Monday, March 17, 2008

Kids and Colds

As my two little ones lie in bed, half asleep, each fighting a particularly nasty little flu bug, I can't help but think about the past winter and how many kids have also had "particularly nasty little bugs" to deal with.

I've seen my fair share of boogery, goopy-eyed, miserable kids in my clinic this year and always wish their parents would bring them in at the very start of their illnesses, before those little critters have really taken hold. Even better, I wish they'd all come in for tips on how to try and prevent these illnesses in the first place.

A great study came out recently, which reminded me of how truly simple it can be to help prevent colds and flus in your kids.

The new study, published in Archives of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, included 401 children, from six to ten years old, who visited their pediatrician for a common cold or flu. About one-quarter of the children were assigned to receive standard treatment, which could include any combination of medicines aimed at reducing fever, relieving nasal congestion, breaking up mucus, and fighting infection. The rest were assigned to receive standard treatment plus saline nasal rinses, six times per day during acute illness and three times per day during the rest of the 12-week study.

Shortly after their initial doctor visit, the children who used the nasal rinses had fewer nasal and throat symptoms and were healthier than the children who did not use the rinses. By eight weeks, they had fewer and less severe symptoms such as dry cough, runny nose, and inability to breathe through the nose, and fewer of them were using medications to manage their symptoms. They were also less likely to have been sick again, and they missed less school due to illness.

The nasal rinse was a standard 0.9% saline (sodium chloride) solution with trace elements and minerals in concentrations similar to those in seawater, and was applied either with medium jet flow, as a fine mist spray, or as a spray for both eyes and nose. The three methods for the nasal rinse were equally effective.

There are a number of other ways parents can help kids who tend to get lots of colds stay healthy during the cold and flu season:

• Stay away from sugar and pasteurized dairy products: Sugar inhibits the immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to infections. Pasteurized dairy contributes to mucus formation in many people.

• Feed them high vitamin cod liver oil: The vitamin D found in cod liver oil may turn out to be even better than vitamin C at preventing colds and flus. As sunlight fades to clouds and rain, so do levels of vitamin D in our blood. Do you think it's a coincidence that many of us start getting sick soon after? I don't. My kids get a tsp a day, which comes out to about 1000iu of vitamin D. I take the same dose, plus another 2000iu of plain vitamin D per day in the winter months.

• Gargle: Gargling with plain water removes mucus and keeps bacteria and viruses from sticking around. A three-times-a-day habit has been found to reduce the occurrence of respiratory infections.

• A daily dose of Echinacea, increasing that to a dose every hour at the first sign of a cold may get your little ones through a whole winter without one illness. Don't believe those out there who say you shouldn't take echinacea for more than a few weeks at a time. The research doesn't support this idea. In fact, Kerry Bone, a world renowned herbalist and Echinacea expert takes a dose every day, all year long!

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