Every cold and flu season many children come down with a head cold that results in a cough. Coughing can be uncomfortable and downright irritating if it’s strong and persistent or keeping everyone up at night.
When it comes to the ordinary cough, Western medicine doesn’t really have any great solutions that are both safe and effective. Yet, hearing your child cough night after night can be enough to tempt you to give them over-the-counter cough medicine.
I’m not going to sugar coat this: Over-the-counter cough syrup doesn’t work for children. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend the use of cough medicine at all in children under age 6 because they don’t work and are unsafe (1). Most cough and cold medicines contain dextromethorphan (DXM) which can be harmful and even fatal in about 5% – 10% of children who can’t properly metabolize it.(2) Don’t take my word for it, here is what the AAP has to say on over-the-counter cough & cold medicines for kids:
…research has shown these products [over-the-counter cough and cold medicine] offer little benefit to young children – and can have potentially serious side effects. Many cough and cold products for children have more than one ingredient, increasing the chance of accidental overdose if combined with another product (3).
Even though children’s cough medicine doesn’t work it’s still on drug store shelves today! (I’ll refrain from inserting some snide, but funny, comment here). Rather than take these ineffective and unsafe products off the market, drug companies have relabeled them with a warning that they shouldn’t be used in children under 4. You may not easily find this warning since the front of the box usually says, “Children’s Cough Medicine,” meaning most people are going to assume it is safe for their kids. Unless you turn the box over and check the dosage information you may not realize it.
As if to prove my point, while I was taking pictures of the cough medicine at the drugstore for this post, a mom and her three children (all clearly under the age of 4) came down the cough and cold aisle and the mom quickly grabbed a box of children’s multi-symptom cough and cold medicine and plopped it into her cart.
Stop a Cough Naturally
If medicine doesn’t work, what else can parents do to help treat a child’s cough beyond rest, fluids, humidifier and cough drops? What you’ll do for babies will be a bit different than kids. And what remedies you’ll use will depend on the type of cough your child has. No matter what you want to treat their cough in a natural, safe and effective way.
To get you started, here are seven natural ways calm a cough your pediatrician won’t tell you about.
1. Pediatric Tuina Massage for Cough
In traditional Chinese medicine, we use ancient massage and acupressure techniques to treat cough not matter what type it is: wet, dry, hacking or croupy. Tuina massage techniques work by stimulating the body to heal itself. There are 6 main massage and acupressure techniques that can stop cough while also boosting the immune system. It only takes minutes to do, yet it can make a HUGE difference to speed recovery.
One powerful technique for treating cough is a tuina massage called a “spinal roll.” The spinal roll is great for treating cough and chest congestion when focused on the upper back. Click here to learn how to do a tuina spinal roll for cough in the free video. This massage works well on its own and I would recommend you do it two or three times daily. However, you can strengthen its effect when you can combine with the other five massage techniques.
On it’s own, the spinal roll is a very versatile massage. It can be used as part of a massage routine to treat many different problems including cough, asthma, digestive issues, sleep problems, anxiety, and bedwetting. You can strengthen the effects of the spinal roll by combining it with other massage techniques for each specific condition.
Parents can do the massage on their children at home and no special training is required to get excellent results. Its safe, effective and can be used at any age. The best part is, kids love it, it feels great and it makes them feel better.
2. Honey & Lemons
Ok, you’re pediatrician might tell you about honey because it is officially recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for cough, but you don’t want any ordinary highly processed honey bear. What really works is raw, dark amber honey. Buckwheat honey has received the most research for cough, but you can use any dark amber raw honey like avocado or blackberry. Local dark honey is great, too. I use local raw Uvas Gold Apiary Honey for coughs in the winter and allergies in the spring.
WARNING: For children 12 months or younger do not give them honey.
Lemon, honey and ginger tea is a great way to soothe a sore throat and calm a cough. Honey helps to break up mucous and the astringent nature of lemon juice does the same thing while also providing vitamin C. Here is a recipe from NourishingJoy.com for a Homemade Cough Syrup . NourishingJoy.com also recommends an easy-to-make cough syrup using a ratio of 1 TBS honey & 1 tsp lemon juice.
TIP: Don’t buy honey cough syrups from the drug store. They may contain honey and herbs but most also have preservatives and “natural flavor” which is food industry code for “a long list of chemicals we aren’t required by law to reveal on the label.” Honey is yummy and it shouldn’t require natural flavors to be palatable!
3. Eliminate Dairy
Why give up dairy? It creates or adds to mucous production. Even if your child can normally tolerate dairy, take it out of their diet while they’re sick, especially if they have a wet phlegmy cough. It will lessen the phlegm and the burden of getting rid of it through coughing. NOTE: if your baby is breastfeeding or drinking cow’s milk formula as the main source of their calories, do not eliminate dairy.
4. Herbal Tea
Herbs like licorice root, mullein, sage leaves, wild cherry bark and slippery elm can be made into a tea with a little honey to calm a cough. If you’re in a rush or you don’t have these herbs on hand you should be able to pick up a tea called Just for Kids Throat Coat by Traditional Medicinals. Throat Coat has many of the herbs recommended above and it’s formulated with kid’s safety and tastes in mind. It’s usually available in grocery stores and it has a very pleasant taste for a medicinal tea. It’s not only good for cough but works for sore throats too.
5. Essential Oil Chest Rub
Essential oils can help break up chest and nasal congestion when used in a chest rub for children ages 10 and up. But if you’re like me you don’t want to use petrochemicals, like those contained in Vick’s Vapor Rub. Instead, you can mix essential oils in about organic olive oil and make your own herbal oil.
If you prefer a salve, then try this recipe from NourishingJoy.com for a “vapor rub” or you can pick Gaia’s Warming Vaporous Rub, a safe pre-made chest rub, available at your local health food store. Essential oils should never be apply directly to the skin. In children younger than 10, please check the essential oils for safety.
6. Essential Oil Steam Bath
A warm steamy bath can also help a nighttime cough. Start a hot bath using the shower, close the bathroom door and let the room get steamy. Add a few drops of essential oils such as wild mountain sage or fir needle into the tub to soothe a cough and open up the chest.
7. Organic Poached Pears with Cinnamon
This is a personal favorite for dry, tickly coughs. Eat 1/2 to 1 pear before bed. It is so delicious and it feels great on a dry, scratchy throat.
Use Natural Remedies Treat Your Child’s Cough Today
Don’t wait it out and hope that your child’s cough will get better. Treating a cough early with natural remedies is the best way to ensure that you’re child’s cough will resolve in a timely manner. If you’re wondering where to start, how to do the massage or what remedies to use for your child’s cough, I’ve got your covered.
I created the Stop Cough Guide and Massage Video so you could learn to do all 6 massage techniques at home. You can learn how to do the massage in just a few minutes.
For babies and young children, doing the 6 pediatric tuina massage routine is the safest and most effective way to treat cough because it stimulates the body to heal itself. These techniques have been around for thousands of years and are truly time-tested.
The Stop Cough Guide & Massage Video will help you determine which age-appropriate remedies to use for your child’s cough. Included in the guide are:
- Instructional massage video for all 6 massage techniques
- 4 common mistakes that can make coughs last longer
- Remedies for wet, dry, croup, and nighttime cough
- Recommendations for stubborn coughs
- Recipes for ginger-lemon-honey tea, poached pears, white coral tea (for phlegmy cough)
- Dosages for honey
- Instructions for making an essential oil rub & steam bath
Common Sense Caution
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s cough you should contact a medical doctor or qualified health care provider like an acupuncturist or naturopathist specializing in pediatrics.
RED FLAG: Coughing may be due to another more serious illness. If a cough comes on suddenly with high fever, restlessness, difficulty breathing, wheezing, lethargy, chest tightness and/or difficulty swallowing your child may need immediate medical attention. If a lingering cough is associated with wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing it may be a sign of asthma. Rarely, but sometimes, a chronic cough may be caused by tuberculosis.
Paul, IM, KE Yoder, KR Crowel, ML Schaffer, HS McMillan, LC Carlson, DA Dilworth and CM Berlin Jr.. “Effect of dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, and placebo on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents..” NCBI Pub Med. Pediatrics, Jul 2004. Web. 18 Jan 2013. .
Magarey, Jim. “Dextromethorphan (PIM 179).” IPCS INCHEM. In Chem, 1996. Web. 19 Jan 2013. .
“Cough and Cold Medicine Not for Children.” Www.aap.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2004. Web. 19 Jan 2013. <http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/aap-press-room-media-center/Pages/Cough-and-Cold-Medicine-Not-for-Children.aspx>.
Paul, IM, J Beiler, A McMonagle, ML Schaffer and CM Berlin Jr.. “Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents..” Http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, Dec 2007. Web. 19 Jan 2013.
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