15 Safe Home Remedies for Childhood Coughs and Colds

When children are small, particularly in the first year of their lives, their immune systems are immature and they often suffer from coughs and colds. They… Simi - February 11, 2018

When children are small, particularly in the first year of their lives, their immune systems are immature and they often suffer from coughs and colds. They haven’t yet built up the immunity to fight off all the viruses that cause these infections.

Babies and toddlers may come down with as many as eight colds a year and those who attend daycare may suffer even more. They are always exploring so they can easily pick up viruses by touching contaminated surfaces or being exposed to infected persons. Over-the-counter medications are unsafe for young children and they can have serious – even fatal – side effects. Gentle, safe home remedies are readily available and offer a viable alternative to these medications.

These home remedies do not shorten the length of the illness but they will help the child to cope with symptoms such as a runny nose, a low-grade fever, coughing, sneezing, irritability, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite. When a child has an elevated temperature, it’s a sure sign that the immune system is working to fend off a virus. It is often difficult to know when you need to call the doctor. If a baby is under 3 months and has a fever, you shouldn’t hesitate to make the call.

Other situations where a visit to the doctor might be necessary are when a child has a very high fever or when symptoms persist for a long time. In many cases, home remedies can deal effectively with the symptoms and keep a child as comfortable as possible until a cough or cold gets better.

1. Plenty of rest

Fighting off an infection like a cough or cold takes energy. Your child needs to rest to give the body time to heal. Studies have also shown that children who are under stress or pressure or anxiety are more subject to illness and giving them a break and a rest may be exactly what they need.

Most children are only too ready to go to bed when they feel ill. There is probably no other time when they might just fall asleep in the middle of the day. Your child does not necessarily need to stay in bed and may prefer a snug spot on a couch or a tent in the living room where they can be close to you.

It’s when a child starts feeling a little better that it becomes more difficult to get them to rest. This is when they need something to keep them occupied like some favorite videos, an entertaining app or even a new coloring book and crayons. If you have time to read to your child, tell stories or play games this can help to pass the time and make sure that they don’t start being too active too quickly when they start feeling better.

It is not fair to send a sick child to school or to daycare where they can infect others. Children often become clingy when they are sick but the minute they are feeling better, this passes. They usually get well quite quickly if they are suffering from a common cold or a cough and it’s usually not necessary to pay a visit to the doctor.

2. Soothe a fever

You shouldn’t take chances when your child is suffering from a fever but many parents panic instead of recognizing it as a sign that the child’s immune system is doing its job. A very high fever is a cause for concern but if a child is suffering from a low-grade fever and has other symptoms like a runny nose or a cough, it’s probably just a common cold.

One way to soothe a fever is with a sponge bath. Cold water should not be used as this can cause shivering and make the body temperature rise. A small baby can be given a sponge bath several times a day by soaking a washcloth in warm tap water, wringing out excess water and then sponging armpits, hands, groin, and feet. As warm water evaporates from the skin, it cools it down and the fever is lowered.

Another option is to put a cool, damp washcloth on a child’s forehead and keep changing it. An older child can take a lukewarm bath or shower. Heavy layers of clothing are uncomfortable for a child with a fever and lightweight, breathable clothing helps. Another option may be to use a fan if a child is still feeling too hot.

If a child is shivering, a light warm blanket can be used until he or she is warm again. It’s an old myth that a fever should be sweated out under heaps of blankets. Cool foods such as popsicles and yogurt can help to bring down fever. They soothe the body from the inside and also help to prevent dehydration.

3. Honey and Lemon

Honey and lemon are time-honored remedies used to treat sore throats, coughs and runny noses. As lemon is a good source of vitamin C, it helps to boost the immune system, allowing the body to be more effective at fighting off coughs and colds. Honey and lemon both have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial qualities. Honey coats the inflamed mucous membranes, makes swallowing easier and helps with an irritating cough.

To make a cough mixture of honey and lemon, warm up a cup of honey over low heat. Don’t heat it up too much. To the warm honey, add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice (freshly squeezed) and a quarter cup of water. Stir for a while on low heat. Refrigerate this mixture and use a tablespoon or two every few hours to ease coughing and help to soothe a sore throat.

There was a study done with 270 children of two years and older who had upper respiratory tract infections. They were given two teaspoons of different types of honey or a similar tasting date extract 30 minutes before they went to bed. The parents reported that the children who received the honey did not cough as much or as severe and they lost less sleep than those who didn’t take the honey.

Honey should never be given to children below one year of age. This is because it can cause infant botulism, a rare but serious condition. The digestive system in a child of this age is not developed enough to deal with all the micro-organisms in the honey. Home remedies using honey are safe for older children except those who are allergic to pollen. Honey may contain small traces of pollen that sets off an allergic reaction.

4. Natural expectorants

Coughing is a natural way of clearing out the system. An expectorant helps to loosen mucus so that it can be coughed up. It does this by increasing its water content and thinning it out. When the mucus is expelled from the body, the toxins, bacteria and other microbes causing the illness are expelled too. There are a number of natural expectorants that can help to make a congested cough more productive.

Licorice is not only a natural expectorant but it also helps to soothe a scratchy throat. It is mildly stimulating and helps to loosen mucus so it can be coughed out. Add a teaspoon of dried licorice root to a honey and lemon mixture to make an effective cough syrup. Licorice root can also be made into tea by adding half a teaspoon of the dried root to hot water.

Peppermint is often used to flavor gum or toothpaste but it contains a compound called menthol that can help to thin mucus. Peppermint teas are widely available and considered safe, posing no dangers except for those who are allergic to mint. You can make your own tea by adding fresh peppermint leaves to hot water.

Eucalyptus is a decongestant and natural expectorant that can also help to reduce fever. In the case of a persistent cough, add 10 to 15 drops of eucalyptus oil into boiling water. With a towel over the head and the bowl of steaming water containing the eucalyptus oil, the child breathes in and the mucus thins out and breaks up, making the cough more productive.

5. Ginger

With its anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial properties, ginger is a popular natural remedy used to treat coughs and colds. It boosts the immune system and speeds up recovery. It can also help to reduce mild fevers by promoting sweating and expelling heat. One of the components of ginger, oleoresin, gives it antitussive abilities which means that it can relieve and suppress coughing. It also acts as an antihistamine which can reduce cold symptoms.

A ginger tea can be made by putting six cups of water, half a cup of fresh ginger (thin slices) and two cinnamon sticks into a pan. The mixture is simmered for 20 minutes and then strained and allowed to cool. A little honey can be added to make it more palatable and the lukewarm tea can be given to a child to drink several times a day. A very young child can even have a teaspoon or two of the tea.

Ginger powder can be used in a bath to induce sweating and reduce fever. Add two tablespoons of ginger powder to warm bathwater and stir it well. Your child should bath in this water for about ten minutes to get the desired effect.

Ginger is often used to soothe sore throats and lozenges are available for this purpose. Older children can be given ginger candies to chew. Ginger is spicy and hot so you may have to adjust the quantity according to the toleration of your child. Too much ginger can cause stomach upsets and heartburn. Just a little goes a long way and it’s only necessary to use a small amount for a young child.

6. Extra fluids

When a child is ill, giving extra fluids is vital. A child should drink twice as much as normal because this helps to prevent dehydration that may occur due to fever. Fluids also help to thin out mucus and phlegm so it can be coughed out more easily, relieving congestion.

For babies under a year, breastfeed or bottle feed more frequently. Breast milk is so important for children, especially if they are sick. It offers them a balance of nutrients to help fight infection and speed up recovery. If a baby refuses to nurse when sick, you can try nursing in a different position. Keeping the baby more upright might just help.

For older children, plain water will help to replace the fluids lost by sweating and sneezing. If they do not want to drink plain water, you can offer them fruit juice instead. Another option is to make some ice pops with 100% fruit juice diluted with some water. Try to avoid giving them sugary, fizzy drinks as they contain too much sugar and too few nutrients. Any caffeinated drinks such as iced teas and some soft drinks are not a good idea as they are dehydrating.

Plain water, some herbal teas and a honey and lemon drink are all helpful. There is some controversy about whether dairy products should be eliminated when a child is sick. There is a belief that cow’s milk steps up mucus production. However, if your child is accustomed to drinking milk, it’s probably better not to take it away because it does offer nutrients and taking it away may mean the child is drinking less than normal instead of more.

7. Chicken broth

Warm, clear liquids are not only soothing but help to relieve congestion. Studies have found that it’s not just an old wives’ tale that chicken soup can really help children suffering from coughs and colds. One study found that chicken soup contains many substances that are beneficial for upper respiratory tract infections and can help to relieve congestion, aches, fatigue, and fever.

Chicken broth contains gelatin which is a very nutritious mixture of proteins that are easy for children to digest. The gelatin comes from the collagen found in the bones, skin and cartilage and connective tissue of the chicken. It helps with digestion by attracting digestive fluids to the gut, giving the child energy and speeding up the healing process.

Making a chicken broth is simple but it needs to cook for some time so all the gelatin can be extracted from the bones. Place a whole chicken into a large cooking pot and cover it with water. Add peeled and chopped vegetables such as carrots, a peeled garlic clove, onions, turnips, leeks, and celery. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a couple of hours. Strain off the broth.

The broth can be fed to a baby on a spoon or even straight from a bottle or a cup. It goes down easily even when a child has a raw or scratchy throat. It tastes good, provides energy and relieves congestion and other symptoms. A tablespoon of vinegar can be added to the pot while cooking as this helps to release calcium from the chicken bones, making it even more nutritious.

8. A cool mist humidifier

Dry air makes children more congested because their mucus becomes too thick. Breathing in moist air is a great natural decongestant. The humid air soothes a wheezy cough, clears the nasal passages and loosens mucus. Running a cool mist humidifier in a sick child’s bedroom while resting or sleeping can relieve congestion and allow some much-needed sleep.

A cool mist humidifier is the safest choice for leaving in a child’s bedroom overnight. Nothing needs to be added to the humidifier except cold water for it to work. A hot water vaporizer may be cheaper and may come with a device to add something like menthol to the warm mist but it has a big downside. Using it in a child’s bedroom has potential risks because the hot water could accidentally cause burns if a child gets too close.

For optimum results, the reservoir tank of the cool mist humidifier should be filled according to the instructions given by the manufacturer. The unit should be placed on a hard surface and run for an hour before bedtime. The water level in the tank should be checked periodically and refilled if necessary.

When water is left sitting in a cool mist humidifier, mold and bacteria will grow inside the unit. When it is restarted, the bacteria spores are sent into the air. To prevent this from happening, it is important to clean the unit thoroughly on a regular basis as recommended by the manufacturer. Never leave water in it when it isn’t running and always make sure it is clean before use.

9. Saline drops

When a child’s nose is blocked, this causes difficulty with breathing, eating, and sleeping. Saline nasal drops can be used to shrink the swollen airways and thin the mucus. The saline solution causes the blood vessels in the sinus area to contract and this reduces the swelling.

Saline drops are available over the counter without a prescription and these are safe even for children under two as long as they contain only saline and no decongestants. Nasal decongestants are not recommended for use in children and they often cause a rebound effect, making congestion worse rather than better over time.

You may prefer to make your own saline drops, Pour a cup of distilled water into a clean container. If you use tap water you must boil it first to sterilize it and allow it to cool down till it is lukewarm. Now add 0.5 tsp salt and 0.5 tsp baking soda to the water. You should use non-iodized or kosher salt to prevent irritation to the nasal lining. The solution should be at about room temperature or it can cause irritation.

To administer the drops, have the child lie down. Place the dropper just past the nose opening without touching it to the nose and gently squeeze. Add one or two drops to each nostril. The child must stay lying down for five minutes so the saline can flow into the nasal passages. Stop the child from nose-blowing for a few minutes to give the saline time to work. Always wash and dry the dropper every time you use it and never share droppers among children.

10. A bulb syringe

Many children do not master the skill of nose-blowing until they are about four. When they are too young to blow their noses, using a bulb syringe can work very well. It works especially well for a baby with a stuffy nose that prevents proper breastfeeding or bottle feeding. It can also be used successfully on toddlers and infants under four.

It helps to use the bulb syringe together with the saline drops as they thin and loosen the mucus making it easier to remove. A baby’s nose is extremely sensitive and you should never force the tip of the syringe into the nose when suctioning. The syringe should be held so as to just cover the outer edge of the nostril.

Before using the bulb syringe, force air out by squeezing. Gently insert the rubber tip into the nostril. Some people recommend closing off the other nostril with a finger for better suction. Releasing the bulb causes it to suck up mucus. Remove the syringe and squeeze to expel the mucus into a tissue. Wipe the syringe before repeating with the other nostril.

Don’t suction a child’s nose more than a few times a day as this is likely to irritate the nasal lining. Using saline drops too often and for too long can also cause irritation by drying out the nose too much over time. If a baby becomes really upset when using the syringe, try just using the saline drops. Squirt a small amount into the nose and gently wipe the lower nostrils with a cotton swab.

11. A neti pot

A neti pot looks rather like a teapot or tiny watering can. It is usually made of metal or ceramic and can be bought online or at natural food stores and drugstores. The pot is used to administer a saline solution which you can buy or make yourself. It flushes this solution through the nasal passages, irrigating them and helping to thin, loosen and rinse away mucus.

When using a neti pot, your child needs to be old enough to understand the procedure. It is not painful but it may feel rather strange at first. A neti pot should definitely not be used on babies or toddlers. Some older children may be quite resistant to the idea too.

It is best to practice on yourself or to watch some online videos of people using the pot before expecting your child to use it. The basic method is to fill the neti pot with the saline solution, bend over the sink, tilt the head to one side, and put the spout of the pot deep into the top nostril. This allows the water to flow through the nasal cavity and out of the other nostril. Then you turn your head to the other side and repeat.

The procedure is not difficult at all and may feel strange at first but you quickly get used to it. You can let your child watch you using it and then help him if he wants to try. Tilt your child’s head sideways over the sink and insert the spout into his top nostril. Never try to persist if a child struggles or becomes upset.

12. Vapor rubs

Vapor rubs are often the go-to remedy for parents when dealing with congestion from a cold. A study has suggested that applying a vapor rub to the neck, back and chest may help to ease coughing and allow a child to sleep more peacefully. It opens up the airways, helps to break down mucus and has a cooling effect.

However, a rub should never be applied to the face of a child, such as rubbing it directly under the nose or on the cheeks. Vapor rubs should not be used at all on children under the age of two. You need to make sure that the rub you use is suitable for children. Some parents do not want to use vapor rubs that contain petroleum and it is possible to find natural options that do not contain harmful ingredients.

Your own vapor rub is also easy to make by using essential oils (just make sure they are ones that are age-appropriate) and natural ingredients. The following recipe is recommended for children of two to five. It contains a drop of lavender, a drop of frankincense, two drops of sweet marjoram, two drops of lemon and two tablespoons of shea butter.

A thin layer of the rub should be massaged into the chest, neck, and back with bare hands. Some people suggest rubbing it onto the bottom of the feet and covering the feet with woolen or cotton socks. A vapor rub should not be applied if the skin is irritated or has a rash. The rub is likely to irritate it and make it worse.

13. Elevating the head

When suffering from a blocked nose, elevating the child’s head may help with breathing. Sleeping with the head elevated keeps the head above the heart which decreases blood flow to the nose. Lying flat allows the mucus to build in the sinuses, clogging up nasal passages and disrupting sleep.

Pillows or towels can be used to raise the head of the mattress. If a child sleeps in a crib, you can place a slim pillow or some towels underneath the head of the mattress on the springs of the crib. If a child sleeps in a big bed, an extra pillow under the head may help.

However, because many children squirm when they sleep, it is much safer to slide towels or a pillow underneath the mattress to avoid any possible risk of suffocation. This also creates a more comfortable, natural slope than using extra pillows. If you overdo the elevation, a young child may flip around while sleeping. With the feet being higher than the head, the whole purpose is defeated.

Some mothers even suggest letting a baby sleep in a car seat or a swing and others their small children in a recliner. They say it can make a world of difference when they are congested, allowing them to get more sleep. When using unusual methods to keep the head elevated, just make sure that the child is safe at all times. You may clear up their congestion and help them to sleep but put them at risk of injury from falling at the same time.

14. Inhaling steam

One of the simplest and easy ways to deal with congestion in children is to create some steam inside a closed room. A child may not like the idea of inhaling steam coming from a bowl of hot water with a head covered in a towel. This method can even be dangerous for children because mild scalding may occur when the steam is too hot.

Create a steamy room instead by going into the bathroom and turning on the hot water in the shower. Close the door, seal up the gap under it with towels and wait a few minutes. Sit with the child inside the steamy room for about 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes before bed. The child will breathe in the steam, loosening up the mucus and relieving any congestion.

In a steamy room, the steam may not be inhaled as directly as when using the towel and bowl method but this is a safer method to use for children. You are there in the room and you can make sure that your child does not come into contact with the scalding water. While you are sitting in the bathroom, clap on your child’s back or chest to help dislodge mucus (see how to do this in point 15).

It is fine to use this method regularly while a child is battling with congestion. It can even be used a couple of times a day. Without access to any other remedies, this simple remedy may be all that you need to help clear up your child’s stuffy nose.

15. Clapping the chest

There is evidence that lightly clapping the back or the front of the chest can help to dislodge mucus plugs in the chest. The clapping motion you need to use is a bit firmer than what you would use to burp a baby. Generally, a baby or small child requires less clapping at a lighter force than an older child who is very congested and is coughing a lot.

If you have a baby or small child, you may sit with the child in your lap. The child should be leaning slightly forward. It may be difficult to attempt clapping with a wriggly toddler and you may have to put the child on its tummy across your knees.

Clap the child’s back or chest with a cupped hand. Clapping should be quick and rhythmic. It should loosen the mucus so that it can drain. The clapping should not be done directly onto the skin but with a cloth or thin clothing covering it. Your hand makes a cup shape by you bending it at the wrist.

When you clap, the sound you should hear is a ‘popping’ sound. If the sound is more of a ‘slapping’ sound, your hand is probably too not cupped enough. How much force is used and how long you clap usually depends on the child. Smaller children require less force and time. Watch your child for any sign of pain or discomfort and you may have to reduce force. On the other hand, if the mucus is not coming up, you may need to apply a little more force.