Last week (September 1, 2011) the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released the report of its first look in over a decade at how well docs in the US are doing at reducing unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions for kids. They discovered that, while there has been a substantial improvement since the early 1990s, overall doctors are unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics for kids more than 50% of the time! Most of the overprescribing is for common upper respiratory and ear infections.
The inappropriate use of antibiotics is now well known to be a major cause of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world's most pressing public health problems and international campaigns are underway to help reduce over-prescribing. Additionally, new information is being raised about pediatric antibiotic exposure and later development of asthma. Antibiotics are often given unnecessarily for common pediatric infections because doctors think that parents want or expect them. Sometimes doctors also prescribe them because they are worried about missing a more serious infection.
How do you know if your child needs an antibiotic for an upper respiratory infection? If you or your doctor have good reason to think your child has a serious bacterial infection, if your child has strep throat, or if your child is less than 2 years old and has an ear infection, then an antibiotic might be appropriate. However, most of the time, moderate fevers, sore throats, coughs, colds, bronchitis, runny noses, and uncomplicated sinusitis (not longer than 2 weeks and no high fever or facial pain) are caused by viral infections and do not need to be treated with an antibiotic. Talking with your doctor about this issue can help your child get the best and most appropriate medical care possible. Also consider providing your pediatrician or family doc the link to the CDC's Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work site: http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/.
Comfort Measures: What You Can Do to Help Your Kiddo Feel Better
There are a lot of simple over-the-counter and healthy alternatives you can use to relieve symptoms of colds, flu, ear infections and sore throat, and the fever and aches that often accompany them.
Common sense tips
- Encourage plenty of rest
- Provide plenty of fluids (water, broth, and non-caffeinated herbal teas are best; avoid sugary drinks, including juice if possible, and milk – these increase congestion and decrease immunity)
- Use a cool mist vaporizer (NEVER use hot steam or hot water near a child!) in your child's room
- Take your child into a steamy bathroom for coughs and nasal congestion (see below for herbal suggestions)
- Avoid second-hand smoke and other chemicals irritants
- Soothe a sore throat with ice chips or fresh fruit ice pops – this is a great way to get some extra fluids into a feverish little one. Most ice pops have about 4 oz of fluid.
Ibuprofen can be given every 8 hours in the appropriate dose for your child's weight to relieve discomfort and slightly bring down a fever. There is little benefit to using Tylenol compared to ibuprofen and Tylenol toxicity can be a problem if overused. There is also only a minimal role for treating fever. Fever is a physiological mechanism that has beneficial effects in fighting infection. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the main goal in treating a fever is actually just providing comfort.
A number of herbs, supplements, and natural remedies can be used safely to relieve upper respiratory symptoms and boost immunity. Try several of these recommendations in combination and keep your eyes open for recipes in upcoming posts!
Cough and Congestion:
- Conventional cough syrups have been found to be harmful and less effective than honey, which can be safely given to kids over 2 years old to help relieve a cough.
- Several herbal medicines including teas of thyme, anise, and licorice, as well as extracts of ivy and petasites (must be called PA-free to be safe!), which are popular in Europe, have been shown to relieve cough in kids. Elder syrup is a delicious tasting traditional remedy with great evidence for improving respiratory immunity, and Echinacea extract, while it doesn't relieve cough, has been shown to prevent recurrence of coughs in kids.
- Vick's VapoRub is a classic remedy and great for relieving coughs. Rub a small amount onto your child's chest. (NEVER put it anywhere on the face or near the nose!)
- Saline rinses (i.e. neti pots) can be used by and saline sprays can be used for babies with runny noses and sinus congestion/infection.
- Put 3-5 drops of thyme essential oil and 3-5 drops of lavender essential oil on a washcloth and put this in a hot shower. Let the bathroom fill with steam and bring your little one or older child into the bathroom for 5 minutes before sleep to help ease congestion and promote sleep.
- 10 mg zinc for kids 2-7 years old and 20 mg for kids 8-14 years old can decrease the duration of an upper respiratory infection.
Garlic-Mullein oil is a trusted traditional remedy for earache and ear infections. It is almost always reliable and provides both pain-relieving and antimicrobial properties. It is also easy to use and many health-food stores carry it. I will also describe how to make it in an upcoming post. A few drops in the affected ear 2-3 times a day for 48 hours usually does the trick. NEVER put anything in the ear if you see drainage or suspect a ruptured eardrum.
For Achy, Fussy, Feverish Kids
A quiet comfortable environment is the first step. Don't underestimate the value of touch in healing – your cool hand or a cool cloth on the forehead and a gentle foot rub with a little bit of soothing lavender oil on your hands can go a long way to bring comfort.
Chamomile and Lemon Balm teas are reliable favorites that herbalists have turned to for centuries to ease the discomfort of a fever including achiness, tummy upset, headache, and restlessness, and they can slightly reduce fever as well, if your little one is running a little too hot for your comfort zone. Elder flower and mint tea is another reliable combination. Keep in mind that it is not necessary to treat a fever; it is important to treat underlying infection if there is anything more threatening than a simple viral or mild bacterial infection, and to prevent dehydration, which is the biggest risk of untreated fever. These teas can be given plain or sweetened with honey for kids over 2, or 25% of apple or pear juice for toddlers new to the taste of herbal teas. Kids herbal tinctures made in a glycerine base are sweet to taste and can be given at any age.
See my book now classic book Naturally Healthy Babies and Children for more safe and natural home treatment for your kids!