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Every year hundreds of infants and small children suffer from colds and coughs, mainly due to their weak immune systems. In fact, within the first year of life, most babies will have up to seven colds.
A common cold lasts for about a week and can cause a buildup of mucus in respiratory passages.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, giving cough and cold medications to children under 6 years old is not advised due to their potentially fatal side effects. It is best to stick to natural methods.
For most children, the cough is just a symptom of a cold. You can do nothing to make the cough go away faster. The cough gets better as the cold virus runs its course.
Causes of Colds and Coughs in Babies
Children can pick up various infection-causing viruses through contact with an infected person or contaminated air or surfaces. The reasons for coughs and colds in children can be varied:
- Irritants such as pollution and smoke
- Inhaling a foreign object
- Cold air
- Bacterial respiratory tract infections, although rare
- Habitual coughing, which may have a psychological reason
Symptoms of Colds and Coughs in Babies
- Blocked or runny nose
- Loss of appetite
- A low-grade fever of up to 100.4°F
Coughing often worsens at night because children are lying flat. For older children, try using extra pillows to raise their head.
Natural Ways to Manage Colds and Coughs in Babies
There are several natural ways to help your child get relief from a cold and cough. Home treatments will help ease their symptoms and strengthen their immune systems. (2) However, a cold and cough accompanied by a high-grade fever require medical intervention.
1. Give your child a sponge bath
A shower has the added benefit of relaxing your child, and it will help them sleep better, which is essential for faster recovery.
How to do:
- For small babies, give a sponge bath two to three times a day. Soak a washcloth in room-temperature tap water, wring out the excess water, and then sponge the armpits, feet, hands, and groin of the baby to reduce their temperature.
- Another option is to place a cold, damp washcloth on your baby’s forehead and change it every few minutes.
- Older children can take a cool bath or shower.
Note: Avoid using chilled water, which may cause the internal body temperature to rise.
2. Inhale steam
Steam inhalation is a safe home remedy for colds. It helps add moisture to the nasal passages and dislodge the mucus that is causing a blocked nose. (4)
For babies younger than 6 months:
- Run the hot-water tap in the bathroom. Sit with your baby in the bathroom for at least 10–15 minutes.
- Use a facial steamer, vaporizer, or humidifier to generate steam in your baby’s room while he is asleep. This adds humidity and lets your child breathe comfortably.
For kids 1 year and above:
You can add a drop of eucalyptus oil in hot water and let him inhale the vapors.
3. Give plenty of fluids
Make sure to give your child plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. A fever can cause profuse sweating, which can result in dehydration and can worsen the condition.
Staying well hydrated also helps thin the body’s secretions, making it easier for your child to expel the germs and reduce congestion.
- Give oral rehydration solutions (readily available in the grocery stores and pharmacies) to small babies to help replenish fluids and electrolytes.
- Offer lukewarm water to older children at regular intervals.
- You can also give decaffeinated tea mixed with raw honey to children aged 1 year or older.
- Fruit juice, vegetable soup, and clear broths can also be given to sick children.
4. Apply Vicks VapoRub
Vicks VapoRub has been used as a remedy to treat the symptoms of a cold by several older adults of African American and White origin. (5)
Vicks VapoRub should not be used for babies under the age of 2 due to its strong composition.
However, Vicks has introduced a new product that is safe for babies under the age of 2 and above 3 months. It contains mild ingredients such as aloe vera, lavender, and rosemary fragrances that help relax your baby during a cold or cough.
How to use:
Gently massaging Vicks BabyRub on the chest, back, and soles of the feet can help calm your baby’s cold and help him achieve a good night’s sleep.
Note: Do not apply Vicks BabyRub on the face, nostrils, or broken skin. Do not overuse.
5. Use saline drops
Administering nasal saline drops can help relieve a congested or runny nose.
These drops can help unblock a stuffy nose by loosening the mucus. This, in turn, helps drain the mucus and ease the discomfort that the baby might be experiencing while breathing. You can do this more often if your child needs it, especially before feeding and at bedtime.
A bulb syringe can be used to help expel the mucus from the nose of babies who are too young to do it for themselves. This is helpful for young babies because they need to breathe through their nose while breastfeeding or sucking on a bottle.
How to use:
- Obtain saline drops and bulb syringe from the nearest pharmacy.
- Put a drop of saline solution into one nostril. (6)
- Hold your baby’s head up for about 10 seconds. The drops would’ve thinned the mucus lodged in your baby’s airways.
- Squeeze the bulb of the bulb syringe tight enough and insert the rubber tip slowly into your baby’s nostril.
- Gently release the bulb; this would pick up the mucus. Repeat the same process for the other nostril.
- You can use two to three drops of saline in each nostril several times daily.
- If your baby is not comfortable with a bulb syringe, just collect the mucus using a cotton cloth after using saline drops.
- Don’t use this method more than one time per day and not more than four days in a row as it might irritate the baby’s nose and become dry.
- Have a word with your doctor before you try this method.
- It’s best to use saline drops 30 minutes before feeding.
- It is advised to use these drops within 1 week only as they can cause rebound congestion, which is an opposite effect caused by overuse within a few hours after the usage, resulting in swelling in the membranes lining the nasal cavity.
6. Provide beneficial foods for faster recovery
Certain food items are credited with purported abilities to curtail the intensity of colds and coughs. Some of them are:
The vitamin C in oranges helps to increase the production of white blood cells that fight off the cold-causing germs. It also boosts the immune system to alleviate symptoms, such as coughing, sore throat, and runny nose. (7)
How to consume:
- For children ages 2 years or older, give them 1 to 2 glasses of orange juice daily. For younger babies, dilute the orange juice with an equal amount of warm water and give it to them to drink at regular intervals.
- Older children can be given oranges to eat to increase their vitamin C intake.
Lemon is another excellent home remedy. Being rich in vitamin C, lemon helps boost the immune system and assists the body in fighting colds and flu.
Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties also help reduce symptoms, such as sore throat, runny nose, and coughing.
How to consume:
- Put the juice and peels of 4 lemons and 1 tablespoon of ginger slices in a pan.
- Add enough boiling water to cover the ingredients.
- Cover the pan and let the ingredients steep for 10 minutes.
- Strain the liquid.
- Dilute this liquid with an equal amount of warm water and add raw honey to enhance the taste.
- Give your child this hot lemonade to drink, few times a day.
Note: For babies younger than 1 year, add sugar instead of honey.
Honey is a safe remedy for children aged 1 and older who are suffering from the common cold or a cough. It has high antibacterial, antioxidant, and immune-boosting properties that help ease coughing, soothe a sore throat, and kill the bacteria causing the infection. (8)
How to consume:
- Mix 2 teaspoons of raw honey and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Give the solution to your child every few hours for symptom relief.
- You can also have your child swallow a spoonful of buckwheat honey several times a day.
- A glass of warm milk with honey can relieve a dry cough and reduce chest pain.
Note: Never give honey to babies younger than 1 year, as it contains bacteria that can cause infantile botulism.
Ginger is a well-documented natural cure for colds and coughs. It can help relieve colds and coughs through its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and cough-suppressant properties. (9)
It can help bring down the temperature in mild fever by inducing sweating and expelling heat. Also, it can rev up the immune system and aid in speedy recovery.
How to consume:
- Add ½ cup of thinly sliced ginger, 2 cinnamon sticks, and 6 cups of water in a pan.
- Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, and then strain the liquid.
- Add raw honey or sugar to this ginger-cinnamon tea and give it to your child to drink several times a day. For babies younger than 1 year, you can dilute the tea in warm water before giving it to them.
Older children can also be given ginger slices or ginger candies to chew.
e. Warm chicken soup
Warm chicken soup is an excellent option for children older than 1 year suffering from a cold or cough. It is light and nutritious and can help relieve congestion. The antioxidants in it speed up the healing process.
Additionally, chicken soup improves the function of the protective cilia in the nasal cavity that prevent contagions from entering the body.
A study published in the Chest Journal reports that chicken soup contains several substances with beneficial medicinal activity for upper respiratory tract infections.
How to consume:
Serve your children homemade chicken soup using organic chicken and vegetables, such as carrots and spinach. You can feed babies chicken soup two to three times a day.
f. Bishop’s weed
Bishop’s weed, also called carom seeds, is another useful remedy for colds and coughs in babies. (10)
Its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting properties help cure common cold symptoms, such as nasal congestion, fever, and sore throat. It also helps loosen mucus so that it is more easily expelled from the body.
How to consume:
- Boil a ½ teaspoon of carom seeds in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes, and then strain the liquid. Give it to your child to drink several times a day.
- Alternatively, mix 1 teaspoon each of dry roasted carom seeds and jaggery. Give this mixture to your child twice daily.
- Another option is to dry roast 2 garlic cloves and 1 tablespoon of carom seeds in a pan. Put the ingredients in a clean muslin cloth and tie it with a rubber band. Place it in your baby’s cot or cradle to aid easy breathing while sleeping.
The following remedy is neither backed by scientific evidence nor reviewed by our health experts. Nonetheless, a number of general users have reported an improvement in their condition using this anecdotal remedy.
Breast milk is essential for children, especially when they are sick. It provides a unique balance of nutrients to help their bodies fight infection and recover faster. Babies younger than 6 months should be given breast milk to fight off the virus causing the cold or cough.
If your baby refuses to nurse when sick, try different nursing positions, preferably keeping the baby upright.
Prevention Against Colds and Coughs in Babies
You can prevent your child from getting a cold or flu by following measures targeted at keeping his respiratory and nasal passages clear of any infection.
These steps include:
- Staying away from children who are having cold.
- Keeping a check on your child’s hygiene and cleanliness. Ensure that he washes his hands frequently.
- Keeping your pet away from your child’s room to avoid any allergy from animal dander.
- Eliminating any irritants such as stuffed animals in the vicinity of your child to help reduce the chances of seasonal allergies that can cause a cold or cough.
- Keeping your home clean to prevent your child from getting sick.
- Keeping school-age children at home during a seasonal change until the weather substantially improves.
- Taking care of your child’s clothing to protect against cold. Long-sleeved shirts and pants are good options.
- Restricting your child from using towels or sharing utensils or cups with another sick child.
- Planning a diet for your child that provides nutrition from food, not vitamin supplements.
- Have your child sit in a steamy bathroom or give him a warm shower to keep the airways lubricated.
- Give your child a handkerchief to blow his nose.
- Give children aged 4 and older cough lozenges or sugar-free hard candies to suck on.
- Be sure your child gets adequate sleep and rest for faster recovery.
- Elevate your child’s head with an extra pillow at night so that mucus can drain.
When to See a Doctor
Seek immediate medical attention if your child has a temperature higher than 100.4°F and the associated cold and cough symptoms last for more than a week.
For babies younger than 3 months suffering from a cold, cough, and fever, seek professional help.
Dealing with a sick child can be really difficult for parents as well as caretakers. Colds and coughs can cause sleepless nights in children as well as parents. Make sure your child takes proper rest and drinks plenty of fluids to promote recovery.
Because no standard treatments are advised for colds and coughs in children, try to use natural remedies that can alleviate the symptoms and help your child feel better.