Help Your Sick Child Feel Better at Home

Kids get sick, a lot. From tummy troubles to runny noses, parents see it all. But not all illnesses mean you should head straight to the doctor’s office.

“When your child is suffering with a mild viral infection or mild symptoms, it’s best to care for her at home,” said Tracy Nailor, MD, MPH, a Pediatric Urgent Care Physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Keeping your child protected from outside germs can often be better than taking a trip to the pediatrician or sending them to school and daycare, where they may be exposed to other sick children.”

When your kid is under the weather but not sick enough to go to the doctor, how can you help her feel better? These are a few simple remedies parents can try at home to help with problems, from coughing and fevers to colic and a sore throat.

How can I help my child’s cough and congestion?

If your child is up all night with a cough or chest congestion, consider using a humidifier or vaporizer. Humidifiers and vaporizers add moisture to the air, which, in turn, moisturizes the nasal passages and airways and helps relieve congestion.

However, children with allergies or asthma should be careful when using humidifiers or vaporizers. A little humidity is okay, but too much humidity in the air can actually make their symptoms worse, especially if the humidifier hasn’t been cleaned or disinfected properly. An improperly sanitized humidifier can also send mold, bacteria and dust mites into the air, triggering coughing, sneezing and breathing trouble.

Running the air conditioner with a clean air filter installed is the best way to help dry the air in your home if there is too much humidity. The recommended safe level of humidity is less than 60%. It’s also important to be mindful of outside air quality regarding high humidity, as it can feel “heavy” to kids with asthma, making it harder for them to breathe.

What can I do to reduce my child’s fever?

A fever is a sign that your child’s body is fighting off an infection and working to get well. In addition to using children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help bring her temperature down, you can draw your child a lukewarm bath.

If your little one is too small to sit in a tub, dip washcloths in lukewarm water, wring out any excess water and apply it to your child’s chest, tummy, neck and underarms. Remove or change the washcloths as soon as they start to cool off, repeating the process for no longer than 20 minutes. Dry your baby and keep her covered with a light blanket.

Sometimes, just a lukewarm bath can also make your child comfortable enough that you don’t have to immediately treat with fever-reducing medicine, as. giving these medications for temperatures less than 100.4°F will not deter the illness.

Remember, fever itself is not a disease. Rather, it is a sign of an underlying condition that your child’s body is trying to fight off. Keeping your child comfortable is the key.

Is there anything I can do to stop colic?

Chamomile tea is a common grown-up remedy for relaxation, but some research, including a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), has shown that it may also help soothe a colicky baby. It’s believed that colic—that heavy, constant screaming or crying that may occur in an otherwise healthy infant —could be triggered by an upset stomach, milk or lactose allergy, or other gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Chamomile tea may help calm that distress, as well as soothe a fitful, restless baby and encourage sleep.

To give your little one chamomile tea, steep a bag in 4 ounces of warm water for one to five minutes. Let it cool and put 1 to 2 ounces in a bottle. It’s recommended that you not exceed 4 ounces over the course of a day.

Chamomile tea should only be given to children 6 months and older. Because smaller infants should really only have breastmilk or water in the first few months of life, authorities are divided on whether herbal tea should be used at all. However, research in small clinical studies of 3-month-old infants has shown a reduction in colic with no side effects. But parents should be cautious until there is more data to support these claims.

Note: A very small percentage of infants may have an allergy or sensitivity to chamomile. Check with your pediatrician before trying this remedy, and if a rash develops, discontinue use.

What if my child is having tummy troubles?

There are a few options to consider when your child comes to you complaining of an aching stomach. It is sometimes helpful to choose a treatment based on other symptoms associated with a tummy ache.

  • For any stomach pain, you can place a hot water bottle or heating pad on your little one's belly while she's sitting or lying down. This may help relieve some of the pain. Heat can also increase blood flow to the skin surface, helping diminish the perception of abdominal pain. Muscle relaxes with heat, so this can be effective for cramping pain or nausea. Always be sure to test the temperature on your own skin before sharing with your child.
  • If your child has diarrhea associated with the stomach pain, you may want to try serving her bland foods like toast, pasta, oatmeal, yogurt, rice and applesauce. These foods reduce the chances of bloating and nausea. Avoid sugary or high-fiber foods, which can make your child feel worse. If your child is vomiting, give her small sips of water or ice chips, then go to clear liquids.

The tummy is very sensitive during this time, so it is important to avoid dehydration.  Once your child can keep down clear liquids, slowly advance her diet to bland, easy-to-digest foods. If she feels better at this point, you can return to a regular diet.

How to soothe a sore throat

Symptoms of a sore throat may include a painful throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck, bad breath, scratchiness in the throat and redness in the back of the mouth.

If your child is experiencing any of these, one recommendation is serving your child honey. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), honey can help relieve a sore throat. They suggest mixing 2 tablespoons with a warm glass of water or tea and drink as needed. This remedy is also helpful if the sore throat is accompanied by a cough.

Note: Honey should not be given to infants under 1 year old. It can carry bacteria, such as Clostridium botulinum, that can be especially dangerous for babies.

As parents, we know you want to do everything you can to make sure your children are happy and healthy, and this is especially important when your little one isn’t feeling well. And there’s certainly a risk of exposing kids to other germs if you decide to take them into the pediatrician. So, it’s important to try and help your child feel better at home if you can by first trying a few of these simple remedies.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.