Family health

Non-medicinal cold remedies

Want to avoid over-the-counter drugs for your child's cold? We asked a variety of medical experts for the best ways to soothe sniffles, calm coughs and clear congestion

By Laura Grande
Non-medicinal cold remedies

Symptom: sinus congestion

Drug-free fix:  Rinse out the mucus with a neti pot (pictured, right). It’s a teapot-like device that South Asian parents have been using for centuries to relieve their children’s stuffy noses.
How-to: Fill the pot with warm distilled water and a small amount of salt, and stir until dissolved. (Some neti pots come with pre-measured packages of salt mixture.) Have your little one stand over the sink, on a stool if necessary, bending forward slightly and turning his head sideways. Put the spout to his nostril until the solution drains from the opposite nostril. (You can find a how-to video at

Are your kids too freaked out to try a neti pot? Drugstores stock easy-to-use saline sprays, such as HydraSense nasal saline, that are sized to be comfortable for kids, and deliver the right amount of saline with less fuss.

Symptom: chest congestion
Drug-free fix: Licorice root, a herb from the legume family, soothes the chest and helps loosen mucus.
How-to: You can find licorice root at most health food stores. Older children can chew it, or you can make licorice root into a tea to drink warm or at room temperature.

Symptoms: common cold cluster (sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, coughing)
Drug-free fix: Try ALJ, a combo of herbs (including horseradish root and fennel seeds) that helps soothe breathing passages and relieves congestion. It’s available at health food stores.  
How-to: Mix a small amount (about an eighth of a teaspoon; ask a natural health practitioner about the appropriate dose for your child) into a drink at room temperature, starting with the first sniffles, to shorten a cold’s hold from the usual week to a few days.

Meds to nix for kids under six
Even though you may remember Mom or Dad soothing your stuffy nose and coughs with spoonfuls of a drugstore elixir, don’t assume it’s safe to give your little one. Health Canada has found that many active ingredients in over-the-counter cold medications aren’t safe — or even effective — for kids under six. For a full list, click here.

Our experts:
Amanda Guthrie, naturopathic doctor and founder of Whole Health Toronto

Diane McLaren, natural health practitioner, registered nutritionist and iridologist at Healthy You Wellness Centre in Mississauga, Ont.

Sunita Vohra, associate professor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, member of the Canadian Paediatric Society

Susan Waserman, president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, staff physician at Hamilton Health Sciences

This article was originally published on Sep 28, 2011

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