Alternatives to Cold Medicines

When the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with their recommendation against cold medicines for children under the age of 6, parents started searching for alternatives. The good news is that families have a number of alternatives to traditional over-the-counter decongestants, antihistamines and cough suppressants.

Alternatives to Cold Medicines

It’s worth remembering that what we think of as cold symptoms are mostly tools the body uses to get rid of the virus. A low-grade fever is inhospitable to many viruses and activates our immune system. Congestion is the dilation of blood vessels, bringing needed supplies to the scene of the battle. Mucus traps virus particles and starts moving them away. Coughing and sneezing forcefully eject the virus from the body. Fatigue helps you get the rest you need to heal. The goal of any treatment is to gently do what it takes to make a child comfortable while the body does its healing work.

There are a few treatments that may actually shorten the duration or reduce the severity of a cold. One recent analysis of 30 studies of vitamin C found a consistent benefit of shortening colds by an average of 13.6 percent in children for kids who regularly take the supplement (more effective in kids than in adults). There are at least eight good studies looking at taking zinc. Four of these showed found benefit in reducing duration and/or severity; four did not. I suggest it for kids who may not be getting enough zinc in the diet – which is a lot of kids.

Echinacea appears to be effective in treating colds in nine placebo-controlled studies in adults (plus one study showing perhaps some benefit, and six showing none). But benefit has not been demonstrated in children. Moreover, children in the studies sometimes got rashes from the Echinacea.

For a cough, one option is a spoonful of dark honey for children older than 1 year. Unlike DM cough suppressant, recent research suggests it works better than placebo.

I’m also a fan of cough drops for kids who are old enough where choking is not an issue. They stimulate more saliva production, which could reduce cough and sore throat and bring more antibodies to the scene.

Heated humidified air (steam from a shower, vaporizer, or humidifier) could be a good option. Of six controlled studies, three showed benefit and none showed worse symptoms. The key is to make sure, though, that the source of the heat is not something the child could get into and get burned.

Spraying saline (saltwater) into the nose has been shown to relieve pain and congestion in a number of studies. You can find saline sprays and washes in the drugstore. Some kids enjoy Neti Pots, a way to pour the saltwater in one nostril and out the other.

Dr. Alan Greene

As a father of four himself, Dr. Greene has devoted himself to freely giving real answers to parents' real questions -- from questions about those all too common childhood conditions to those that address the most recent and rare pediatric illnesses. His answers combine cutting edge science, practical wisdom, warm empathy, and a deep respect for parents, children, and the environment. He is also an electrifying public speaker, and has personally touched many during his talks in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Dr. Greene is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of California at San Francisco. Upon completion of his pediatric residency program at Children's Hospital Medical Center of Northern California he served as Chief Resident. He entered primary care pediatrics in January 1993.

Dr. Greene is the Past President of The Organic Center and on the Board of Directors of Healthy Child Healthy World. He is a founding partner of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment. He also consults for the Environmental Working Group.

In 1995, he launched, cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site” on the Internet. His award-winning site has received over 80 million Unique Users from parents, concerned family members, students, and healthcare professionals. In addition to being the founder of, he is the Medical Director for HealthTap.

In 2010 Dr. Greene founded the WhiteOut Movement to change how babies in the United States are fed. In 2012 he founded TICC TOCC - Transitioning Immediate Cord Clamping To Optimal Cord Clamping. He is also the founder of KidGlyphs, a free iPhone app that provides a tool for young children to express themselves beyond their verbal skills while teaching them important language skills.

Dr. Greene is the Founding President of the Society for Participatory Medicine and has served as both President and Board Chair of Hi-Ethics (Health Internet Ethics. He is on the Board of Directors for Healthy Child Healthy World, The Lunchbox Project, and The Society for Participatory Medicine. He has also served as an advisor to URAC for both their inaugural and their updated health web site accreditation program. He is a founding member of the e-Patient Scholars Working Group, and a founding board member of the Center for Information Therapy.

Dr. Greene is a regular columnist for Parenting Magazine. He is also the Pediatric Expert for The People’s Pharmacy (as heard on NPR) and Healing Quest (seen on PBS stations). He was the original Pediatric Expert for both Yahoo! and iVillage.

Dr. Greene is the author of Feeding Baby Green (Wiley, 2009), Raising Baby Green (Wiley, 2007), From First Kicks to First Steps (McGraw-Hill, 2004), The Parent's Complete Guide to Ear Infections (People's Medical Society, 1997), and a co-author of The A.D.A.M. Illustrated Family Health Guide (A.D.A.M., Inc., 2004). He is the medical expert for three additional books, The Parent's Soup A-to-Z Guide to Your New Baby, (Contemporary Books, 1998) The Parent's Soup A-to-Z Guide to Your Toddler, (Contemporary Books, 1999), and The Mother of All Baby Books, (Hungry Minds, Inc., 2002).

Dr. Greene is a frequent keynote speaker at important events such as Health 2.0 2011 held in San Diego, CA, IFOAM 2008 (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), held in Modena Italy, the first European Internet health conference, held in Maastricht, the first International eHealth Association Conference, held in Jeddah, and the largest e-Healthcare World Conference, held in Las Vegas, and the first Green Power Baby Shower, held in Hollywood. Dr. Greene also appears frequently on TV, radio, websites, and in newspapers and magazines around the world, including such venues as the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, Fox and Friends, The Dr. Oz Show, CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC network news, NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time Magazine, Parade, Parenting, Child, Baby Talk, Working Mother, Better Home's & Gardens, and the Reader's Digest.

Dr. Greene loves to think about challenging ideas, he enjoys being where nothing manmade can be seen, and he wears green socks.

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