrition, fluids, and mucus-dissolving warmth, chicken soup actually reduces the inflammatory compounds that rise with a cold and flu, called cytokines, which trigger body aches, fever, and fatigue," explains Schacther. "Studies have actually shown that chicken soup inhibits the release of neutrophils, thus reducing the discomfort of a respiratory infection."

Adding zinc and vitamin C to the diet can also help. Dr. Green explains that studies have shown that zinc lozenges have shortened the duration of a cold up to five days for those who are zinc-deficient, but you must start taking them at the first sign of symptoms. Vitamin C can be very beneficial for athletes, children, and people living in close quarters. The jury is still out, however, on how well zinc and Vitamin C work for most other people.

So here's your shopping list for getting through cough and cold season:

  • Buckwheat honey
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Throat Coat
  • Vaporizer
  • Valerian Root
  • Sleepy Time Tea
  • Chicken soup (in jars, canned or home made!)
  • Zinc lozenges
  • Vitamin C supplements