Handling colds for kids under six

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The decision came about after it was found that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines containing certain antihistamines, antitussives, decongestants and expectorants had limited effectiveness and were often administered incorrectly. (For a list of specific ingredients, visit Health Canada’s website at hc-sc.gc.ca and search “cough and cold”.)

“Some of the labels were done by age, and others by weight, and it was confusing for people,” says Sherry Torkos, a pharmacist in Fort Erie, Ont., and author of The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. “Kids were getting the wrong dose and getting sick.”

Cold ComfortThe decision leaves parents with fewer options, and that’s a challenge. Health Canada recommends rest, fluids and a humid environment … but is that now the extent of a parent’s cold-fighting arsenal?

“The only decongestants pharmacists recommend are saline and nasal aspirators,” says Sherry. When it comes to coughs, however, buckwheat honey has actually been proven to be more effective as a cough suppressant for kids aged two to 18 than DM, the common decongestant found in most cough syrups. A 2007 study published in Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that a single nighttime dose of buckwheat honey, according to weight, was an effective treatment for relief of cough and it also improved sleep.

Sherry says fluids and hydrating are key. “if your mucus membranes dry out and your nasal passages are cracked, it makes it easier for a virus to enter the body. Drinking lots of fluids also relieves congestion and a dry hacking cough, because it can help thin secretions and make it easier for your body to get rid of phlegm.”

A humidifier or cool mist vaporizer is very effective – and don’t forget the good old Vicks VapoRub (which can works wonders on kids of all ages). “You can put it on their chest, or in the vaporizer, and it works really well,” says Sherry. “You can even put it on their feet with socks on at bedtime.”

Since treatments are limited (and there is no cure for the common cold – it’s just about managing the symptoms and making your child feel more comfortable), the emphasis should be on prevention instead.

Sherry is a big believer in probiotics, citing a 2005 study in the journal Pediatrics, in which a group of daycare children were given probiotic supplements and another was not. Those who had the supplements had significantly fewer infections and fewer absent days from daycare.

In the end, the occasional cold or bout of the flu is inevitable, and it’s just a part of childhood. Luckily for little ones, yesterday’s yucky-tasting medicines are not.

Treatment tips for children under six

  • Try saline nasal drops or spray to reduce congestion.
  • Put a cool mist humidifier in the child’s room (can add Vick’s VapoRub).
  • Use antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin) formulated for children to relieve runny nose and sneezing. But remember, Benadryl can cause drowsiness.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about an appropriate dose of buckwheat honey (for kids older than one year only) to help suppress cough.
  • Encourage plenty of fluids to keep mucus membranes hydrated.

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