At-home remedies can treat viral illness in children under 2

It's the cold and flu season. If you are a parent, there's probably only one thing you dread more than getting sick yourself: having your child come down with a case of the sniffles.

It's the cold and flu season. If you are a parent, there's probably only one thing you dread more than getting sick yourself: having your child come down with a case of the sniffles.

When a baby gets sick, the whole house can become miserable. In the past, parents could treat sick infants with at-home remedies and over-the-counter cough and cold medication. This has recently changed. New FDA recommendations warn parents not to give children younger than 2 over-the-counter cough and cold medications unless given specific directions to do so by a health care provider.

The FDA has stated that over-the-counter cough and cold medications can be harmful to children when they are given too often or if more than one medication using the same active ingredient are used at the same time. There is concern that the ingredients in cough and cold medications may not be safe for young children, and there is no proof of the effectiveness of these medications in lessening symptoms in children under 2.

At first glance parents might see the FDA recommendations as something that takes away their ability to treat their child's illness. This isn't true. There are a number of home treatments that work to comfort a child with a cold.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drinking lots of liquids helps thin mucus, making it easier for the body to get rid of. Plain water or juice mixed with at least 50 percent water works to hydrate. Avoid sugary drinks. If your child isn't thirsty, try popsicles. They work to hydrate, and also soothe a dry or sore throat.


If your baby has a stuffy nose, turn on the hot shower and let the bathroom fill with steam. Sit with your baby in the steamy air for 10 to 15 minutes three or four times a day. This procedure should not be used with children with asthma.

Another treatment that works for stuffy nose is using a couple of drops of infant saline drops in each nostril. Saturate the end of a Q-Tip with the saline and let two drops fall into each nostril. Use a bulb syringe to remove secretions, or encourage your baby to blow gently.

Try a cool mist vaporizer to ease congestion. You can try adding menthol or peppermint to the water.

If your child is very congested, lying down might be uncomfortable. Use pillows to help your child sit or lie upright, or have them sleep on their side (versus back).

They used to say starve a cold and feed a fever, but the best rule is to go with your child's stomach. If a child is hungry, let them eat. You might want to offer chicken soup. It's soothing and there is even some data that indicates it has healing powers.

Aches and pains can be eased with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Aspirin is not recommended for children.

Fever during the first day or two is the body's normal reaction to a virus, and actually works to kill the viral infection. If a fever goes away and comes back again, it could be a sign of a secondary infection, such as an ear infection, and a parent should contact the child's doctor.

Other factors may also warrant a call to your child's doctor. Call the doctor if your child: is less than 3 months old, is under 2 years old and has been running a fever for over 24 hours, is complaining of ear pain or severe throat pain, has been sick without any improvement for 10 or more days.


A cold typically lasts about a five to seven days, and symptoms usually begin to lessen after three days.

Using over-the-counter cough and cold medication is not recommended for children under 2 unless it is given under the advice of a physician, but there are other options parents can use.

Nothing can cure a cold or other viral illness, but at-home remedies can increase a child's comfort, which will work to make everyone - mom, dad and baby - feel better.

Dr. Breyen is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.

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