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Managing Colds and Viruses

*Sniff sniff…cough cough….* Get the tissues and the Vitamin C because it’s cold and flu season. It seems like it never ends with these kids – the snots and the coughing and the moaning. So what can we do about it? Should we send them to school? Should we send them to the school nurse? Doctor? Should you give them medicine?

*Disclaimer: Always consult your Pediatrician before giving any medicine, especially cold medicine. You need to read the box or the insert and understand what you are giving, correct dosages, and possible side effects and interactions with other medications. Often pediatricians can tell you the correct dosage where the box says “consult pediatrician”.

So what works and what doesn’t? What can you do to be able to send your kid to school or daycare and feel OK about it? I’m actually learning about some misconceptions and new studies myself that show what is useful and what isn’t.

What works?

Hydration is key

Hydration: water water water all day long. Water till you pee all day. Hydration helps to thin mucus so it can go away easier. You can try warm tea (Non-caffeinated) with honey and maybe lemon in it, water, sports drinks, or even juice. Just avoid soda, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks because they will contribute to dehydration or at least not contribute to hydration.

Hand washing

Hand washing: A no-brainer really. While hand washing won’t actually cure anything, it helps prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. It’s important to wash hands under running water using soap when available, taking the time to rub them together and rinse well, drying with a disposable paper towel. Alcohol based hand sanitizer will do in a pinch but hand washing is best – especially for visibly soiled hands.


Rest: Your body needs rest when it is sick. Sleep helps build the immune system and allow the body to heal. The less work you are doing with your body the more energy it can devote to getting better.

Neti pot

Nasal Saline: Using over the counter nasal saline can help with nasal and sinus congestion tremendously. You can use the kind that comes in a convenient squirt bottle (Like Ocean) or sprays (like the Arm & Hammer one You can also use a Neti Pot with saline for a sinus rinse: this doesn’t always work for everyone (personally I don’t care for the Neti Pot because I don’t get the amazing cleanse other people get but I keep trying!) I have one like this:

Over the Counter medications

Over The Counter Pain relievers: Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), Acetaminophen (Tylenol), Naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve) can help relieve aches and pains, fevers, and headaches. Be very careful though because many prepared OTC cold medicines already have some of these in them and you would be taking too much if you combine them. This is especially important concerning Acetaminophen containing products as overdosing can be catastrophic. For kids dosages you should consult your pediatrician as they will have the most correct, up-to-date information for you.

Over the counter cold medicine

Over the Counter Cold Medicines: DayQuil, NyQuil, Robitussin, Pseudoephedrine, Delsym, Mucinex, you know, all of those. These are Ok generally for adults but it’s not really recommended to use many of these medicines for kids, especially those under 6 years old. Your best bet is to go with Benadryl but that is likely to make a kid (or adult) sleepy so it’s better used at home. As always, call the pediatrician and see which medicine they recommend before giving anything to your child. Be aware that many decongestants can cause a fast heart rate or other unwanted side effects, especially in those who are already diagnosed with any kind of heart issues. Use these types of medicines sparingly and with caution if at all.

Steam can help relieve congestion

Humidifiers/steam: Steam is a great way to help alleviate sinus congestion, among other things. Steam not only moisturizes the mucus membranes but it helps thin mucus so it can drain. Steam is also great for kids with croup. An adult can take boiled water in a bowl, lean over the bowl with a towel over their head and breathe in the steam – probably avoid this method with kids because they have a greater risk of getting burned by the water. For a child, you can have a cool mist humidifier placed near them, or turn on the shower on the hottest setting and close the bathroom door and enjoy the sauna.

Chicken soup

Eat: Don’t forget to eat. Your body needs all the vitamins and calories to help fight whatever illness you have. It is a researched and proven fact that nutrition plays a major role in healing. We all know that when you’re sick you are supposed to eat chicken soup. That’s sort of true – chicken soup is hot, steamy, and full of vitamins that our body needs but has no actual “healing properties”. It also brings comfort and relaxation which helps with healing as well.

Raw, local honey is always best

Honey: Honey has antimicrobial properties and has been proven to help fight some bacteria and viruses. We all know that you make hot tea with lemon and honey when you are sick and it helps soothe a sore throat and cough. You can also eat honey right off a spoon while you are sick! Using raw (unprocessed) local honey is your best bet because it hasn’t been heated and processed. You can usually find it at local farmers markets, online, or check in local groups for who has bees and is making honey at home. It is super important that everyone knows that it is NOT SAFE to feed honey in any form to children under 12 months old as it can lead to infant botulism – a very serious illness that causes severe muscle weakness and sometimes death.

Elderberry has healing properties

Elderberry: Elderberry, while not officially proven to be a reliable remedy, has been used for centuries to help boost immunity and help fight off colds. According to The Cleveland Clinic, studies have shown that those who took elderberry syrup saw cold And flu symptoms clear up and average of four days earlier And the symptoms were less severe than those who didn’t take it. It’s not a cure but it definitely cant hurt! You can buy elderberry products at the store like Sambucol or Zarbees or you can make your own. I like to use this Zarbees elderberry for my child: Scroll down for the recipe for elderberry syrup. I bought this kit from Amazon that had all the ingredients already put together except for the honey:

Raw apple cider vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar and other homeopathic remedies (Bone broth, garlic, cayenne, raw pineapple juice): All of these are shown to also have antiviral properties. Apple cider Vinegar must be the raw kind with “the mother” in it to be effective – Braggs is usually a good brand . I like to make a homemade “cough syrup” with ACV, minced garlic, grated ginger, cayenne, a splash of honey and a little bit of raw pineapple. It tastes like salad dressing from Hell but also truly helps coughs and sore throats some. Scroll down to see the full recipe for the natural cough syrup.

Influenza vaccine

Flu shots: While not 100% foolproof against getting the flu, getting a flu shot is better than not getting one. They don’t protect against every strain of the flu but they do help the severity of the symptoms often. People with pre-existing health issues such as asthma, or immune deficiencies, or are babies and elderly should definitely get a flu shot. Those who are around People who are at risk for complications from the flu should also get a flu shot. Misconception: the flu shot does NOT give you the flu no matter what you’ve heard from your friend’s aunt’s cousin’s hairdresser’s personal experience. Some side effects of the flu shot are flu like symptoms which can really stink in itself, and often the flu shot doesn’t cover all strains of the flu but most of the time it’s a good idea to get it. Here is info from the CDC regarding Flu Shots:

What doesn’t work?

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics: Antibiotics do not work on viruses. I’ll say it louder for those that didn’t hear me: ANTIBIOTICS DO NOT WORK ON VIRUSES! Antibiotics are used to kill bacteria, not viruses therefore demanding an antibiotic for a cold is just building your body’s resistance to the antibiotic and allowing for more antibiotic resistant bacteria to develop. Ever notice how they keep inventing stronger, newer antibiotics? That’s why.


Zinc: I got duped on this one as I’m currently taking zinc for my cold I have right now. While there have been studies that showed taking zinc for a cold starting at the first signs of symptoms would reduce the duration of the cold, it turns out that the studies weren’t that good. They didn’t really study enough people for long enough to make a good determination. Zinc can have unwanted side effects too, especially if taken in high doses – anemia, copper deficiency, and nervous system damage among other things. Don’t bother wasting your money on it.

Always wear a coat when it’s cold

Wearing a coat/hat/Avoiding wet hair: Yes you should always wear a coat And hat and Gloves and warm clothes when it’s cold out but not doing so won’t “give you pneumonia” as grandma always says. Being super cold can lead to things like hypothermia or frostbite though so still stay warm. The reality is that warmth and moisture breeds bacteria so you’re more likely to get sick in a warm place than a cold place.

Essential oils

Essential oils (depending which ones and how they are used): There is varying levels of essential oils being useful and not useful. Yes it has been shown that inhaling oils like eucalyptus or peppermint or menthol type ones can aid in clearing congestion, Tea Tree oil is great for a lot of things, so is peppermint oil and oil of oregano, but the reality is that essential oils rubbed on feet and diffused or consumed in teas don’t do a whole lot. They don’t purify the air, they don’t fight any bacteria within the body, they don’t balance your body’s “vibration”. None of it. They smell good. They make you feel like you’re doing something. It’s not worth the money wasted. Here is a podcast where they discuss some of the information pertaining to use of essential oils for medical treatment:

Take care of yourself, do the best you can and as always, if you are sick stay home! If your child is sick, keep them home! There is no cure for the common cold but at least we can take steps to prevent and shorten it when we do get something.

As always, head to your local Dollar Tree for all things disinfecting! Hand sanitizer, wipes for disinfecting surfaces, gloves,and most other cleaning needs!

Recipe for elderberry syrup
Recipe for ACV cough syrup

As always, don’t forget to visit my TPT store for fun prinatbles

Published by Emme Mauer M.Ed., BSN, RN, CSN

Mom to two preemies, anxiety sufferer, postpartum depression survivor, and school nurse extraordinaire.

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