The never-ending winter story
Memories of sandcastles and shiny faces bathed in sunscreen fade to dark. Hot chocolate, puzzles and the endless cycle of the Common Cold take its place. If you have young children, this is winter. It easily becomes the Winter of Your Discontent when that cold ends, and a more serious bacterial infection takes its place.
The Dreaded Chest Infection
Children, especially infants, are vulnerable to bacterial infections after a cold. Those in daycare or with older siblings experiencing their first ear infection by 6 months.
These infections include chest, ear and sinus infections, with the infection of the ear being the most painful of all. It all starts innocently enough but as soon as your child starts complaining of pain, and a thermometer shows a temperature of above 39 degrees Celsius, you know you’re on a slippery slope.
Bronchitis, and other chest infections, strike fear in the hearts of parents the world over. This is because they plunge a happy home into the murky depths of fever, coughing and sleepless nights. Worst of all, they can lead to pneumonia and hospitalization. Before it gets to that, stricken parents rush off to the family doctor for the inevitable antibiotic prescription. Most of us would rather stop the infection than take the ‘wait and see’ approach.
However, we pay a price for our peace of mind. The overuse of antibiotics is now believed to be counterproductive to a healthy immune system and leads to antibiotic resistance.
Prevention is better than cure
The answer lies in the period between the cold and the chest infection. During this window period, a parent still has control of the situation. All parents are told that a cold must run its course. While this is completely true, it is also a time for parents to use everything at their disposal to help, not hinder, a speedy recovery.
Why we are confused in the first place
Online sources inform us colds are “self-limiting”. All that means is that colds do not get worse and worse until becoming a chronic condition. They start. They worsen. They end. While that’s true, mucus and phlegm, which are part of the body’s immune response, can also set the stage for bacteria to grow.
By now, we all know that a cold is a virus not treated with antibiotics. But still, we get conflicting advice. Many health experts (from our paediatricians to our own mothers) take a relaxed approach: rest, fluids and nutrition are all that’s needed they assure us.
Doctors prescribe pediatric medicines. Pharmacists recommend over-the-counter ones. These include:
- Nasal decongestants — unblock a stuffy nose
- Cough suppressants — stop coughing
- Expectorants — loosen mucus
- Antihistamines — stop runny noses and sneezing
- Antipyretics/anti-inflammatories — reduce fever and pain
In the end, we might try some, all or none of the advice above. Try as we might, we often end up at the same point with our young children. After the cold has left the building, bacterial infection moves in.
Who invited this unwelcome guest?
Culprit #1: the cold “remedy”
As we can see above, decongestants, cough suppressants and antihistamines provide relief. But, a cold ‘remedy’ can be a smokescreen, albeit an unintentional one. It appears to offer a solution but can make it more difficult for children to blow their noses or cough up phlegm. This is because many cold remedies dry up mucus secretions. They solve one problem whilst causing another.
Many nasal decongestants also carry a ‘rebound’ side-effect — meaning that it relieves a blocked nose but, soon thereafter, your child is congested all over again. Sometimes it’s even worse than before.
In a vicious cycle, the mucus and phlegm, released by the body to flush out germs, then become infected with bacteria.
Culprit # 2: the relaxed approach
The relaxed approach can lead us astray as we wait for ‘Rest & Relaxation’ to take effect. This is mostly because the defence mechanisms we have as adults, coughing and nose-blowing, are not fully developed in children.
Young children can’t properly cough up mucus secretions from the chest because their chest muscles aren’t strong enough yet. Post-nasal drip at night exacerbates the situation leading to coughing, congestion and wheezing.
At the same time, effectively blowing their noses is not an easy feat for most young children. Try as they might, they can only muster a huff and a puff. A situation that only improves with age, starting from 7 years old.
The unfortunate combination of all of the above factors leads to congestion around the ear canal, nasal passages and on the chest which make those areas of the body a welcoming habitat for bacteria.
Culprit # 3: the wrong diet
Not all fluids are equal. Advice on what not to drink has been contradictory in recent years. All sources of dairy continue to pose a problem, according to the accounts of parents. Parents report that dairy worsens mucus secretions, particularly from infancy to 6 years.
There are obvious dairy foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt. But, parents should look out for hidden sources in hot chocolate, malt breakfast drinks, breakfast cereals and other readymade storecupboard items.
Our mothers were right after all. Chicken soup is best. Research supports this age-old remedy Soup should be light broths, warm and full of goodness.
Also, pure fruit juices help young children to ‘dilute’ mucus secretions. Choose easy-to-digest fruits such as apple, grape and lychee. Avoid more dense fruit juices such as papaya and berry. Always say ‘no’ to juices with artificial flavourants and excess sugar.
The temperature of the drink is also a factor. Warm or room temperature drinks help the body in getting rid of mucus. Avoid cold liquids unless you are trying to make a feverish child more comfortable.
The problem with fever-reducers
Animals have been using fever to fight off infection for millions and millions of years. Fever signals to us that the immune system is mounting a response to the presence of a microorganism (a virus or bacteria). Not only should it make us sit up and take note, but as parents but we should question our fear of fever and seek to understand its purpose.
Fever occurs because the body is engaged in a fight response. It’s making cytokines and macrophages which help rid the body of the microorganism. It’s making natural antibodies which help the body identify and fight the invader if it reappears another time. It raises the body temperature above what is optimal growth for microorganisms.
Nevertheless, watching your child’s fever spike can be very frightening. Many parents use fever reducers because they want to prevent febrile seizures but research suggests that this does not have the desired effect and that seizures can occur even at 38 degrees Celcius in susceptible children.
Medical advice has always been to control the fever and this is what parents have been doing for the longest time. It just makes us all feel safer.
But, fevers are, in fact, very beneficial. Numerous studies have demonstrated this. It is understandable that parents have a fever phobia and just want to eradicate it. However, knowing that fever has a critical role in fighting infection helps parents reconsider, delay or limit using fever-reducing medication.
A last point to ponder
To complicate matters further, we know cold medicines can have adverse side effects. Both the FDA and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK have advised parents against cold medicines.
The World Health Organization states
“Drug therapy for viral common colds produces few measurable benefits”.
This is in line with a general consensus that cold medicines offer little more than a placebo effect.
So, we expose our children to harmful side effects in exchange for a medicine that is not even effective?
Yet, in wanting to help our children recover, many of us still medicate, spending an average of $5 billion on paediatric cold and cough medicines in America alone, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.
We don’t know who to believe and who can blame us?
Honey as a first line of defence
So, if we are better off not medicating our children with cold medicines what can we do to avoid infection? The answer can be found in a jar of honey. This has been endorsed by the World Health Organization and the American Society of paediatrics.
By intercepting at the first signs of a cold with regular doses of honey we can avoid infection altogether.
Honey boasts a host of amazing properties that makes it one of the most powerful natural antibiotics with none of the side effects of pharmaceuticals such as diarrhoea, yeast infection or the risk of antibiotic resistance.
Not just a placebo effect
In a study of its biochemistry, honey showed high levels of antioxidants such as
- Ascorbic Acid
In addition, honey boasts antibacterial properties which cause it to act as a natural broad-spectrum antibiotic, according to research by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information in the USA. This is due to the presence of
- Hydrogen Peroxide
Keep it raw
But, hold your horses (and your wallets). It’s not your generic honey found on supermarket shelves that will do the trick.
If you look at most jars of commercial honey worldwide you’ll see the words “Pure Honey”. Over time this has become an accepted label and an industry standard. The word ‘pure’ is exactly what we want to see on a natural elixir collected from beehives. This simple, honest word has led the average consumer to buy this honey without ever questioning its ‘purity’.
“Pure honey” may have been pure once upon a time but not anymore. The honey industry in many parts of the world is unregulated. At the same time, honey has become massively popular as news of its healing powers has spread. Production cannot keep up with demand.
This has led to mass ‘adulteration’ of honey. The result is very impure honey, often mixed with syrups from sugar cane, corn or rice. This honey is heavily filtered, removing all its pollen. Removing the pollen makes it ‘untraceable’ since pollen is used to identify where the honey is from, which is exactly why it is done.
In addition, studies have shown that generic honey often contains a high level of pharmaceutical antibiotics, heavy metals and other contaminants.
You get what you pay for
Ever wondered why the honey at the health shop or the farmers’ market is double the price, if not more, of the ones at your local supermarket?
It’s because it's raw’. Raw, organic honey costs more to produce because it truly is pure. No fillers, sugars or syrups. No adulteration whatsoever. No ultra-filtration, which means you always know where your honey has come from.
The uncomfortable truth is that honey is actually quite precious and bees work very hard doing their jobs. Consider the following information from The Canadian Honey Council
- A worker bee gathers in its entire life 0.8 gram (0.0288 ounces) of honey
- It requires 556 worker bees to gather 453g of honey.
- Bees fly more than once around the world to gather those 453 grams of honey.
- The average life of a honey bee during the working season is about six weeks
No wonder they are called ‘worker bees’.
Benefits of Raw Honey
You are rewarded for this more informed purchase by a vastly superior natural product that helps to fight infections and ease symptoms by:
- Loosening phlegm
- Stimulating vomiting up of phlegm
- Fighting nasty viruses
- Soothing a sore treat
What’s more, your careful and considered purchase helps support ethical bee farming so that you can harness the powers of honey with a clearer conscience.
When it comes to dosing, honey doesn’t carry the dangers of over-dosing as pharmaceuticals do. Here are some general guidelines
- 5ml at a time
- Every 3–4 hours
- Give throughout the night as necessary
Consider the following contraindications to using honey
- Do not administer to children below the age of 1 due to the risk of Botulism
What to expect when using honey
- Can induce vomiting of phlegm (usually, a welcome side effect)
- Will ease persistent night-time coughing
- If honey is crystallized the jar can be softened in a bowl of warm water and stirred
- Must not be heated as this destroys its powerful properties
A final word
We’ve been told to trust our judgement as parents. But, that can be hard when we are faced with a sick child, conflicting information and pressure to medicate from our medical professionals, family and friends.
But, there is no greater power than knowledge. It is so much easier to trust your parenting instinct when you informed. Know what works and what doesn’t. Understand the roles that medicine, food and drink play.
Look to nature for answers that have been there all along.
Medical Disclaimer: The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.