My two-year-old recently got a cold and cough. The cough seems heavy and her nose is blocked. I got her medication but I was wondering if you could recommend some home remedies that could help relieve this cold and possibly cure it.
Commoncolds occur mostly due to viral infections, which usually settle within a week. Children, particularly young ones, are more vulnerable to infections, because they do not have a very strong immune system. Dried up secretions can block the nose, making breathing difficult. Allergy to certain substances inhaled or applied over the body, can produce recurrent cold and nose blockade. Recurrent cold can also be due to a deviated nasal septum or nasal polyps.
Since the underlying infection is mostly viral, it is not wise to give antibiotics. Warm or cold water helps to humidify the nose and clear the dried up secretions. Hence, the child can be given ice cold water or warm water, or decaffeinated tea with honey for relieving the blockade. Keeping the child well hydrated by giving water frequently to drink is also helpful. Decoction of basil leaves is also helpful. Hot chicken broth or soup is helpful in reducing inflammation.
Inhalation of steam helps in clearing the mucous plugs blocking the nose. For this purpose, the child can be held and made to sit near steam in small container. Due to the heat, the child may become irritable and cry. There is nothing to worry in this and the more the child cries, the more steam he will inhale automatically and more relief will be provided. Only thing one has to be vigilant about is not letting the child touch the hot container in any way. Alternately, saline drops can be put, one drop in each nostril.
Avoid over the counter anti-cold drugs, as they are really not needed and cause drowsiness. Nasal sprays are available, inhalation of which is useful. Conventionally Vitamin C and zinc preparations are given in recurrent cold to a child, in a bid to boost immunity. But they have not been found to be very helpful in curing a current episode of cold.
Preventive measures are very helpful in common cold. Try to keep the room and surroundings of a toddler clean. If they are suffering from a cold, do not allow them to go to a day-care or nursery because they can contaminate others and can even acquire infections. Use disposable tissue to clean the nose. Try keeping commonly used articles like toys, telephones, and etcetera, clean. It is also very important to keep the hands of the toddler clean. The caretakers also need to keep their hands very clean, particularly while handling the child. Hand sanitisers or liquid soaps are better than the conventional soaps in this regard. If using air conditioners or room heaters, use the ones with humidifiers to keep the room humid and prevent dryness.
Dr. Rachna Pande is a specialist in internal medicine.