Coughs and Colds

Here comes cough and cold season.

Back in the day—and I mean way, way back—moms would whip up a hot toddy for their sick chickens, like the one my friend Paula’s mom used to give her: whiskey, honey, lemon.

That wisdom slipped away with the arrival of over-the-counter cough and cold remedies.

Then in 2007, we got told that we can’t give our kids over-the-counter medicines if they’re under the age of four. Wed MD explains why (emphasis mine):

For decades, parents have relied on kids’ cold medicines and cough syrups — typically grape, cherry, or bubblegum flavored — to ease their children’s discomfort. 

However, the FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4.

Evidence indicates that children’s cold medicines don’t really help and may pose a real (although small) risk of side effects, particularly to young children. This has cast serious doubt on a common and trusted group of medicines — and left many parents anxious and confused.

They don’t really help. And there was a dangerous downside. We had certainly seen that with allergy medication prescribed by our doctor for Gabe’s persistent runny nose in the Fall. We had seen it with the teething gel we gave to Kate when she was cutting teeth. And when I thought about it, I realized that I couldn’t honestly say that any of the adult cold and cough medicine worked for me or Shea either.

Except…we woke up with hangovers from “nighttime” cough syrup and walked like stuffed zombies from “daytime” liquigels.

So when I was pregnant with Annie and suffering from a winter cold, I reached for the homeopathics.

And they worked.

Let me clarify what I mean by “worked”.

There is a lot of evidence out there that all over the counter cough and cold medicines are ineffective, evidence which has been squashed by the mass marketing of the companies that make the meds.

See this, this, and this.

The homeopathics did not make me better. But no over the counter medicines can “cure” a cold or cough.

At 2 am, all we’re looking for is an alleviation of symptoms. Homeopathics and commercial cold and cough medicines both claim to help.

But some commercial over the counter medicines contain other things that are not so good for us and cause side effects. Most of the “inactive ingredients” in these syrups and capsules are “generally rated as safe” by the FDA, such as propylene glycol and synthetic food coloring. Generally. And most nighttime formulas use an antihistamine, like Benedryl, as the sleep agent.

This explains the Nyquil hangover. And any mom can tell you that a child’s reaction to an antihistamine is a crap shoot. Sometimes they get sleepy, and sometimes they run up and down the plane aisle like you fed them three chocolate bars before you boarded.

(Or maybe that’s just Kate?)

The homeopathics, on the other hand, have shorter, more recognizable ingredient lists. And they work. Our favorite is Zarbee’s Nighttime Cough Syrup, which is a dark honey formulation with vitamin C, zinc and melatonin. Like the old fashioned hot toddy, minus the whiskey. And it will soothe a sore throat and calm a cough. I’ve also had success with the Hyland’s allergy formula for Annie.

My girls have a cold this week and I am using the Breathe essential oil formulation from Do Terra. They get a bit on their chest and on the bottoms of their feet, plus some in the humidifier. Kate has a cough, but between the Breathe and the Zarbee’s, she is not coughing at night.

You know Dana and I are only crunchy-ish. We believe in flu shots and vaccines and antibiotics when they are needed. These are my precious babies and I am not fooling around with their health. Homeopathics are an ancient wisdom, but they come from a time when people regularly died of fevers. So we use our common sense and pediatricians who believe in a blend of the old and the new.

I do have a back-up bottle of Mucinex in the cabinet. What prompted me to sit down and write this post is that in cleaning out the cabinet in preparation for the move, I re-discovered the Mucinex—unopened and expired.


Recipe for Hot Toddy:

Zarbee’s Natural:

DoTerra Breathe:

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