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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

Airborne & Your Kids

1.45 to read

It’s cold & flu season and I have already been receiving emails from parents asking what works/doesn’t work.  I reviewed a recent note from a well-meaning dad asking if he could give his 3 year old son Airborne to help “offset colds”. 

I myself have just recovered from my first cold of the “season” and have looked high and low for ANYTHING that might prevent or treat the common cold. As I tell my own patients on a daily basis, if I had the “magic pill” I would certainly not only manufacture it to distribute to everyone, but I would also be getting ready to accept Nobel Prize in medicine for solving the mystery of preventing the common cold!!  Airborne is NOT the magic potion and I see no reason to use it period.

I recently did an extensive review of complementary and alternative medicine for the common cold (selfishly trying to cure myself) and once again came up empty handed for any proven remedies. There are still a lot of ongoing studies (someone will win the Nobel Prize one day), but nothing so far has really proven to be the panacea.

Many people “swear” by Airborne.  I am just not sure what they are thinking it does. If you read their website it states, “there are scientific studies that the ingredients in Airborne have been shown to support the immune system”. I can’t find those studies anywhere. 

In 2008 a class action suit against Airborne resulted in a $23 million dollar fine for “misleading consumers and making false claims”, when Airborne claimed to “ward off colds”. They have now changed their advertising to the wording, “boosting the immune system” which also seems like deceptive advertising to me. Regardless, they continue to make millions (despite that huge fine).  My mother even called to say she thought she might take some before flying to visit at Thanksgiving asking, “did I think that would help her from getting sick?” OMG!

The ingredients in Airborne include Zinc, ginger, Echinacea, vitamins, minerals, and herbs.  This is what I commonly call “hocus pocus”.  Many of the ingredients in Airborne have been studied for use during a cold, without a lot of success.  Zinc is still being studied with varying outcomes, but there are still no definitive guidelines on using Zinc for a cold. Stay tuned for more as more studies are completed.

In the meantime, the answer to the email is NO; I would not give a 3 year old Airborne. What I would do is make sure that your child is getting nutritious meals, adequate sleep and that they learn to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough (hand hygiene). I would put the money you would spend on Airborne in their piggy bank for future college expenses.   I would also make sure to get your child their Flu vaccine. We do have data that vaccines work!

That’s’ your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Don't Touch The T-Zone!

A lesson from a 4 year old patient!Well, even though spring is officially here, we are still seeing a lot of coughs, colds and lingering RSV in our community. Thankfully, flu is on the way out!

While I was examining a child with upper respiratory symptoms, I was taught a very clever bit of information.  Mind you, I am always learning from my patients, but this time it was from a very precocious 4 year old little boy. He had been coughing and I noticed that he was coughing into his hand. I told him that another way to cover his cough would be to cough into his elbow. While we were talking about the benefits of this form of cough hygiene, I demonstrated how to do this. He listened attentively and covered his next cough with his elbow. Quick study and a good listener! After finishing examining him, I was talking to his mother about her child’s illness.  The little boy interrupted and said, “Dr. Sue, I have something to teach you too”.  “You need to tell everyone not to touch the T-Zone”. Now I am used to talking to teens about the T-Zone and acne, but why would this 4 year old know about the T-Zone?  Well, he quickly told me “you should not touch your eyes, nose or mouth; this is the T-Zone”. If you touch the T-Zone, you might get germs and then get sick”.  What a clever way to teach a child about keeping their hands off of their faces!  It was one of those “ah-ha” moments for me. So now, not only do I talk about coughing into your elbow, I have added don’t touch the T-Zone to my “shtick” about preventing colds and coughs. Out of the mouth of babes! Do you have any clever tricks you talk about with your kids?  Share with us! I would love to pass it on.

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

Colds & Nosebleeds

1.15 to read

The cold weather is gripping a good portion of the country......and that means the heat is now on your house. With the dry air in the house, and lots of sniffles and colds, before you know it I am hearing from parents concerned about nosebleeds.   

Kids get tons of nosebleeds (not just from trauma) and even small noses will look like they are bleeding a lot.  For some reason a lot of children’s noses bleed during the night. That means lots of blood on sheets.  A little bit of blood on sheets, hankies, or Kleenex looks like a lot more blood than it really is, so don’t freak out. 

If your child has a bloody nose try to have them tip their head forward, breath through their mouths and pinch the nose halfway between the tip and the base of the nose. Don’t stick anything inside their nose at that may irritate the nostril even more. Don’t let your child sniff the clot or rub it during the pinching.  

In order to prevent nosebleeds during the dry cold months, it is often necessary to use a lubricant in your child’s nose There are several saline nasal sprays that help, some of which have lubricants like aloe in them as well. A minimal amount of Vaseline can also keep the inner nasal mucosa moist so that the clot that forms after the nose has bled can have time to heal.  Think of the clot inside the nose, just like a scab on your child’s knee. If it gets bumped before it is healed it will bleed all over again.   

Remember, if your child rubs their nose, “God forbid” picks their nose, or even blows their nose, once the nose has bled it is going to bleed again! If nosebleeds become recurrent, check with your doctor about taking a look inside your child's nose.

 

 

Daily Dose

It's Cold Season!

1:30 to read

It is already starting....fall and colds and parents are already wondering why their toddler or young child may have already had 2 colds and it is not even winter!  It is incredible how often a toddler can get sick....I even had a hard time believing there were so many viruses for one child to get.

But, I do know that there does not seem to be any way “around” the frequent runny noses, coughs, mystery fevers, and episodes of vomiting and diarrhea that a parent has to get through!! There is not a short cut to get through this desert of illness...you have to walk the walk.

Yes, it takes a lot of little viral illnesses to help build a child’s immune system. We can give vaccinations to prevent meningitis, whooping cough, polio, mumps, measles and rubella.  But there are hundreds of viruses that cause colds and coughs....and there is not a vaccine for any of these viruses.  

So, once your child reaches the age where they are walking and touching a million things a day (even though you wash their hands), you should not be surprised or alarmed that they seem to have a new illness every few weeks. Parents ask me everyday, “what vitamin works to prevent colds?”, “do probiotics prevent those fever viruses?”. If I had the “secret” potion, trust me I would tell them, but I would also bottle it and sell it on the internet and retire to an island , after receiving the Nobel Prize in medicine for finding the “secret”.  But in the meantime, I will continue to reassure parents that they will get through these early illnesses.....everyone does. 

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!

Daily Dose

Got a Lip Licker?

1.45 to read

Just back from an evening call night in the office and it was like dermatology clinic!  But the funniest thing was that 4 of the children I examined, all of different ages, had the same thing: Lip Lickers Dermatitis.

It is beginning to be the time of year when the weather gets cooler, the humidity drops and children who are in the habit of licking their lips develop dry cracked and chapped lips. Not only do children lick their lips, they also tend to lick the skin around their lips which results in more chapping and irritation, and the cycle begins. One little girl I saw could actually lick all of the way up to her nostrils!! She had to show me for me to believe that this is why her nose was chapped, I foolishly thought it was from blowing her nose.

Every one of the kids habitually licked their lips while I examined them, even before telling them of their diagnosis. Several of the concerned parents “doubted” the diagnosis of lip lickers dermatitis, but I pulled out a derm book and proudly showed them pictures that looked just like their child. The rash can get quite raw and inflamed and if irritated and rubbed enough may even get secondarily infected.

The problem with lip lickers dermatitis is that it is a habit, just like thumb sucking, nail biting and hair twirling. As you know habits are hard to break, even when they cause discomfort. It is so hard not to moisten you lips when they are dry and are becoming drier. Licking your lips seems to improve the dryness but only for a moment.

The treatment of choice is to try and break the habit as well as to use a protective barrier on the lips and around the mouth. This is best accomplished with a thick layer of Aquaphor or Vaseline that must be reapplied quite frequently. For an older child you can give them a pocket tube to carry so that they may apply the moisturizer as often as need be, even every 30 minutes to an hour.

To aid in the treatment the thicker the layer of Aquaphor the better, so once they are heading to bed I would GLOB on  enough that they couldn’t possibly lick it all off before falling asleep. It might be prudent to apply once last coat to their mouths after the child is already sleeping as well.

Lip Lickers Dermatitis is definitely a diagnosis and is quite common. I am taking the camera back to the office to grab a few pictures to post at a later date, as it is only the beginning of the dry, chapped and crack lip season.

That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow.

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. 

 

 

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