We’re heading into fall, and that means we’re marching toward cold and flu season (ugghhh) and other seasonal oh-no-not-again situations. But there’s an upside to this: it can prompt a reboot of your family’s health.
Check in with your doctor and fill your toolbox with natural aids to fight off common childhood ailments so your little ones spend the fall leaping into leaf piles and tearing around on their bikes, not laid up in bed.
Don’t know where to start? Here are the top four reasons school-aged kids visit my office during the back-to-school transition—and what I recommend to their parents.
1. They’ve caught a cold or flu
The best approach to a cold or flu is to prevent it in the first place. Regular handwashing, good nutrition and restful sleeps are all important factors in maintaining a healthy immune system and warding off cold and flu viruses.
In addition, I recommend a daily probiotic and vitamin D supplement starting in September and continued throughout the fall and winter months. Both probiotics and vitamin D have the ability to regulate immune functions and, when taken consistently, have been shown to decrease the frequency of upper respiratory tract infections.
If your child catches a cold, start echinacea, zinc and vitamin C right at the onset of symptoms. The root of Echinacea purpurea may help lessen symptom severity, while zinc and vitamin C may help shorten the duration of illness.
Black elderberry may also help reduce cold duration and symptom severity, but is better known for its flu-fighting capabilities.
When to see your doctor for a cold or flu
If a member of your family has difficulty breathing, keeping food or fluids down or swallowing, see your doctor. A fever higher than 100 F that lasts more than three days also merits a visit, as does a cough or nasal congestion that doesn’t improve or worsens over the course of 14 days.
2. They have an ear infection
Also called acute otitis media (AOM), ear infections are often secondary to an upper respiratory infection. So, to prevent ear infections, follow the guidelines above for cold and flu management.
AOM can be viral or bacterial in nature, and mild cases often resolve without antibiotics with time, patience and the appropriate supportive therapies.
The classic supportive herbal remedy for ear infections is garlic mullein ear oil. Garlic is both antibacterial and antiviral, while mullein helps to soothe ear pain.
Do not put anything in the ear if the eardrum is ruptured or if there’s drainage from the ear. In cases where ear pain does not resolve or improve in 48 hours, antibiotics may be needed.
When to see your doctor for earaches
If ear pain lasts longer than 48 hours or is severe, and if there’s a fever of 102 F or higher, see your doctor. A rapid onset of symptoms and drainage from the ear also calls for the advice of a health care professional.
3. They’re constipated
Functional constipation is an incredibly common problem, affecting up to 30 percent of children. Interestingly, the start of school is one of the most common times in a child’s life when constipation becomes an issue. Luckily, there are many natural remedies to help your child recover and regain digestive regularity.
First and foremost, it’s important to increase water consumption and dietary fiber intake.
It’s also crucial to support your child’s microbiome. In fact, regular probiotic supplementation has been shown to increase stool frequency.
For stubborn cases, I will also consider recommending magnesium citrate supplementation and food allergy testing, as well as herbal digestive relaxant teas, like chamomile, which can soothe abdominal discomfort.
When to see your doctor for constipation
If your child’s constipation worsens or lasts more than a week, or if there is blood in their stool or an accompanying fever, be sure to get your doctor involved.
4. They’re having trouble sleeping
It’s not uncommon to see sleep issues arise at the onset of a new school year while your little one is adjusting to a new schedule.
To promote restful sleeps, it’s important to have a consistent bedtime routine that incorporates relaxing activities like reading a book or having a warm bath.
For some children who have persistent sleep issues, I recommend a kid-friendly nervous-system-relaxing tea.
Melatonin can also be used in children with chronic insomnia with the guidance of your health care practitioner.
When to see your doctor for sleep issues
If your child is sleepwalking, wetting the bed (uncharacteristically) or experiencing night terrors, it’s worth having a conversation with your doctor.