extra vitamin D, kids with colds

Ask a pediatrician how to treat kids with colds, and you’ll probably learn that there are few, if any, medicines that speed recovery or even ease symptoms. During cold season, parents often search for over-the-counter medicines that will help young children overcome nasal congestion. But that could be a mistake.

Don’t Bother with Decongestants for Kids with Colds:

Clinicians writing in The BMJ reviewed clinical trials of common OTC products. They warn parents to avoid decongestants for youngsters 6 years old and younger (The BMJ, Oct. 10, 2018). There is no evidence they help stuffy noses and they carry potential side effects. If a child can’t breathe through her nose, using a nasal suction bulb to remove sticky mucus might help. An Italian study using an automated suction device found that colds and lung infections lasted a shorter time in high-risk kids (Italian Journal of Pediatrics, June 14, 2018).

Cough Medicines Aren’t Helpful for Kids with Colds:

Dextromethorphan (abbreviated DM) is the main ingredient in most OTC cough remedies. Despite brisk sales, there is no good evidence that these products are effective for youngsters (Lung, Feb. 2012). Although nasty reactions such as rapid heart rate or incoordination are not common, they do occasionally crop up (Clinical Toxicology, Jan. 2017).

Parents may be disappointed to hear this. When a child is coughing and can’t sleep, there is an overwhelming urge to do something. Home remedies may not be well studied, but they do offer an alternative to OTC medicines that might cause side effects.

Alternative Approaches for Treating Kids with Colds:

How About Honey?

Grandmothers have used a teaspoon of honey for decades to ease a cough. Babies under a year should never be given honey, though, because of a risk of botulism. Older children may find it much more pleasant than the bitter taste of dextromethorphan. There is even research to suggest that buckwheat honey might be helpful (Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Dec., 2007; Canadian Family Physician, April, 2011; Allergologia et Immunopathologia, Sep-Oct. 2015).

Vicks VapoRub for Cough:

Another old-fashioned remedy for children and adults has been around for at least a century. Vicks VapoRub was designed as a cough and cold salve and contains menthol and eucalyptol.

Many people are familiar with the pungent aroma of this ointment applied to the chest for a cough. But some families have been using Vicks on the soles of the feet.

One reader told us:

“Just last week, my grandson was staying here and had developed a cough starting that morning. When it didn’t go away, I searched my cabinet for cough medicine, but I was out. I remembered reading about putting Vicks on the soles of the feet and decided to test it out.

“It was unbelievable. He stopped coughing immediately and didn’t cough again until later the next day. I was really impressed.”

Another commented:

“My grandma used Vicks on the bottom of the feet. I am 70, so you know how long ago that was. I swear by Vicks on the feet or the chest but not in the nose.”

Indeed, Vicks should not be used in the nose. Inhaling the petroleum base could lead to lung problems (Respiratory Medicine Case Reports, July 8, 2017).

Will Probiotics Help?

Probiotics are usually recommended for gastrointestinal problems. They are supposed to restore a balance of beneficial bacteria to the digestive tract. But they may also be helpful against colds.

A recent study on probiotics found that college students recovered from colds more quickly and missed fewer days of class if they took a powdered probiotic containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis BB12 rather than a placebo powder (British Journal of Nutrition, online Oct. 1, 2012). Unfortunately, a study of infants in day care did not find that supplementation with the probiotics Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus reduced days missed due to illness (Pediatrics, Aug. 2017). A meta-analysis of several studies suggested that probiotic use may be beneficial against the common cold (Explore, Sep-Oct., 2015).

Serve Up Some Chicken Soup:

Kids with colds may appreciate a steaming bowl of home-made chicken soup. This is a favorite cold remedy in many families, and there is even a small amount of research indicating that it can reduce inflammation and cold symptoms due to inflammation (Chest, Oct. 2000).

Learn More:

To learn more about cold remedies such as chicken soup (with a special recipe), elderberry, ginger, vitamins C and D and zinc, you may wish to consult our Guide to Colds, Coughs & the Flu. For information on children’s health, we recommend checking out www.DrGreene.com.

Researchers are still a long way from finding a cure or even effective treatments for the common cold. In the meantime, though, traditional treatments have the stood the test of time for easing symptoms.

Get The Graedons' Favorite Home Remedies Health Guide for FREE

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Your cart

Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.