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Home Remedies for Kids' Winter Ills

Antibiotics don't work on colds and the flu, and many doctors have stopped prescribing them if your child has the sniffles. Try these doctor-recommended home remedies instead.

WebMD Feature

According to the CDC, wrongly giving kids antibiotics for viral infections, and taking antibiotics just long enough to feel better but not finishing the medication, are creating antibiotic-resistant bugs. When you really need to knock down an organism in your child, these "superbugs" may laugh off the antibiotics and take over. So what should a parent do instead, as cold winds blow and illnesses flare?

"Parents are the frontline clinicians," Richard P. Walls, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in La Jolla, Calif., tells WebMD. Walls served on a complementary and alternative medicine task force created several years ago by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). "While families should not believe everything they read on the Internet, I try to teach parents how to assess both wellness and illness."

Walls says he believes in the "Three to Five Day Rule." If a child comes down with a viral illness, he or she should be markedly better in three days and almost well in five days. If there is deviation from this, the pediatrician should be called. "Fever in the first 24 hours is normal," Walls says. "If the fever starts after a few days, though, a secondary infection might be setting in." If the child not better in five days, a trip to the doctor also may be in order. Parents need to use their best judgment -- does this seem like a cold or might it be something different?

"Antibiotics don't work for viral infections," Kathi J. Kemper, MD, professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., tells WebMD. "The average 3-year-old who comes home from day care with a cold does not need antibiotics."

So what should a parent do? "I ask them what they have done before that worked," Kemper says. "There is no data that say over-the-counter cough and cold medicine works for kids, but if parents have tried them and they do, then I say OK." (Give as directed, of course.)

Other Home Remedies for Colds

A lot of dealing with winter illnesses involves removing discomfort and instilling comfort, rather than "curing" the ailment. Kemper recommends extra attention for the child. "What did your mother do for you?" she asks. Social support is good, as are being tucked into a special bed or couch with sheets, fresh jammies, and favorite foods and juices.

Chicken soup is still a mainstay. Some data even show it has healing powers. At very least, it's light, nutritious, and tastes good to jaded little appetites.

Kemper and Walls both say acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen and are fine to ease aches. Kemper says ibuprofen lasts longer and goes to work faster.

Aspirin is not recommended for children with fevers and may cause complications.

Steam from a hot shower can ease congestion. Be sure the child is not asthmatic, though. Changes in humidity can cause bronchospasms, Walls says.

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