Use Caution When Treating Your Child's Cold and Flu Naturally

Making our children feel better is an innate need, but grabbing a bottle of exotic cough syrup or a box of herbal tablets might do more harm than good


The old adage that chicken soup will cure what ails you does not come from fiction, nor does the remedy of hanging your head over a bowl of steaming water can soothe congestion or honey (after the age of one) can mitigate a cough. Reality is that there are totally non-innocuous ‘healing’ options out there to help ease symptoms of the common cold in children that don’t require the need to delve into unregulated ‘alternative’ herbal medicines found on the shelves of pharmacies.

There is most definitely a movement away from traditional medicines, up to and including immunization, and the desire to seek ‘natural’ alternatives. 

In the last few years there has also been a warning against giving children any cold medications that include additives including antihistamines, until after the age of six. So what are parents to do when their two-year-olds come down with a horrible cold?

There is nothing more pathetic than a sick kid and no more helpless feeling than not being able to help them. But the question becomes whether that means that the fact these herbal remedies do not have the same warning slapped on them that, say, Tylenol Cold and Flu for Kids does, that it should be blindly given. The lack of regulation and extensive testing on these medications should mean more skepticism about their safety, and even a naturopathic doctor, whose business is alternative medicines, says herbal medications shouldn’t be automatically trusted for children just because they have no warnings.

Jennifer Salib Huber, a Naturopathic doctor from B.C. says in a Globe and Mail article that children and adults should be treated differently, that doses and ingredients vary, often significantly, between treatment for adults and kids, and that they should consult their doctor before giving anything other than standard doses of probiotics and Vitamins C &D.  In other words, self-prescribing medications for kids, just because they are natural, might not be the best course of action, nor the safest, and just because something doesn’t come with a warning does not mean it is not without risks.

Huber tells parents that, though it’s hard to watch, kids get sick, and that the desire to completely remove all of the symptoms is not realistic or necessary. When stronger treatment than soup and honey does become necessary, Huber tells parents to go to the doctor or naturopath, not the pharmacy.

“Most of the time, it’s about reassuring parents that kids are meant to get sick. They’re not meant to have complications, so if your child is having complications, that needs to be looked at by their medical doctor and naturopathic doctor,” Huber said in the Globe article.

According to the Globe article, “In a study that appeared in a recent Pediatrics journal, 50 per cent of parents surveyed in the emergency rooms of two Canadian hospitals reported using some form of alternative medicine or practice with their children.” The article doesn’t touch on whether or not use of the meds caused the trip to the ER but clearly if that many children have taken alternative meds and are in the ER, either the meds caused complications or, also likely, did nothing at all.

Making our children feel better is an innate need, but grabbing a bottle of exotic cough syrup or a box of herbal tablets might do more harm than good. We know that antihistamines can be unsafe in young children. They have been extensively studied and researched and deemed unsafe and have been slapped with warnings accordingly. 

We don't know nearly as much about herbal medications in kids. With the lack of regulation and the lack of testing, I'd stick to chicken soup.


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Leslie is the mother of one year old Zachary and three year old Abigail. When not feeding and bathing and cleaning and giggling she is a journalist with a passion for writing and sharing her opinions on and experiences with parenting, with no holds barred. 


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