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Daily Dose

Do Essential Oils Boost Immune System?

1:30 to read

Although it is still hot and officially summer, soon everyone will be heading back to school  and coughs and colds (and eventually flu, another topic) will be just around the corner. I had a patient ask me about the use of essential oils. Her 2 1/2 year old daughter is heading to preschool for the first time and she “had heard from her friends that essential oils help a child’s immunity during cold season”.

Unfortunately, there is very little data at all to confirm that statement. I only wish that rubbing a bit of lavender oil on would help prevent the common cold. While it may smell great and be relaxing....there is no data that I can find to show that there is any reproducible science to the claims that essential oils boost the immune system.  

While I was researching I found many sites stating that “eucalyptus oil is an anti-viral” and “peppermint oil is an anti-pyretic (fever reducer)”.  Tea tree oil is touted as being “both anti -bacterial and anti-fungal” (I don’t know of other drugs that can claim both!).  But, I just don’t see any data to support all of this. 

The word essential refers to the essence of the plant the oil is derived from, rather than being “essential” to your health. While in most cases essential oils (which are highly concentrated) used as aromatherapy are not harmful for adults, it may be a different story in children, especially those under the age of 6. While labels may say  “natural” it may not always mean safe.  Many oils are poisonous if ingested and there have been reports of accidental overdoses in children with several different oils. In one report tea tree oil and lavender oil applied topically have been shown to cause breast enlargement in boys.  Oil of eucalyptus and peppermint are high in menthol and cineole.  These substances may cause children to become drowsy have decreased respirations.  While there are articles stating that the use of menthol (Vicks) on a child’s feet may be helpful during a cold for reducing a cough, do not use this if child is young enough to put their feet in their mouths. 

I must say that I sometime use a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the shower when I have a cold as I think it smells great and seems to help “open up” my head. Whether this is in “my mind” or a response from my olfactory centers which sends calming messages to respiratory center is not clear. But, I am not ingesting it or using it topically. 

 

Daily Dose

Colds & Suctioning Your Child's Nose

1:30 to read

I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but we are in the throes of cold and flu season and unfortunately there are a few more months of this.  As every parent knows, colds (aka upper respiratory infections) are “age neutral”. 

In other words, there is not an age group that is immune to getting a cold and for every age child (and adult for that matter), the symptoms are the same. Congested nostrils, scratchy sore throat, cough, and just plain old feeling “yucky”. When an infant gets a stuffy nose, whether it is from “normal” newborn congestion, or from a cold, they often have a difficult time eating as an infant is a nose breather.  When they are nursing and their nose is “stopped  up”, they cannot breath or even eat, so it is sometimes necessary to clear their nasal passage to allow them to “suck” on the bottle or breast. 

Of course it is self evident that an infant cannot blow their nose, or rub or pick their nose so they must either be fortunate enough to sneeze those” boogers” out or have another means to clear the nose.  This is typically accomplished by using that wonderful “bulb syringe”. In our area they are called “blue bulb syringes” and every baby leaves the hospital with one tucked into their discharge pack.  As a new parent the blue bulb syringe looked daunting as the tip of the syringe appeared to be bigger than the baby’s nose.  But, if you have ever watched a seasoned nurse suck out a newborn’s nose, they can somehow manage to get the entire tip inside a baby’s nose. For the rest of us the tip just seemed to get inside the nostril and despite my best efforts at suctioning nothing came out. Once a nurse showed me the right “technique” I got to be a pretty good “suctioner”.  With the addition of a little nasal saline, which you can buy in pre made spray bottles, or which may be made at home with table salt and warm water, the suctioning gets a little easier as the nose drops helped to suction the mucous.

Now, I have become a firm believer that there is a place for suctioning a baby’s nose, but once a child is over about 6 months of age they KNOW  what you are getting ready to do. I am convinced that a 6 month baby with a cold sees the “blue bulb syringe” approaching their face and their eyes become dilated in fear of being suctioned!!  Then they begin to wail, and I know that when I cry I just make more mucous and the more I cry the more I make. So a baby with an already stuffy nose gets even more congested and “snotty” and the bulb syringe is only on an approach to their nose. It also takes at least two people to suction out a 6 – 12 month old baby’s nose as they can now purposely move away , and hit out to you to keep you away from their face and nose. It is like they are saying, “ I am not going to give in to the bulb syringe” without a fight! I swore I would not have a child with a “green runny nose” that was not suctioned.

As most parents know, don’t swear about anything, or you will be forever breaking unreasonable promises to yourself!  I think bulb suctioning is best for young infant’s and once they start to cry and put up a fight I would use other methods to help clear those congested noses.  Go back to the age old sitting in a bathroom which has been steamed up with hot water from a the shower. Or try a cool mist humidifier with some vapor rub in the mist (aroma therapy).  Those noses will ultimately run and the Kleenex will come out for perpetual wiping. Unfortunately, it takes most children many years before they learn to blow their nose, but what an accomplishment that is!!!  An important milestone for sure.

That's your daily dose for today. We'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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Daily Dose

Dealing With Runny Noses

With the combination of back to school germs and fall allergies, every child I see seems to have some sort of nose or throat symptom.

Cooler weather is here and with fall it seems runny noses begin to abound. With the combination of back to school germs and fall allergies, every child I see seems to have some sort of nose or throat symptom. Unfortunately there isn’t much to do for those first fall colds except to push fluids, encourage a good nights rest and lots of Kleenex.

Fortunately, fall viral respiratory infections don’t seem to be as miserable or last as long as the ones that are lurking around the corner for the winter. But, allergies are treatable and there are more and more over the counter medications available. Children under 2 typically don’t have a runny nose caused by allergies, but older kids may. It may be worth trying a product like Claritin or Zyrtec for several days to see if the itchy eyes, runny nose and intermittent sore throat improve. Benadryl is still an excellent antihistamine to use, although it may cause drowsiness, so try taking at bedtime. Nasal irrigation is also a good idea and there are many products available or make your own salt water solution at home (be thrifty). Lastly, although you can’t prevent the common cold, it is already time to be thinking about flu shots, so get yours scheduled. That’s your daily dose. We’ll chat tomorrow!

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Daily Dose

Plenty of Colds Going Around

1.30 to read

I have been looking at the data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and it looks like flu season has made an early exit from many parts of the country. That would be a welcome blessing. But cold season is still in full swing and so many of the parents I am seeing in the office continue to say, “it just seems impossible that my child can have this many colds in one year!”.  If you have a child between the ages of 6 months and 3 years of age, and they go to school, you are probably one of these parents.

The first several winters that you child starts day care or pre-school are pretty tough....not only in terms of “being away from your child”, but also for the number of viral illnesses they get. Many a parent has called me “CRAZY” when I tell them that it is not unusual at all for your child to get 7-10 viral infections during the first fall/winter season that their child is around other children. In fact, I know that there have been several families over the years that changed pediatricians just because the parent felt certain that their child had an “immune problem” due to their frequent coughs and colds. True problems with immunity do exist in pediatrics but they don’t typically present with recurrent coughs and colds, but rather with far more serious illnesses.  Thankfully these are rare.

Parents with younger children know their pediatrician far better than they really want to during those first several years. That is another reason that you want to find a pediatrician that is not only close to your house but that you really get along with!

So with all of that being said, hang in there for about another 6-8 weeks and the winter viral season truly will be exiting and children (and their parents) will all start to be healthier for the rest of spring.  I promise once your youngest child reaches 3 years of age your visits to the pediatrician during the winter months become less and less frequent.

Daily Dose

Does the Color of Mucus Really Matter?

1.30 to read

It is that time of year and everyone seems to have a cold, including me!! I am actually “on” my second cold of the month, so I am feeling like a toddler who gets sick every two to three weeks.  

This is really a good time to talk about mucus. I wonder how many people will keep reading now? But I do get lots of questions and comments from parents who are worried about the color of their child’s mucus. Runny noses and mucus color are discussed as often as color of poop. And just like poop, the color of your nasal mucus is usually not terribly significant. 

If you happen to have a cold yourself, you probably notice that your nasal discharge changes throughout the day, that is unless you are a teenager, and they swear they never look at mucus or stool color!! I think we notice “green snotty noses” among children between the ages of six months and four years, when they typically don’t blow their noses and many times the mucus is either wiped off of their face or they wipe it themselves on their shirt sleeve, (which then leaves a telltale sign of the color of the mucus). Once a child can blow their nose and dispose of the Kleenex, the color of the mucus does not seem to be a hot topic of discussion.

So, what does color of mucus mean? When you have a cold, the nasal discharge associated with that viral infection typically begins as a clear discharge, that changes over several days into a thicker and more purulent (green) discharge. The color may be due to the white cells that are in the mucus that are producing antibodies to fight the cold. 

As a cold progresses the green mucus then changes back into a more clear discharge and eventually goes away, but that is usually after a seven to 10 day course. It is also common to see thicker “booggers” in the nose in the morning or after your child’s nap as the dry air they are breathing makes the mucus thicker and they are not wiping or blowing their noses so the mucus is thicker. Same for us, we also usually have thicker greener nasal discharge in the morning, while the “snot’ has been sitting overnight. The best way to clear out any color mucus is by using saline nasal irrigation. It works great for all ages. By clearing the nasal passages, it will prevent a secondary bacterial infection which and cause a sinus infection.   

Most doctors use length of time of nasal discharge as more indicative of an infection than color of mucus. Typically in a pediatric patient an antibiotic for a “presumed” sinus infection is not even considered until a child has had over 14 days of a “gunky” green nasal discharge. Remember too, that the nose can clear up and the cold can go away, only to be followed in another week or two by another cold. It is the season. With that being said I am off to blow my nose again and wash my hands! 

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

It's Cold Season!

1:30 to read

Although it is just getting really cold across the country, it feels as if we have been in full cold and cough season for awhile.  The office sounds like what I call “kennel cough” as every child seems to be  coughing…. even those who are just coming for check ups. 

 

Parents often ask, “what is the best way to keep from catching a cold?” and the answer continues to be, “wash your hands and try not to touch your hands to your eyes, nose and mouth”.  Easy enough for an adult (well maybe not), but trying to tell your toddler not to put their hands in their nose or mouth is nearly impossible! That is one reason that children get so many colds in the first several years of life. Toddlers typically get the most colds as they have just started having playmates with whom they share not only toys but their germs…all part of growing up.

 

I remind parents that coughs are there for a reason. While they are a huge nuisance, and cause a lot of sleepless nights for both the child and parent, a cough is there to keep the lungs clear, and a cough is actually protective. In other words, coughing helps you clear the lungs of mucous that comes with a cold and helps to prevent pneumonia and secondary infections.  But, with that being said, learning to cover your mouth when you cough is not only polite, but it is also protective for others. It is a big day when your child learns to cover their mouth with the crook of their arm (better than the hand). Who knew as a parent this would be a milestone for your child?

 

Whenever your child is sick and has a cough and cold it is important to not only listen to their cough but to actually observe how they are breathing.  Parents send me videos or voicemails of their child coughing, but I am usually more interested in seeing their chest and watching their breathing. Your child may have a huge productive cough and sound terrible, but have no respiratory distress. With that being said, your child may also have a tiny little non-productive cough and be struggling to breath. In most cases the visual is more important than the audible. 

 

The best treatment for a cold and cough continues to be the tried and true…saline and suction to clear the nose of the mucous and make it easier to breath, a warm bath or shower before bed to loosen up the mucous, a cool mist humidifier in the bedroom and honey for the cough. Remember, you cannot use honey in a child under the age of 12 months! 

 

Don’t panic if your child gets sick, as each time they fight off a cold and cough they are actually boosting their immune system…small victories.  It is not unusual for a toddler to get 6 - 7 colds in one season (and their parents get half as many as that from them). Once your child turns about 3 you will see that they don’t get a cold every other week and also seem to handle the viruses a bit more easily.

 

If your child has any difficulty breathing you need to call your pediatrician!

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Dose

Do Essential Oils Boost Immune System?

1.30 to read

Although it is still hot and officially summer, soon everyone will be heading back to school  and coughs and colds (and eventually flu, another topic) will be just around the corner. I had a patient ask me about the use of essential oils. Her 2 1/2 year old daughter is heading to preschool for the first time and she “had heard from her friends that essential oils help a child’s immunity during cold season”.

Unfortunately, there is very little data at all to confirm that statement. I only wish that rubbing a bit of lavender oil on would help prevent the common cold. While it may smell great and be relaxing....there is no data that I can find to show that there is any reproducible science to the claims that essential oils boost the immune system.  

While I was researching I found many sites stating that “eucalyptus oil is an anti-viral” and “peppermint oil is an anti-pyretic (fever reducer)”.  Tea tree oil is touted as being “both anti -bacterial and anti-fungal” (I don’t know of other drugs that can claim both!).  But, I just don’t see any data to support all of this. 

The word essential refers to the essence of the plant the oil is derived from, rather than being “essential” to your health. While in most cases essential oils (which are highly concentrated) used as aromatherapy are not harmful for adults, it may be a different story in children, especially those under the age of 6. While labels may say  “natural” it may not always mean safe.  Many oils are poisonous if ingested and there have been reports of accidental overdoses in children with several different oils. In one report tea tree oil and lavender oil applied topically have been shown to cause breast enlargement in boys.  Oil of eucalyptus and peppermint are high in menthol and cineole.  These substances may cause children to become drowsy have decreased respirations.  While there are articles stating that the use of menthol (Vicks) on a child’s feet may be helpful during a cold for reducing a cough, do not use this if child is young enough to put their feet in their mouths. 

I must say that I sometime use a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the shower when I have a cold as I think it smells great and seems to help “open up” my head. Whether this is in “my mind” or a response from my olfactory centers which sends calming messages to respiratory center is not clear. But, I am not ingesting it or using it topically. 

 

 

Daily Dose

The Best Cold Treatment

1.30 to read

Alright, enough is enough! How could I possible have another cold?  I routinely tell patients with children that it is not unusual for kids to get 8-10 colds a year which seems like once a month from September through April!

If you also think that the average cold lasts anywhere from 7–14 days, then it seems like a child has a cold that lasts most of the year. That is how I am feeling right now.

A cold usually starts off with a little “sniffles” and maybe a sore throat, and you pray that it is just your imagination, and then over several days you  realize that you now feel “yucky”, have more congestion, the sore throat is still there and you are coughing. That is a cold!!!! That is not allergies, nor is it flu. It is that pesky cold virus of which there are an infinitesimal number, and you have succumbed once again. That is my story!

So, with those symptoms AGAIN, and a day in the media research office, I went back to the literature to see if I could find ANYTHING that might lead me to preventing  a cold, curing a cold or making this nasty thing go away any faster. I mean, I am a busy woman and like everyone else, “I really don’t have time for this!” There have been thousands of studies done over the years looking at cold symptoms and their prevention. Studies on Vitamin C from the days of Linus Pauling, to more recent studies for prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections have really found no benefits to taking vitamin C.

There was one study that showed taking vitamin C might reduce the duration of cold symptoms if taken before a cold begins.  My question is, how do you know that you need to start Vitamin C in anticipation of a cold?  Also, too much vitamin C may cause an upset stomach and diarrhea.

How about Echinacea?  I have been taking Echinacea for years in hopes of “warding off colds”, but the review of the data  showed that Echinacea had no effect in preventing the common cold, studies did show that it might reduce cold symptoms in adults, but studies in children did not produce the same results.  It was also found to increase rashes in those who had eczema (atopy), and allergies to ragweed. I am still taking it, but personally “can’t tell a difference”. You do realize that my opinion alone is not statistically significant. Then there was the whole zinc movement and there are numerous studies that show conflicting results. Some studies did show that those who took 15 mg of zinc daily had a lower mean number of colds and also a shorter duration of cold symptoms.

Other studies did not find a statistical significance for either reducing the number of colds or decreasing symptoms. I have tried all sorts of zinc preparations over the years (even when it was such a hot item I had to order lozenges off of QVC-should I admit that?) and besides tasting horribly I think my cold lasted the same number of days.  Another study of one (not significant), and most would say that the data is still inconclusive.

The hottest new topic is vitamin D.  A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in early 2009, analyzed information on vitamin D levels in adult and adolescents.  The results showed that those people with the lowest vitamin D levels (less than 10 ng/ml) were 36% more likely to report having upper respiratory infections that those with higher vitamin D levels (above 30 ng/ml).

Vitamin D is also important for bone and general health, so it is a good idea to be making sure that you are getting adequate vitamin D. The AAP increased the recommended daily intake of vitamin D to 400 IU. I am currently taking a vitamin D supplement in hopes of boosting my immunity as well as keeping my bones healthy.

If you have any ideas or PROVEN remedies, potions, concoctions please send them my way. In the meantime, I continue to drink lots of herbal tea, take hot showers and baths to help the congestion, go to bed earlier than usual, suck on my honey throat lozenges and pray. I also wash  my hands incessantly and even resorted to wearing a mask over the last several days in hopes of warding off germs. My patients think I am playing dress up!

That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow (cough)! 

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Stay healthy this flu season.

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