Try a saline rinse
One study found that a daily saltwater nasal rinse is beneficial for kids with colds. The children who used saline nasal rinses (six times per day initially and three times per day during the rest of the 12-week study) had fewer nasal and throat symptoms, they were healthier, and fewer of them used medications to manage their symptoms than the children who did not use the rinses. They were also less likely to have been sick again, and they missed less school.
The nasal rinse was a standard 0.9% saline solution (about 1/2 teaspoon of sodium chloride per 8 ounces of water) with trace elements and minerals in concentrations similar to those in seawater. Neti pots, small pots for nasal rinsing, and mineral salts to use with them, are now widely available.
Honey is another cold-symptom remedy. One study found that children who received a single dose of raw buckwheat honey had less coughing and fewer sleep difficulties than children who received either a dose of honey-flavored dextromethorphan or no treatment.
Honey has antimicrobial properties and can soothe irritated mucous membranes. As it may contain bacteria harmful to infants, honey should not be given to babies under 12 months old.
Good old-fashioned cold care
Parents can also look to the common sense cold remedies they may have grown up with. These time-tested techniques can help kids who tend to get lots of colds stay healthy and recover quickly during the cold and flu season:
Make sure your child gets plenty of fluids in order to maintain water balance and to thin secretions.
Feed them raw garlic, which has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Crush a clove or two and add to foods like soups and grains just before you serve them.
Gargling with plain water three times a day removes mucus and keeps bacteria and viruses from sticking around.
Give them plenty of vitamin C: 100 to 250 mg per day is a good idea, but it may take 500 to 1,000 mg per day once a cold hits to reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten their duration.
A warm, humid environment created by a humidifier may provide some comfort while riding out a cold.
Cold medicine dos & don'ts
For parents who may want to continue giving over-the-counter cold medicines to their children, the FDA has the following recommendations:
Read all of the information in the "Drug Facts" box on the product label.
Do not give children medicine more often or in greater amounts than what is listed on the product label and use only as directed.
Do not give children medication that is intended for adult use.
Be aware that using various cough and cold medicines in combination may pose health risks; parents should ask a doctor whether or not it is safe to use products in combination.
Use appropriate measuring devices; parents should contact their doctor or pharmacist if they do not understand the dosing directions.
Even though a cold will naturally run its course, it's good to know that as a parent you have plenty of treatment options at your disposal to relieve your children's uncomfortable symptoms during cold and flu season and get them back on the road to wellness.
(FDA Public Health Advisory www.fda.gov/cder/drug/advisory/cough_cold.htm; Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2008;134:67-74; Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2007;161:1140-46)