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Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever?

Whatever the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decides to do about limiting over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications' availability for use by little kids (they've already recommended they not be given to kids under age 2), a lot of people are spooked by the notion that such products may be ineffective or even dangerous. (For a full story on last week's FDA hearing, see tomorrow's Health section.) But what are the alternatives for treating kids' colds?

When I was a kid, having a bad cold meant big spoonfuls of alcohol-containing cough syrup, tiny orange-flavored baby aspirin tablets, and lots of Vick's VapoRub smeared on my chest, where it stung my skin but helped me breathe through my stuffy nose. I'm not sure what function the big red rubber heating pad (which was hot because my mom filled it with hot water) served, but I'll never forget how clammy it felt against my skin as it cooled. I remember my best friend's having a misty vaporizer in her bedroom when she was sick, but I don't believe my family ever owned one.

Of course we don't give alcohol -- or aspirin, for that matter -- to kids any more. But when my kids were little (more than a decade ago), I gave them OTC cold remedies without a second thought, as today's red flags regarding their use had yet to be raised. Because I relied on those medications, I never developed an arsenal of home remedies of my own.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends using saline solution and a cool-mist humidifier to clear stuffy noses and chests, small amounts of honey to relieve a cough, and acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) to control fever. Experts urge parents NOT to give children medications meant for adults, even in small doses.

What do you do for your kids when they have a cold? Use OTC treatments judiciously? Follow the AAP's guidance? Administer a treatment you invented yourself, or one you learned from your parents or grandparents? Let's hear your ideas. But, please, Checkup readers, don't try any of the treatments your fellow readers suggest without first running them by your kid's physician, okay?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  October 6, 2008; 7:07 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health  
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Cold studies have suggested that hot liquids are helpful in alleviating cold symptoms...yup, you read it here...chicken soup!

Posted by: Miriam | October 6, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Do NOT give honey to children under one year of age!!! Babies under one have ot yet developed a mature enough digestive system to combat the possibility of botulism from honey.

Posted by: VaLGaL | October 6, 2008 8:43 AM | Report abuse

For just about everything:
Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup
Saltine Crackers
Ginger Ale

For Sore Throats and Coughs:
Gargle with Warm Water with one or two teaspoons of table salt and a couple drops of iodine added. (3 or 4 times a day)
Warm Honey with some lemon juice added (By the Tablespoon full - as required)

For Stuffy Noses and Chest Colds:
All of the above AND Vicks Vapo Rub

For Low Grade Fevers:
Cold Wash Clothes on forehead AND daubed elsewhere by Mom to cool you off.

Posted by: Famural | October 6, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse

You expected to hear about hand washing, it should be done before meals and when coming in from work or school. Consider shoes off when you come in from outside, use house slippers. Colds and flu can pass without meds, be careful with high fevers and dehydration, especially in the very young or very old. Use the minimum remedy to relieve symptoms-If you have a chronic condition talk it up with the doc' before any self dosing.

Posted by: Frank Abair | October 6, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Fevers are the way the body tries to kill viruses. No need to treat it except if childs very uncomfortable. Just make sure you don't overheat them with too many bedclothes. Warm baths are nice for an uncomfortable child. A fever of over 102 should be taken to a doctor just in case its something serious.

Humidifiers are nice for coughing. Hot lemonade with honey are good for children over 2. Nasal syringes (snot suckers) are good for children under two and neti pots for children over 2 (if they'll let you).

Posted by: c | October 6, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Rest, honey and lemon (mine are 7 and 9), plenty of liquids including herbal tea, chicken broth/soup. OTC cough medicine if it seems to be helping (give one dose, keep giving if cough quiets then comes back after dose wears off. Nasal spray, humidifier. But mainly it is the rest that helps.

For me, add whiskey to the lemon/honey mixture. I do the neti pot, but as the earlier posted implied--kids aren't keen on this. I swear by it.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 6, 2008 10:29 AM | Report abuse

"Gargle with Warm Water with one or two teaspoons of table salt and a couple drops of iodine added. (3 or 4 times a day)"

What kid in thier right mind is going to
drink this!

Posted by: Anonymous | October 6, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I am not particularly spooked by the OTC issue (I never use multi-symptom preparations, and I am confident in my ability to avoid overdose). I use OTC meds sparingly at bedtime to help ensure a good night's sleep, which I think is the best medicine. During the day, hanging out in a steamy bathroom is great. Also helpful are those plug-in menthol vapor things--they really help in keeping your sinuses clearer when you're suffering.

Posted by: subrosa | October 6, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Anonymous -- you gargle with the salt/iodine water, NOT drink it!!!

In other words, "ash or rinse the throat or mouth with a liquid held in the throat and kept in motion by a stream of air from the lungs." (thanks to

Posted by: Gargle, not drink | October 8, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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