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The use of natural and herbal remedies for all sorts of afflictions is rising, both in children and adults. But are herbal remedies safe and effective for your infant or toddler with a cold?

First, it’s important to understand the difference between prescription and over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and herbal remedies. Before they can be sold or prescribed, the drugs you find in your local drugstore, including many over-the-counter cold remedies, went through rigorous testing to prove they were safe and beneficial for the conditions listed on their labels. They then earn an approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment drug. By contrast, alternative and herbal remedies are not required to earn FDA approval. Their manufacturers and distributors do not have to prove that the product is effective before it reaches the market. They also do not have to meet FDA standards for safety. As a result, they are not allowed to make direct health claims.

When it comes to infants and small children, it is best to avoid all over-the-counter “cold” medicines.  Neither traditional cold remedies nor natural remedies have been shown to be particularly effective for symptoms such as runny or stuffy noses. For fever and pain, it is best to stick with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, depending on the age of your child. Several good studies have been done on the effect of large doses of vitamin C for treatment of the common cold with disappointing results. The same is true for Echinacea, which is often touted as a cure for the common cold.

Alternative and herbal remedies do not have to prove that the product is effective before it reaches the market.

When it comes to the common cold and symptoms related to allergies, it’s important to remember there are no “cures” for these conditions. The common cold is a viral infection, so it cannot be cured by antibiotics. However, if your child is miserable from symptoms and is over 3 months of age, you can make a natural vapor rub using petroleum jelly, peppermint essential oil, and eucalyptus essential oil. These same essential oils can also be used in a vaporizer to loosen chest congestion. Be sure to avoid contact with the child’s eyes and only use a very small amount.

Sore throats and coughs in children 1 year old and older can be soothed with a mixture of honey and lemon juice. Children younger than 1 year old should not have honey because, in rare cases, they can get infant botulism from it. Infant botulism is fatal.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, January 2019

Takeaways

  • “Natural” remedies don’t always mean effective or safe.
  • There is no antibiotic cure for a cold.
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen are effective treatments for fever and pain.
  • Honey is useful for treating sore throats and cough in children older than 1 year, but never give honey to an infant.

References

  1. Al-Waili NS. Investigating the antimicrobial activity of natural honey and its effects on the pathogenic bacterial infections of surgical wounds and conjunctiva. J Med Food. 2004 Summer;7(2):210-22.
  2. Josling P. Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey. Adv Ther. 2001 Jul-Aug;18(4):189-93.

Comments

  1. I have used eucalyptus oil several times in a rub and a vapor when my son had a cold with a stuffy nose. It worked great and I would highly recommend it.

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