Winter Remedies for Every Parent

I am going to start this blog by giving a list of the most commonly prescribed remedies I give out during the winter, also known as cough and flu season. These are the items I ALWAYS have around my house and I recommend to every one of my patients.

Vaseline (petroleum jelly) or Aquaphor - Winter is a time for dry skin, diaper rash, runny nose and red cheeks. The best remedy for all of these is a great barrier ointment and Vaseline does the trick almost every time. It may be thick and greasy, but when your little one really needs protection, it does the trick. If you ever get around to checking out the ingredients on your body lotion, baby lotion, or beauty cream, one of the first ingredients is petrolatum (yes, the main ingredient in Vaseline). This is because it is the only ingredient that creates a barrier from the outside world. All of the other ingredients are added to make it feel better, absorb better or smell better, all of which your child does not need and may cause irritation.

Nasal saline and a bulb syringe - Nothing helps a runny nose and clogged sinuses in a child like saline. You can not use it too much. For infants and young toddlers (<2), I recommend nasal saline drops. Just put 2 drops in each nostril, let it sit as long as you can hold your child down (<10 sec for most parents), insert the bulb syringe, close the other nostril with your finger and suck. The hardest part is holding your child in a position to get this done! For older children, the nasal saline spray is much easier and kids don’t seem to mind it near as much.

Cool mist humidifier - Place in your child’s room, near the bed (but not too close to wood furniture - I learned that one the hard way) at the first sign of a cold, sore throat, or sinus blockage. Remember not to use the hot water humidifiers, they will burn your curious children.

Children’s ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) - If your child goes out in public at all or anyone else in the house gets sick, then your little one is bound to get something during the winter months. Upper respiratory tract infections are very common and most of them have fever associated with them. The fever is your child’s body fighting the infection, but fever can also cause your child to be very uncomfortable, with fussiness, flushed cheeks, fast breathing, and sleepiness. Our greatest weapon against fever is ibuprofen or acetaminophen, use as directed by your physician. Remember that both of these medications come in infant formulations and the dosage can be very confusing, so double check before giving. Please remember no ibuprofen for infants <6 months and never any aspirin for children. 

Honey - Honey has been shown in several studies (and by personal experience) to calm a cough better than the cough suppressants that are FDA approved for children (only for >6 years). Dark honey seems to do the best job, but regular honey works and also tastes better. Just 1/2 – 1 teaspoon every 2 hours for children older than 2. Do not give honey to any child <1 year for risk of botulism. 

Pedialyte or Gatorade - If your child is sick with an upper respiratory tract infection or gastroenteritis (also commonly known as the “stomach flu”, it is very important to have an oral rehydration solution on hand. For children under the age of 2 or 3 (depending on when they refuse to drink the solution), Pedialyte is best. After that Gatorade will work. It can be warm, cold or frozen like a Popsicle. If your infant is just refusing to eat and drink because of a stuffy nose, try switching to Pedialyte, it goes down much easier than formula (the Popsicle trick also works with infants >4 months). If they are vomiting, try giving small amounts (5 ml or sips) of Pedialyte very frequently to keep them hydrated.

Influenza Vaccine - If you have children over the age of 6 months, please get them an influenza vaccine. I also urge all parents to get the vaccine, especially if they have children under the age of 6 months, who can not get the vaccine. Influenza is a very serious respiratory illness, especially in children. It causes high fever, runny nose congestion, cough, difficulty breathing and a very ill child for 5-7 days on average. The vaccine is the only weapon we truly have against this life threatening illness.

Heather Joyce, MD

Originally Posted on Pediatricians for Parents