Home Remedies for Colds

Cold season is upon us. Did you know children can get eight or more colds a year?[1]— in fact, kids in daycare can be infected with a new cold every few days! This can translate to a lot of miserable days. Over 200 different viruses cause the common cold.[2] Symptoms include sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, coughing, watery eyes, mild headache and mild body aches.

While many will not get terribly sick from a cold, colds are more likely to cause complications in some people. Babies have smaller airways—making it more difficult to clear the congestion. This may result in the virus spreading to involve the airways in their lungs—leading to a condition called bronchiolitis. In addition, children and adults with asthma or history of premature lungs may have more severe symptoms with a common cold. Thankfully, for most people, the symptoms of a cold—while annoying—are not severe enough to warrant medical intervention.

Over the last two weeks, we had a rather nasty cold make its rounds in our household. It started with my 2-year-old before spreading to my 4-year-old, my husband, and finally me. Several sleepless nights for both children translates into sleepy, grumpy adults (who were up all night caring for them). There is a host of over the counter cold remedies available to treat the cold, they all have variable efficacies and can be used in consultation with a physician. However, many people are interested in using home remedies that do not involve drugs or any chemicals. While there is no magic bullet to beating the cold, I’d like to share with you a few simple home remedies I’ve found that definitely help with symptom control.

1)   Keep all four extremities warm. This really helps with congestion. I usually stick my kids in long underwear and socks. When we go outdoors I make them wear a hat. I have found that by doing this I am able to decrease the duration of cold symptoms.

2)   Warm and cold shower just before going to bed. Many people call these contrast showers. It is a form of hydrotherapy designed to boost circulation and aid the immune system. How do you do it?

For older children, I recommend turning water as warm as tolerated for about 60 seconds and then turning the water to as cold as they can tolerate for about 15 seconds. I have them repeat this for a total of three times always ending with cold. Immediately after exiting shower, bundle up and get to bed. I have found that this can really help temporarily relieve congestion and cough associated with a cold. The process is a little trickier to do with smaller children. I have done a modified version with my two little ones using a bathtub and cold washcloth.

3)   Drink lots of fluid (water is best for older children). Snot and Sputum (mucus) are made predominantly of water. Thus a lot more water is lost from your body when you are sneezing, coughing, and blowing your nose! It’s especially easy for babies to get dehydrated from a cold. Thus as parents we need to monitor their fluid intake carefully and make sure they are getting enough.

4)   Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. This one may seem like common sense, but oftentimes, sick children lose their appetites for healthy foods. However, it is important to get them to eat some. These foods contain important vitamins and micronutrients that will help a sick body fight off an infection.

As always, if symptoms don’t improve or your child develops a fever greater than 100.4o F, it would be best to see a physician to make sure your child hasn’t developed a secondary bacterial infection. Also, remember that prevention is the best “cure” available! Make sure your kids have easy access to hand sanitizer, soap, and water, as hand hygiene is the number one way to prevent the spread of colds. Hopefully, with these tips, you will navigate the cough and cold season without too much difficulty!



[1] http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/common/cold.html

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/URI/colds.html

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Rachel Nelson MD

graduated from Loma Linda University and completed a pediatric residency at UC Davis. She has a passion for helping children reach their full potential. She is married to a colorectal surgeon and together they have two children: Amy and Michael. Dr. Nelson enjoys playing outside with her kids, gardening, and music.

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