Monday, September 28, 2009

Saline, Saline Over the Cold So Blue

Fighting the Common Cold
It’s back.   (Insert horror music).  Inevitably, with the return to school, my daughter brings home the dreaded snotty, stuffy, green gook cold.  One frustrating aspect of this common virus is that it seems there isn’t much you can do, especially for children who can't even get relief from decongestants anymore.   Here’s my checklist of the ways we fight colds in our family.  (Tip: If you're in a hurry skip to way #8)
  1. Suck a zinc tablet once a day on a full stomach.  Zinc has been proven to significantly reduce the duration and severity of colds.  We use Nature’s Plus Animal Parade Kid Zinc for the kids and Cold Eeze for the adults, but any suckable, appropriately dosed supplement should do.  Zinc can be hard on an empty stomach, so I always give it after a meal.  It works best when sucked slowly, giving the zinc ions time to bind with the respiratory lining, thus inhibiting the virus from doing the same.

  2. Drink lots of (non-cow milk) fluids such as herbal teas, water and juice, warm lemon and honey, (honey only for children over 1-year-old), and, of course, chicken soup.  Cow milk increases phlegm so I try to limit it; breast milk does not, so I increase my nursing when my baby has a cold.   
  3. Use a cold mist humidifier in room for sleeping.
  4. Flannel burp clothes make wonderful handkerchiefs that are easier on little noses than even the softest of tissues, (which I've found to be Puffs).  I think this is because burp clothes don't have any chemical irritants.  You will want a separate bucket for used ones that eventually dumps into a sanitize wash cycle.
  5. Watch Elmo how to sneeze video.  Link: This is purely an effort to protect the rest of the family, friends and humanity. 
  6. Use Vitamin C for the others in the family.  It won’t hurt the person with the cold, but it won’t help them much either.  Vitamin C though is a helpful cold preventative, so stock up on those strawberries, oranges and grapefruits for the rest of the gang.
  7. Adults only: to build my own immune system, I also use Cold FX, which I get at Costco.  It is hard to be the caregiver when you are sick too.  My mother turned me onto it when I was continually catching whatever the kids brought home. It has made a difference.  Cold FX is expensive though so I’d only recommend ifyour resistance is low.  And while I'm talking adults, I'll throw in my favorite adult relief medicines – Nyquil for bedtime and Advile cold and sinus for day.
  8. For immediate relief for you and your child so you can all get a good nights sleep, I’ve found that nothing works better than salt cheap – saline solution.   Combine it with a neti pot or NeilMed Sinus Rinse to blow that cold away.

How to make your own saline solution
One cup drinkable tap water at body temperature.  (If your tap water is not drinkable boil it for 5 minutes and then cool it to body temperature.)  When you stick your finger in it, the temperature should be such that you don’t feel it.

One half of a teaspoon sea salt.*  You can usually find sea salt at your local grocery store in the baking section since it’s great for cooking too.  You can also use ordinary non iodized kosher salt.  Table salt will work but it often has unnecessary additives and you need to make sure it isn’t iodized which is sometimes harder to find than just sea salt. 

That it.  Make sure you get the proportions right -  too much or too little will sting your nose.  (If you use rock salt the proportions will be different.)

*  After consulting with a leading ENT doctor I've also used this alternative recipe.  Replace 1/2 tsp sea salt in above recipe with 1/4 tsp sea salt and 1/4 tsp baking soda.  According to the specialist, this "buffers" the salt, making the solution gentler on the nose.

Using your saline solution

Nebulizer for Infants
When my kids were babies, I used a nebulizer.  This is like a mini salty steam bath for the face.  You fill up the holder with saline, plug in the machine, and hold the dispenser close to their mouth and nose.  They breath in the salty mist.  I got a nebulizer through my pediatrician and my babies actually enjoyed it.  The nebulizer is the step up from standing with your baby in the shower above a bath of hot water and taking in the steam.

Baby Saline Spray is a "OK"

We also buy the "Baby Simply Saline" spray from the pharmacy or supermarket.  This is easy, by which I mean convenient, since there is nothing to prepare.  It is not however easy, when your baby is protesting, squirming, and doing everything possible to knock the Baby Saline bottle out of your hand.  You may end up with salt spray everywhere but that little nose.  If your child is too young for the Neti-pot (see below) and your child tolerates the baby saline, it is a moderately helpful tool to use to help clear the nose.  I use baby saline spray most often before breast-feeding.

Neti-pot for Children and Adults
The Neti-pot looks like a ceramic version of Aladdin’s lamp and is almost as magical.
It is the fire hose to the baby saline's toy sprinkler.  It works by pouring the saline into one nostril with enough gravitational pressure that the saline passes through the sinuses and out of the other nostril. 

Found at local health food stores, it has been used by yogis for ages and has gained popularity with singers and allergy sufferers.  Although researchers haven't agreed on why it works, they do agree that it reduces the symptoms and duration of colds.  To me it seems only natural that having snot full of live virus stuck in your sinuses is not good for healing.  Moreover, clearing out the sinuses can give immediate relief to sinus headaches, nose breathing, and coughing, allowing for sleep – another great healer.

My mother doesn't bother with a neti-pot and just sniffs up saline and spits out phlegm to clear her nose.  Since that doesn't reach all the upper sinus area, plus I can't do that without gagging, I stick to the neti-pot.

Using the neti-pot is fairly simple when I use it on myself.  Tilting my head over the sink, until one nostril is directly over the other, I put the spout to the upper nostril and wait until the warm saline from the pot starts to slowly drip and eventually crescendo to a stream out the other nostril.  After blowing my nose I repeat on the other side.  Sometimes I tilt my head in different positions to make sure the saline travels through all of my sinus areas.

Using the Neti-pot is less simple when I use it on my 4-year-old.   First of all, she's not tall enough to lean over the sink.  We do it over the toilet.  Secondly, it is very important that one nostril stays directly over the other.  If her chin is tilted down or up, saline can run into her throat causing her to gag.  I hold her head steady.  Thirdly, we talk the process through beforehand and she is aware that  all she needs to do is to say, "stop" and we will remove the neti-pot.  This agreement gives her comforting control and me needed communication; if she removes her head when I am still pouring or pushes the neti-pot away, I end up with a wet child and bathroom.

I always start the neti-pot process with my daughter trying to blow her nose.  This way we get out whatever we can first so that the saline flows more easily.  She also always likes to see all the snot that comes out when she blows after we've done the neti-pot.  Hey, whatever works to keep her motivated. We use a burp cloth or a double layer of tissue to catch it all.  "How did that all fit in one little nose?"  we wonder out loud.  Of course it didn't.  It was all throughout her sinuses.

Even with the promise of seeing boatloads of snot, breathing more easily and not coughing from the nasal drip, it may be hard to induce a child to use the neti pot.  With this latest cold, my four-year-old agreed to it the first two days, but when the cold seemed to be clearing she chose not to anymore.
"I'm tired and the coughing isn't bothering me," she argued.  I accented.  She coughed that night but seemed to sleep though it.  The following night she woke us at 4 in the morning with an earache.  Her nose was too stuffed to blow gently and I didn't want her further hurting her ear by blowing forcefully.  I gave her children's ibuprophen for her earache and took her to do the neti-pot. 

With my husband whispering encouragement to her, I held her head, bad ear up, put the neti-pot to her nostril and waited.  Her nose was so clogged that the warm saline could not pass through.  Although it seemed like it was doing nothing, after a while we stopped and she was able to gently blow a little bit out.  We repeated the process three times.  Each time she was able to blow a tiny bit more.

 "I just want to go to sleep," she told us. 

"You can do it.  We're almost there," my husband encouraged.
Sure enough, on the fourth try, the salt water started dripping through.  "Stop" she told me.  I did.  She gently blew her nose and filled the burp cloth with a massive, monstrous green glob. 

"You did it!"  I exclaimed.
As I tucked her into bed, my husband disappeared for a moment.  He came back with a nickel.  He gave it to her.

"Snot, snot, five cents a whole lot," he told her.  She was so proud; she asked to sleep with her nickel.
"This is too special to put in my piggy bank," she said. 

My daughter fell asleep holding her nickel with lips closed, breathing through her
nose.    Since then it has been smooth sailing.  Not saline away however, her sister now has the dreaded cold.

Cara'bout You Books

Do you have any more tips that work well for fighting children's colds?  Please share them.
Note: Since I wrote this post I was introduced to the NeilMed Sinus Rinse.  I love it because it is fast and powerful.  It's the garden hose to the netipot's sprinkler.  It is so easy the kids can do it themselves.   You do have to be careful of presure on the ears, so always use it with mouth open and let the kids do their own squeezing.