Cold and Flus: What Can We do for our Children?
Written by Dr. Chuck DuMont, Integrative Pediatrics
(December 2010)

Two little boys looking to the Sky.Don't be fooled by the mild weather we have had so far as we transition from fall to winter - the cold and flu season is definitely upon us. For children, cold and flu season can mean an unfortunate case of the sniffles or a major setback in overall health. Seasonal colds and flus may even set off or worsen other medical problems or illnesses such as asthma. During the colder months of the year, we also tend to stay indoors more at school or work in close contact with other people. This means there is a greater chance of spreading germs to one another and getting sick.


Fortunately, there are many simple actions we can take to guard our children, and ourselves, against unwanted illness this season. The best strategy to guard against sickness is to practice preventive medicine so that our bodies are healthy and our immune systems strong enough to defend against the onslaught of cold and flu viruses. Proper prevention includes keeping our children's lifestyle and diet balanced. And since children tend to take their parent's lead and do what they do - this means we, as parents, must also work to maintain proper balance between rest, activity and sleep and maintain a healthy diet.


A great defense is the best offense!


Preventative medicine is the best way to keep your kids healthy this season and all year round. From making sure your kids are maintaining proper hygiene to eating a balanced diet, following these simple guidelines will help keep your children's defenses strong to keep the winter sniffles at bay:


Wash your hands: One of the easiest things to do is to make sure you and your children are washing your hands regularly and to instill in your children the importance of this simple action to minimize the spread of viruses. 


Get a flu vaccine: Flu vaccines are readily available at a wide variety of convenient locations around the city. Although getting a vaccine may provide some extra fortification of our defenses, flu vaccines only protect against a few of the many different strains of cold and flu viruses out there.


Maintain a balanced lifestyle: Good health requires a good balance between rest, activity and sleep. This has always been especially emphasized in Chinese medicine.

  1. Adequate sleep is important for many reasons but in this case it helps maintain a healthy immune system. Children should get at least 8 hours of sleep, and probably a little more during the winter time.
  2. Clean fresh air, regular recreation and exercise are also important.  The trick to healthy outdoor winter fun is to keep your child warm enough, but not overheated to the point of sweating. Too much sweating opens pores and allows pathologic Qi to enter the body, increasing the risk of illness. It is especially important to keep children's feet and legs warm and make sure their heads and necks are covered. 
  3. Enjoy the period of relatively more rest and less activity. In contrast to summer, the time of releasing and expanding our energies, winter is a time to nurture and replenish.


Eat a healthy diet: A properly proportioned diet with the appropriate balance of vitamins, minerals and nutrients is often the best way to maintain overall health.  Think of it as defensive eating!

  1. A healthy diet should consist mostly of vegetables, particularly greens which are high in nutritional value. 
  2. As much as possible you should eat foods that are in season.  According to traditional Chinese nutrition, most of the winter vegetables (and seasonal fruits) are considered warming and nourishing to our energy core or center.
  3. At this time of year, a smaller amount of whole grains should be eaten. Those that are particularly warming and nourishing for the winter months are oats, rice and millet.
  4. Small amounts of warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, and cloves can be incorporated into meals or drinks. 
  5. Refined, processed foods and added sugars should be minimized.  These actually harm our energy core and are also only empty calories with little nutritional value. 


Going on the attack

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the cold and flu viruses sneak through our defense and our children get sick. When that happens I generally recommend either homeopathic remedies or a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.


Homeopathic Remedies:

I recommend homeopathic remedies for children because of they are exceptionally safe, palatable and generally well accepted by children; but mostly because they are often so effective with few to no side effects.                                                                            

To minimize the effects of a cold/flu or even stop it all together, start with Oscillococcinum®. Available at most pharmacies, it should be given at the first hint of a cold, flu, sore throat or ear infection. The earlier it is taken, the more likely that it will have effect. It may stop the illness completely or help to shorten the duration or reduce the symptoms. 


Homeopathic medicines can also be effective in the midst of a cold or flu but it takes some knowledge and understanding of homeopathy to develop the correct treatment. Some of the most useful combinations of homeopathic remedies are available at most health food stores and even in some pharmacies in the form of a single dissolvable tablet. My favorite combination cold medicine is Cold Calm®.  Homeopathic medicines are without side effects or drug interactions making them an excellent choice, however, they should always be taken as directed.


Traditional Chinese Medicine:

Another and very effective treatment for seasonal colds and flu is Chinese medicine.  I have seen many children suffering from colds respond wonderfully to acupuncture treatments.  For acupuncture to be most effective, children should be seen during the early stages of illness.  There are also Chinese herbal formulas that are designed to treat colds and flus and some are made specifically for children. 


Sambucus (made from ederberry) is an example of a Chinese herbal remedy that is available in many pharmacies usually in the form of Sambucol.®  It may reduce mucus production and possesses anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects.  Studies have also suggested that elderberry juice may improve the symptoms of flu, such as fever, headache, sore throat, cough, and aches, and even cut the duration of flu by half.  A visit with a Chinese medicine practitioner is needed to select the right herbal formula and to prescribe it. When used correctly, these remedies are very safe. 


Support for Chronic Conditions:

Some children just seem prone to repeated infections, prolonged symptoms, or simply have a medical condition that is triggered by colds or flus. For these children there are both homeopathic medicines and Chinese medicine/ acupuncture remedies which can strengthen a child's resistance and minimize the number and severity of colds and flus. There are also numerous supplements and herbal supplements which can help as well. A consultation with an appropriate health care provider is helpful to find the right approach for each child. 


Of course all these approaches work for grown-ups as well and most of the families that I treat are very pleased and happy (sometimes astounded) with the results from either homeopathic or Chinese medicine.  


Schedule a consultation with our pediatrician, Dr. Chuck DuMont, to find out more about how to keep your child healthy this winter.  Email or call the Raby Institute at (312) 276-1212.

"Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one."
- Ancient Chinese Proverb