Your Child Has the Flu: What's a Mother to Do?
By Lauren Feder
Issue 128 - January/February 2005
Let the gentle healing of homeopathy ease your family's suffering.
By Lauren Feder, MD
Every fall and winter, many children and adults suffer from the familiar symptoms of cold and flu. Because of concerns about mercury in flu vaccines and the side effects of antibiotics, many parents are now turning to homeopathy and other forms of natural medicine to prevent and treat those nagging symptoms. “When my boys are sick, I’ll usually give them a homeopathic remedy,” says one of my patients, Susanna Campbell Watson. “Within a few days they usually get better, and I rarely need to go to the doctor.”
Homeopathy is a form of holistic medicine based on using minute doses of a substance to stimulate the body to heal itself. A remedy is chosen based on the person’s physical complaints as well as his or her mental and emotional symptoms. Homeopathy can be used to treat acute and chronic conditions in both children and adults. In my office, five children with the flu may each be prescribed a different remedy because each child’s combination of complaints is unique. Homeopathy is easy to administer, safe to use, and available over the counter.
Is it a Cold or the Flu?
Sometimes it is difficult to ascertain if your child has a cold or the flu. Both are caused by viruses, and both are contagious. Colds are most commonly caused by a nasal virus that leads to symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, and sore throat. Often, a runny nose begins with clear drainage and changes color as the cold matures. Contrary to popular thought, yellow-green mucus does not always indicate that an antibiotic should be prescribed. According to the Minnesota Antibiotic Resistance Collaborative, “Color changes in nasal mucus are a good sign that your body is fighting the virus.”
High fever, muscle aches and pains, and weakness and exhaustion are more characteristic of the flu. The flu, caused by the influenza virus, can be a more severe illness, as it can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia. The flu season typically lasts from November to March. Colds can occur any time of the year but are more abundant during flu epidemics. Both viruses can go into the chest and cause coughs. In general, younger children can get as many as seven colds a year. As their immune systems develop, they get colds less frequently. Healthy adults usually have two colds a year.
Cold and Flu Prevention
Although colds and the flu can’t always be avoided, the following measures can aid in preventing or minimizing symptoms:
- Get plenty of rest. This can be more difficult during the holiday season, but lack of sleep makes us vulnerable to getting sick.
- Dress warmly in layers and cover the feet. “Warmth supports all healing. Loss of warmth often leads to illness,” write the Wellness Nurses of the Los Angeles Alliance for Childhood. “The addition of warmth maintains health in a well person, and supports healing in a sick one.” Both children and adults should wear thin layers of natural fabrics, especially in the cooler months. In colder climates, hats should be worn outside.
- Encourage the drinking of healthy fluids, preferably at room temperature to warm. Avoid cold drinks. Give herbal tea, broths, and unsweetened, diluted juice. Ginger tea (heat several slices of fresh ginger in three cups of water for ten minutes), or a natural cold and flu tonic, can be soothing and therapeutic. You can make a tonic with 2–5 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar and 1–2 tablespoons honey or unrefined sweetener in 1 cup hot water, with a dash of cayenne pepper to taste.
- Eat well. Avoid sweets and dairy. Refined sugar compromises the immune system.
- Wash hands frequently to minimize the spread of germs.
- Avoid swimming in fall and winter, especially for susceptible children and adults.
- Dolivaxil (Influenzinum 2004–2005) is a homeopathic remedy that has been used in Europe for years during the flu season to prevent flu symptoms. Each year, the World Health Organization predicts which flu viruses are most likely to infect humans and cause flu symptoms. Based on this information, the homeopathic solution is reformulated each year to help prepare the body during the flu season. This remedy contains the same virus used by companies that manufacture the flu vaccine; however, the homeopathic preparation is natural, easy to use, and contains no mercury. Many families in my practice use it during the flu season as a prevention, with good results.
- Briar Rose is a gentle herb (see “Gemmotherapy,” below) that is useful for many conditions in children, especially infections of the ear, nose, and throat. I use it several times a week during the cold and flu season as a prevention, and twice a day while sick. It can be used in conjunction with homeopathy and all other medicines.
The following is a list of remedies commonly used during the cold and flu season. Be sure to note your child’s symptoms before reaching for a remedy. Noting subtle differences in behavior can lead you to the correct remedy.
Remedies for Colds:
- Aconitum napellus (Aconite) is used during the early stages of an illness, often within hours of exposure to cold and wind, at the first sign of a shiver. Aconite is helpful for the sudden onset of intense symptoms that range from a profuse runny nose, chills, fever, and coughs to earaches and sore throat. The child is thirsty, restless, and often nervous.
- Belladonna can also be helpful during the early stages of a cold accompanied by sudden high fever and, sometimes, hallucinations. A child who responds to Belladonna radiates heat and may have a flushed face and a throbbing feeling. He or she is hypersensitive to noise and touch. Often, complaints of ear pain and/or sore throat are worse on the right side, and there is no thirst.
- Allium cepa is for a watery runny nose that feels like a continuous “faucet of hot water.” The nose is red and irritated, and there can be sneezing with a tickle in the throat. People who respond well to Allium cepa often feel better outdoors; the remedy is also very useful in treating hay fever.
- Ferrum phosphoricum is similar to Belladonna in that it is indicated when the child’s face is flushed and the fever is accompanied by throbbing. Typically, however, the onset of fever is more gradual and symptoms are mild.
- Pulsatilla nigricans (Pulsatilla) is indicated when the mucus is a creamy consistency and ranges in color from pale yellow to green. This usually happens when the cold is “ripe”; that is, when it has completed its initial stages. The person is warm, wants to be undressed, feels better in the open air, and prefers cold drinks but is not thirsty. The child who responds to Pulsatilla is characteristically clingy, emotional, and wanting company.
- Another remedy for a ripe cold is Hepar sulphuris calcareum (Hepar sulph). Similar to Pulsatilla, Hepar sulph is good for yellow-green mucus that is thick and creamy. Often the sore throat feels sharp or splinterlike, and the glands are swollen. However, the child is chilly, wants to be covered, and is thirsty for warm drinks. The child is also irritable, hypersensitive, and difficult to get along with. Hepar sulph and Aconite are also excellent remedies for croup.
- Mercurius vivus (Mercurius solubilis can also be used) is useful for a child who smells sick, has foul breath, and is hurried, restless, and sweaty, feeling hot one minute, cold the next. The sore throat feels raw and burning, with thick, runny, yellow-green mucus that irritates the nose. Tonsils and glands can be swollen and tender.
Remedies for the Flu:
- Oscillococcinum is useful for all types of flu, especially in the earlier stages. Many of my patients claim that Oscillo has greatly shortened the duration of their flus. It can be used for both children and adults.
- Gelsemium sempervirens is for the classic flu symptoms of dizziness, weakness, and fatigue. The Gelsemium patient is not thirsty and wants to lie down and be left alone. The body feels heavy, and any motion is an effort; even the eyelids droop.
- Bryonia alba flu symptoms are characterized by muscle aches that hurt with movement, dryness of the throat and mouth, and an intense thirst for cold drinks. The child is cranky and likely to say, “Don’t touch me!”
- Rhus toxicodenron (Rhus tox) is also good for muscles that are achy and stiff, but in this case the child is restless and fidgety.
- Eupatorium perfoliatum is excellent for flu symptoms that include a deep ache in the bones, as if the bones are “broken.” It hurts to move, including moving the eyeballs.
Gemmotherapy consists of herbal remedies made from the buds or shoots of young plants. Known as the cells’ “chimney sweeps,” gemmotherapy remedies have drainage properties that cleanse cells of toxins. Although the body has natural ways of cleansing itself of contaminants, our modern lifestyle leads to an excess of toxins that the body needs to eliminate to be healthy. Pollutants found in our food, water, air, and drugs accumulate in different organs of the body.
In addition, stress can affect the way in which cells and organs function. In my office, I often use gemmotherapy
in conjunction with homeopathy to treat colds and flu. The following is a list of popular gemmos to use during the cold and flu season.
- Briar Rose is for runny nose and congestion in children. It strengthens a child’s immune system and is useful for conditions involving ear, nose, throat, and sinuses. It is particularly helpful for winter colds. I use it as a preventive two to three times a week, as needed, during the cold and flu season. For illness, use twice a day.
- Lithy Tree targets the lungs and restores pulmonary function. It is helpful for coughs, bronchial spasms, and bronchitis.
- Black Currant is an excellent remedy for strengthening the constitution during the winter months, especially for adults. It stimulates the adrenals and is good for stress and fatigue. For adults, Common Birch targets the cleansing of the liver and other organ systems. Known as “the universal drainer,” Common Birch is an excellent general remedy for strengthening the immune system. As Black Currant is for the adrenals, Common Birch is for the immune system.
In addition to homeopathy and gemmotherapy, other measures and treatments can be used at the onset of symptoms:
- Echinacea (for children); can also be taken by nursing mothers to help boost the immune system. Echinacea can be taken as prevention during the winter season, two weeks on and two weeks off, or at the first sign of an illness.
- Vitamin C for children.
- Anise and mullein, in tea form, are both natural expectorants.
- Elderberry flower tea is known for its natural antiviral properties against the cold and flu.
- Essential oils such as lavender and clary sage (California Baby Calming Bubble Bath contains both) are known for their natural antiseptic and antibacterial properties. In a bath, these oils can help soothe coughs and sore muscles, and calm the nerves.
- Breastmilk can be used to treat stuffy nose and red eyes. Breastmilk has antibacterial properties and can be squirted directly in the eye or nose. A few drops of expressed breastmilk can be placed in the affected area with a dropper.
- Use a hot-water bottle for aches, chills, and general comfort. The Wellness Nurses suggest filling a hot-water bottle with near-boiling water. Carefully press any remaining air out, keep the bottle flat and light, and cover it in thick flannel to protect the skin from burns. A hot-water bottle is meant to be soothing and warming; covered, it should not be too hot to touch.
- If hands and feet are cooler than the belly, warm them first. If your child’s face is flushed, use the bottle at the feet. For chest congestion, place it by the chest. Use as needed during illness.
- Keep your child home if she or he is ill.
- Encourage the use of healthy fluids (see above). Herbal teas, freshly made broths, and thin soups help thin the mucus and clear the body. During illness, it is not uncommon for your child to lose appetite. Avoid dairy, as it can thicken mucus.
- Garlic is an antibacterial—eat plenty of it.
- Mullein oil and garlic eardrops for earaches.
- Satisfy your child’s cravings—within reason. Each child is unique. Most often, during an acute illness such as a cold or flu, your child will be very precise about what gives him or her relief. You may hear statements like, “I want a Popsicle,” “Don’t leave me alone,” or “I’m not hungry.” According to Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, father of homeopathy, “Acutely ill patients rarely crave things that obstruct their cure.”
How to Administer Remedies
Homeopathic Pellets or Tablets
- Dosages Adults and children: Take three tablets four times a day. In acute cases, take tablets every hour until relieved, or as directed by your doctor. If you see no improvement after three doses, discontinue the remedy.
- Taking the remedy When possible, avoid touching the tablets with your fingers. Use a spoon. Adults and older children are encouraged to let the tablets dissolve under the tongue. Younger children can let them dissolve in their mouths. If your child is too small to take the remedy, dissolve three pellets in 1 tablespoon of water, and give the child 1 teaspoonful of this mixture.
- Eating and Drinking Avoid eating or drinking for five minutes before and after taking your homeopathic remedy.
- Substances to avoid When you are taking a remedy, it is best to avoid coffee, chocolate, camphor, eucalyptus, mint, and other strong-smelling substances (mint toothpaste is okay).
Gemmotherapy remedies are diluted in a way similar to homeopathic remedies and are stored in a base of alcohol with glycerin and water. If you’re sensitive to alcohol, place the open bottle in 1 inch of slow-boiling water for five minutes. Cool the bottle before screwing on the stopper. A gemmo’s shelf life without alcohol is approximately three weeks, as opposed to the standard two years.
Gemmotherapy remedies are easy to administer. They can be taken in a beverage, preferably water, or directly under the tongue. If you are taking more than one, they should, ideally, be taken separately. Children usually favor the remedies in a beverage. The dosages are 5–8 drops for infants, 15–20 drops for children three to eight years old, and 25–50 drops for adults and older children. The remedies can be used as often as two to three times per day during acute illness.
For more information about natural remedies, see the following articles in past issues of Mothering: “When Your Child Needs Antibiotics,” no. 65; “Homeopathic Medicine for Winter Ailments,” no. 69; “Home Remedies,” no. 74; “Sore Throats,” no. 75; and “Natural Remedies for Childhood Diseases,” no. 77. For more related material, go to www.mothering.com
Lauren Feder, MD, is in private practice in Beverly Hills, California, where she specializes in homeopathy for children, adults, and pregnancy. She has written for health magazines, including Homeopathy Today, teaches classical homeopathy, and is a frequent lecturer on vaccine safety. She is the mother of two boys. See her website (www.drfeder.com) for more information.
Illustration by Rebecca Harrison Reed