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Posted on / Dr. Yousef Mohammadi

Upper Respiratory Infections in Children: Tips for Parents

We’re still in the thick of the winter ‘sick’ season, with pediatrician waiting rooms filling up with sniffling, coughing kids. Upper respiratory infections (URI) increase in the winter months, leaving parents to deal with miserable symptoms, missed school, and those late-night worries when a fever spikes. 

If your child has come down with a nasty winter bug this season, you're not alone. Upper respiratory infections are extremely common in children during cold and flu season. Tiny germ-spreading fingers combined with close quarters in daycares and schools create the perfect storm for viruses to spread at this time of year. 

The good news is that while the symptoms of URIs can drag on, most resolve without complications under some caring at-home management. As a parent, arming yourself with information helps ensure you know when to call the doctor, when to try natural remedies, and how to keep the rest of the family from getting sick. At Lifescape, we want to provide families with the knowledge needed to support their child's health during this contagious season. This article covers maintaining a balanced immune system, managing URI symptoms, evidence-based supplements to aid recovery, and some bonus natural remedies to try. With the proper care and a dose of patience, your sniffly kid will be back to their energetic selves in no time.

Maintaining a Balanced Immune System

A balanced immune system - that is not under or overactive when it comes to infections - starts with good daily habits. Practice regular handwashing with soap and water and avoid exposure to sick individuals when possible. 

Explore lifestyle choices that reduce stress, as cortisol can suppress immune function and puts our little ones at risk of getting sick. 

Activities such as daily exercise (get the kids sweaty playing in the backyard or riding their bikes), mindful practices like a gratitude journal, and ensuring your child gets enough sleep. As per the National Institute of Health (NIH) ideal requirements for sleep by age are: 

  • Newborns: 16-18 hours/day
  • Preschool-aged children: 11-12 hours/day
  • School-aged children: 10-11 hours/day
  • Teenagers: 9-10 hours/day

Managing Upper Respiratory Infections:

If your child does come down with a URI, focus on rest and targeted nutrition. Make sure your child gets extra sleep to optimize immune function and reduce cortisol. 

Adjust your child’s nutritional intake with the following foods to support the immune function in fighting infections: 

  • Optimize hydration & electrolyte recovery with vegetable or bone broths and coconut water
  • Increase citrus fruits/berries (for Vitamin C)
  • Increase seafood and mushrooms (for Vitamin D)
  • Increase leafy greens and nuts (for Zinc)

Add allium family foods (garlic, onion, leeks, etc.) and medicinal mushrooms (shitake, lion’s mane, turkey tail, etc) in soups and broths to further aid in recovery.

We also recommend a reduction in cow’s dairy, which has been shown to worsen congestion.

Supplements for Recovery

Talk to your pediatrician or family physician before starting any new supplements. Vitamin blends with A, C, D, E, and zinc may provide immune support when recovering from a URI. We also sometimes recommend probiotics, South African geranium, or elderberry syrup under medical guidance and with proper dosing for your child's age.

  • Probiotics: Research shows strains like lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis can reduce URI duration of symptoms such as fever, cough, and congestion by supporting and preserving the diversity of the microbiome (the healthy bacteria that lives within our gut and other organs). 

    Probiotics can be utilized as early as infancy in children, and many foods are a rich source of good bacteria like the breast milk of mother, pickled vegetables, cultured yogurt, and sauerkraut to name a few. 

    Dose is important! Consult your pediatrician on appropriate brands, dosing and assure that no chronic immunodeficient condition is present. 

    Start low to avoid bloating, and avoid antibiotics unless necessary.

  • South African Geranium (umckaloabo, Pelargonium sidoides): This herb is supportive of recovery from conditions like sore throat, bronchitis, or common colds in children when used short-term in appropriate pediatric dosing.

    Typical dosing for South African geranium are as follows:
    - Ages 7-12 is 1.5ml/30 drops 3 times daily used for 2-7 days
    - Ages under 6 0.5ml/10 drops 3 times daily used for 2-7 days 

    The root of this herb has antimicrobial and antiviral properties and helps with the lungs to clear the infection better. It also reduces the need for Tylenol use during the infection. It is generally well tolerated, but rare side effects include rash, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal irritation.

  • Elderberry (sambucus nigra): These antioxidant-rich dark purple berries have long been used to support immune health during a cold or flu, and is supportive in recovery from flu and certain streptococcus infections in studies. 

    When the fruit is ripe, flavonoids, minerals, and vitamins in the fruit support the immune system. It is important to use quality pediatric preparations as unripe berries can be toxic.

    Typically for children, this is very palatable and safe as a cough remedy and can be used in the syrup and it is well tolerated with no side effects.

    For kids, 1-3 teaspoons per dose are given 2-3 times a day for 3 days for an acute viral infection.

Bonus Remedies:  

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (Acupressure Point LI4): Massaging the acupressure point of the large intestine 4 (LI4) on the hand is used to regulate energy flow (Qi) in Chinese medicine and support recovery from flu.

    The stagnation of energy flow is thought of as the root of disease. 

    Try it yourself! Simply pinch the web space between the thumb and the index finger of your little one and gently massage either in a circular motion or steady pressure for about 30-60 seconds to help with the stimulation of this acupressure point.

  • Tylenol Alternatives (Chamomile, Lemon Balm): Did you know the use of Tylenol can delay recovery from URIs? While it is important to treat fever when it is affecting sleep or feeding, or if there is a history of seizures, it is recommended to avoid it if possible (or appropriate). 

    Consider instead an herb that reduces fever like chamomile or lemon balm in an essential oil form. Essential oils are a great alternative as they are easily accessible and easy to use. 

    Consult with your provider, as it is important to only choose essential oils that are safe for children, particularly if your child is less than 2 years of age. 

By incorporating these lifestyle practices, nutrition tips, and supplements, you can empower your family to navigate upper respiratory infections during the cold and flu season more effectively. 

The key is working together to get your child healthy again. Contact our office if your child has severe or prolonged URI symptoms. With the proper care, your kiddo will be back to playing and thriving!

Integrative Pediatrics Book by Hilary McClafferty


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