6 Natural Cough Remedies
5 natural cough remedies more effective than medicine
As you probably know by now, cough medicine for kids under six is a no-no. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “[cough] medications are not effective for children younger than 6 years, and their use, and misuse, could cause serious, adverse side effects.” So what do you do if you have a kid with a miserable cough? Try some natural remedies, says Dr. Lawrence Rosen, former AAP integrative medicine chair and founder of the Whole Child Center in Oradell.
Honey (particularly buckwheat, which is high in macronutrients and antioxidants) should be your first line of defense. A 2012 Pediatrics study found it improved symptoms by 52.8 percent in children ages one to five with upper respiratory infections (compared to 31.8 percent with the placebo). It coats the throat to relieve irritation and suppress coughs, says Rosen, and can be given by itself or mixed with tea. The AAP recommends that kids have one dose of honey right before bed (1/2 teaspoon for those ages one to five; 1 teaspoon for ages six and up). For older kids, honey-infused cough drops like Wedderspoon Organic Manuka Honey Lozenges (ages 4 and up; $10-12) or Burt’s Bees Natural Throat Drops with Honey & Pomegranate (ages 5 and up; $2.29) are a good daytime option.
Possible side effects: Can cause mild stomach upset.
Although most teas are naturally soothing, Rosen tells his patients to drink hot chamomile. The tea’s herbal properties serve as a natural painkiller for sore throats and also help muscles relax (which can, in turn, help your kid finally fall asleep).
Possible side effects: If taken in large doses, chamomile can cause mild stomach upset.
Drinking fluids—specifically water—is one of the best remedies for coughs and colds. It provides relief from a raw, scratchy, dry throat, plus it cuts down on phlegm and thins mucus secretions, speeding up the flow so you can get rid of it faster, according to numerous studies. There’s some evidence that hot water is better than cold, though both help.
Possible side effects: Virtually none, though it can cause appetite suppression.
“Steam can be very helpful with cough suppression,” says Rosen. Taking deep, cleansing breaths in a hot shower, in a steam-filled bathroom or (carefully and supervised) over a pot or sink of hot water naturally soothes and adds moisture to the upper respiratory tract to break up congestion. A humidifier in the child’s bedroom is another good source.
Possible side effects: Not recommended for kids with asthma, as it may worsen the cough.
5. Chicken Soup
Grandma was right: Chicken soup is a proven natural remedy for a cough (as well as all manner of colds and flu). Its anti-inflammatory properties can get rid of cough-causing mucus build-up faster than without it.
Possible side effects: Just make sure there are no chicken bone fragments in the broth that could create choking hazards. And don’t give it to babies or very young children who aren’t completely comfortable with solid foods yet.
Chocolate for a cough? Yes, much to your kids’ delight. A substance in cocoa called theobromine has been found to block nerve activity that triggers the coughing reflex. There’s a catch, though—to be truly effective, they need to take it in its purest (aka non-sugary) form—a candy bar isn’t going to do the trick. “Taking a teaspoon of cocoa in the powder form twice a day is good for kids two and up,” says Trenton pediatrician Dr. Puthenmadam Radhakrishnan, an executive committee member and councilman at large with the AAP’s
Possible side effects: Weight gain, upset tummy, hyperactivity and other symptoms associated with eating chocolate, which has caffeine in it, are all possible. Just make sure to monitor your kids’ overall daily caffeine intake if you go this route, advises Radhakrishnan.
Be Patient: Coughs Last a While
Parents shouldn’t be alarmed if a cough lingers. NJ AAP President Dr. Elliot Rubin says that “seven to 10 days is the normal course of a cough. Once you get past that, you need to know whether there’s anything else going on—like wheezing or respiratory distress. When in doubt, call your doctor.” And always check in when you’ve got an infant. “If you have a child under three months with a cough, call no matter how long it’s lasted. It could be something more serious,” Rubin says.
See the pediatrician if:
• The cough lasts longer than 7–10 days, or as soon as possible with an infant
• The child is in distress, laboring to breathe
• Fever is 103° or higher
• You can hear a noticeable wheezing or barking noise when the child coughs
• There’s a thickness in the cough from mucus build-up
• The child vomits after coughing
New Jersey Made: Poofy Organics
Founded by mother-daughter duo Nella Gagliardi and Kristina Wilson of Rutherford, the Jersey company turned national brand Poofy Organics sells some of Rosen’s favorite natural rubs, like Eucalyptus Essential Oil Organic ($8, poofyorganics.com).
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