Is it just me or is this year’s cold season relentless? Two kids in this house have been sick for almost two months and one has gone mostly unfazed — not sure what his secret is. There were lingering chest colds, followed by a virus, and then the littlest got hand, foot and mouth disease! Wanna come over for a play date? Just kidding. We’re well now, but after all this time I’ve compiled a nice sick kid cheatsheet I thought I’d share.
In our medicine cabinet we have and use sparingly:
- Cough suppressant
- Benadryl or Hyland’s homeopathics for congestion
- Acetaminophen for fevers, though recent research shows it works in the child’s favor to let the fever do its job of fighting off illness. I tend to use this only if the fever is repeatedly interfering with sleep.
There is a place for medications, but are more things you can do to boost their immune systems and care for those too young to take these. Outside over-the-counter medications, these are the things I do to prevent spreading germs, boost their immune systems and ease their pain:
I try to give my older two kids (ages 4 and 5) a daily multivitamin — sometimes I forget for a week — but when one starts sniffling I set them right out on the counter so we don’t forget. We use the gummy variety now, but I want to try these next.
Along with vitamins, I start everyone on probiotics. I buy the powder form so I can put it in drinks and smoothies and no one will know. It lasts longer than the chewables as well. It worked wonders for Clara when she was a cranky, gassy newborn too! I wished I had known with the other two babies. (More on newborn use here.)
Probiotics need to be refrigerated, but manufacturers say a two-day ship time won’t harm the strains. I order mine on the coldest days just to be safe though!
A humidifier adds moisture to the air which is useful during dry winters. It helps with nighttime coughing and those never-ending boogers. Just make sure you change the filter when it is discolored and leave it open to dry after use to keep the air clean.
Our nighttimes coughs were so intense and went on so long that I ended up ordering an inexpensive humidity monitor. It turned out our house’s humidity gauge was set all the way on low and the air was dry. After we corrected that and pointed the humidifiers toward the kids’ beds, the level reached a comfortable level and the coughing reduced significantly.
Baths themselves are perfect for a little sick person, but you might not have thought about epsom salts for kids. Epsom salt is good for pain and achey muscles. It can boost magnesium levels, help heal cuts, treat migraines. I use the original salt with no added fragrances that could irritate skin. This helped a great deal to help with Clara’s blisters from hand, foot and mouth disease. Poor girl.
This one brings back all the memories of holding a baby at midnight in our small bathroom with the shower on hot and sink plugged full of hot water. Nighttime is so hard for babies who are plugged up. This trick works well because the steam breaks up the mucus and you hold them upright so it can work its way down. I stick my 5 year old in the steamy bathroom too when he has major middle-of-the-night coughing fits. Works like a charm.
Saline and syringe
Saline nasal spray is helpful especially at the end of a cold when the snot is thick. And a bulb syringe is definitely not a baby crowd-pleaser, but it really helps when they’re too little to blow their nose. Heck, I still use it on my five year old occasionally when he refuses to blow his nose. I soak and clean it in warm water and buy a new one occasionally.
Homemade popsicles feel great on a sore throat and can help prevent dehydration. I use smoothies (sneaking some spinach in), applesauce, or juice.
Too much sugar will weaken the immune system, but honey is a natural way to help coughing. It coats the throat and has an anti-inflammatory effect. Depending on the type and whether it is raw or not, honey contains B6, niacin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, and zinc. Whew. Honey, however, is not recommended for children under 12 months.
Now this might be a hard sell, but with a spoonful of honey as mentioned above, a warm cup of chamomile tea can hydrate, relax and offer your little one some upset stomach relief. It feels good on a sore throat as well. Now that I’m thinking about it, you could even include chamomile in a homemade popsicle.
Your grandmother was right, chicken soup is good for you. Broth, especially bone broth (see how to make your own from a rotisserie chicken in this post), has anti-inflammatory properties. One study found that chicken soup “slows the amount of cells congregating in the lung area.”
Avoid dairy and bananas
Dairy and bananas make mucus thicker and milk will make an upset stomach worse.
No or very limited sugar
The less sugar the better when their little immune system is already compromised. I did some more digging on the subject of sugar and found that 1 teaspoon of sugar can shut down your immune system for up to five hours. And kids should only get about 3 teaspoons (12 grams) or less of sugar a day — um that’s one fun size Skittles packet!
Of course wash your hands to prevent passing germs onto another child. Ask your children to frequently wash their hands. Tell them to cough inside their shirt or in their elbow if they are old enough.
Clean the things everyone in the house touches to prevent germs from spreading. Don’t miss these germy hot spots:
- kitchen counters
- kitchen sink
- dining table
- kitchen trash can
- toothbrush holders
- remote controls
- mouse of family computer
- bath towels
- toilet and handle
- refrigerator handles
I was determined not to let the little one pass off hand, food and mouth to the other two! I kept hand sanitizer on the counter and washed my hands after each diaper change. Poor baby got quarantined to her Pack ‘n Play and room quite a bit. But it worked! No one else got it. (Do you like where Adriano decided to take a nap? Maybe nap attacks are his secret to never getting sick.)
Get some sun
If the weather permits, expose 80 percent of the child’s skin to the sun for 20 minutes to stimulate vitamin D production. Vitamin D helps boost the immune system and fight depression, among many more benefits. Obviously don’t over do it. A little sun goes a long way.
If your child is complaining of an earache, you can try this home remedy for garlic-infused coconut oil. I wouldn’t do this unless the child is old enough to communicate well and drain the oil out. Our pediatrician more or less laughed at me when I asked her about this, but it has worked for us on several occasions!
And now I need to say something disclaimery: Consult your doctor for diagnosis and recurrent ear infections. Ok, so here’s how it works:
- Simmer a couple sliced cloves of garlic in a few tablespoons of coconut oil.
- Let cool to room temperature.
- Strain the garlic out of the oil with cheesecloth or paper towel.
- The best option is to drop a few drops directly into the ear and leave for five minutes or more before draining. If kiddo won’t go for that, you can also put the garlic-infused oil on a cotton ball and leave it in the ear opening, though it is less effective.
I finally bit the bullet and bought an infrared thermometer that requires no contact and gets a read in a second. No more struggling with keeping it in their mouths or armpits … or wherever. With three kids, this was well worth it. I take a few readings in a row to make sure I have an accurate reading.
I used to use Eucalyptus oil in the humidifier or in oil on the chest, as well as thieves oil on the feet, but now I’m reading that these two are possibly more for older kids. Also, we recently found out our oldest has mild asthma and I’ve read the oil diffusers can be harmful to kids with irritated respiratory tracts. I’m all for essential oils, but want to do more research before I go recommending them. Here is an interesting article with guidelines written by a doctor who uses them in her practice. Do you have an opinion on this? My guess is it depends on the child and the oil, but I have more reading to do.
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It never fails that I forget half these tricks when a child starts to get sick, so I’m making my scribbled Post-It into a printable checklist. Here’s a copy for you:
I keep one of those clear, shoe-boxed sized containers from the dollar store with all the kid cold stuff we have. During this long ordeal it came to live on a tray on the counter for ease. I like having it all together in one spot and then sticking it back, as is, into the cabinet. I also hung this checklist inside the same cabinet door.
Yes, I cleared off that counter to take a picture. It usually has a bunch of junk and laundry on it.
Do you have any sick remedies you use that are not included here? I’d love to hear!
I am not a medical doctor. Always consult your pediatrician for medical advice.
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