It’s a familiar scenario to any parent. Your child awakes in the night coughing with a runny nose and the next thing you know you are googling an after-hours pharmacy and praying you will get a shred of sleep tonight. But what if instead of reaching for the cough syrup, have you tried reaching for the tea kettle instead?
“My kids have never had cough syrup,” said Andrea O’Farrell, a mother of two from Newcastle, who started a more natural approach to her and her family’s health after a round of antibiotics left her severely ill.
“It had killed off all my natural bacteria fighters in my bowels and in my colon,” explained O’Farrell who began experiencing symptoms of Acute Infectious Colitis.
Four years ago a bout of strep throat, and her mother’s suggestion, led her to visit a naturopath.
Instead of the antibiotics, she was given Throat Coat tea with echinacea and a supplement called Deep Immune.
“Within 24 hours my strep throat was gone.”
“Staying healthy through preventative care, including natural immune support protocols, regular exercise, good sleep habits and healthy nutrition is far more effective and beneficial an approach versus treating colds and flu all winter season,” said Dr. Kristin Heins, Naturopath Doctor and co-founder of Thrive Natural Family Health .
“There are many things out of our control that can affect our immune systems,” added Dr. Dara Maker, who is the Undergraduate Program Director of Family Medicine at Women’s College Hospital. “There are some disorders of the immune system, called [an] immunodeficiency that for the most part of very rare. Factors within our control include adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, exercise, and avoiding smoking.”
For kids it can be as simple as good hand washing habits, especially when it comes to limiting the spread of germs.
“Kids should be taught to always wash hands before touching and ingesting food, after all toilet use ,even if they do not go as many kids sit in toilets for unsuccessful attempts, after touching garbage, after touching animals and after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing. Many parents make hand washing part of routine when entering the home – especially from parks and school or public transit,” advised Heins, who added hand sanitizer is okay to use in a pinch but plain soap and water is always best.
“A good guideline is that hand washing should take about 20 seconds – the length of time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday,” advised Maker, who said that 80 per cent of common infections are spread by hands. “Kids should be supervised when washing their hands. Make sure to wash both fronts and backs of the hand, between fingers and under nails… Even if hands appear to be clean, they are probably covered with micro-organisms.”
Both doctors agree that the old wives tale of ‘catching a chill’ has proven to have no impact on the immune system but Maker explained depending on your symptoms you may be able to ‘sweat it out.’
“A good general rule is if your symptoms are all above the neck (nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat) and you are feeling up to exercising, it is probably OK,” she said.“If your symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, hacking cough) probably best to abstain; particularly if you have a fever.”
Once symptoms have hit, there are natural alternatives available.
“Sleep is most important,” advised Maker. “Vitamin C has also been shown to shorten the duration of cold symptoms by about 8 per cent. If your child is uncomfortable, certainly over the counter products like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be helpful.”
Heins suggests that supplements for children should be taken under the guidance of a health professional.
“Seeing a health care provider ensures individualized care the same way you see a pediatrician when sick,” she explained. “There are many homeopathic and herbal cough medicines and cold and flu remedies on the market. All are different and would have different uses and applications. Trying to navigate yourself often leads to poor results and ineffective care for your child.”
If parents are interested in taking a more natural approach, O’Farrell suggested doing their research.
“Get a recommendation from someone that [you] trust,” she suggested, adding that you may want to interview a few professionals to find the right fit. “They can see how their health and the health of their children could benefit from the help of a naturopath and natural remedies.”