10 Health Tricks Every Parent Must Know

From soothing a stuffy nose to clearing up diaper rash, here are the easiest ways to help your child feel better fast.

Clear a Stuffy Nose

How to do it: Dissolve a quarter teaspoon of salt in a half cup of warm water, and fill a nasal-spray bottle with the solution. Spritz twice into each nostril, then have your child blow his nose into a tissue. (If your child is too young to blow, use a bulb syringe to suction out the fluid.)

Why it works: Salt water loosens thick mucus, making it easier to discharge from the nose, and restores the natural moisture of the inner membranes.

When to call the doctor: If you think your child may have an ear or sinus infection. (Symptoms include a fever, persistent cough, earache, or yellow or green nasal secretions.)

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Give Medicine to a Baby or Toddler

How to do it: Place your child in an infant seat or have another person cradle her in a similar position, then let her have several licks of an ice pop or ice cube. Now quickly squirt the medicine into the side of her mouth, between her cheek and her gums.

Why it works: Cold numbs your baby's tongue and cheeks, making her less sensitive to taste and less likely to spit the medication back up. (Serving medicine cold -- with your doctor's okay -- can also lessen an unappealing taste.)

When to call the doctor: If your child is too sick to keep the medicine down, or if she spits up two or more doses.

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Relieve Teething Pain

How to do it: Fold a washcloth into a small triangle, dip one corner in water, and place in the freezer for a few hours. Once it's frozen, let your baby grasp the dry end of the cloth -- or hold it for him -- while he gnaws on the frozen corner.

Why it works: The rough fabric makes a baby's irritated gums feel better, and the cold soothes the area, helping to reduce swelling and inflammation.

When to call the doctor: If your baby seems to be in pain -- or if the frozen washcloth doesn't ease his irritability.

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Soothe Itchy Mosquito Bites

How to do it: Gently roll a liquid or solid antiperspirant over the swollen, irritated welts. Wait five minutes, then reapply if the bites are still itchy.

Why it works: "The aluminum salts in the antiperspirant cause fluid in the bites to be reabsorbed into the body," explains Kenneth Haller, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "When the swelling subsides, the itching goes away."

When to call the doctor: If the bite shows signs of infection, such as red streaks or increased tenderness, or if your child develops flulike symptoms -- such as fever, headache, muscle pain, or swollen glands -- that could signal West Nile virus.

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Next: Clean a Cut

Clean a Cut

How to do it: First wash the area with soap and water, then use a clean squirt toy or turkey baster to direct a stream of clean, warm water into the wound. Pat dry, apply an antibiotic ointment, then bandage loosely.

Why it works: "By irrigating the area, you're more likely to flush out any last bits of dirt and grit, which speeds healing and decreases the chance of infection," explains Lewis First, M.D., chief of pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital, in Burlington.

When to call the doctor: If you can't remove all of the foreign material from the wound, if the cut won't stop bleeding or looks particularly deep, or if you see signs of infection, such as redness or pus.

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Ease Diaper Rash

How to do it: Instead of cleaning your baby's bottom with premoistened wipes, hold her over the sink and let warm water wash over her inflamed skin. Then dry her off using a blow-dryer set on cool.

Why it works: Washing with plain water and drying with air feels good on sore skin. In addition, it speeds healing by decreasing friction on the area. Exposure to the chemicals in baby wipes will only make the irritation worse.

When to call the doctor: If your baby's rash doesn't clear up after two or three days or if it's dark red or raised.

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Remove Splinters

How to do it: "If your child has several fine splinters or cactus spines on the surface of the skin, touch the area with a strip of packing tape, then pull it away," says Ellen Kempf, M.D., medical director of the primary-care network at Akron Children's Hospital, in Ohio. If your child has a large, imbedded splinter, tweezers are still the best way to go.

Why it works: The splinters will adhere to the tape, making for a fast and easy removal.

When to call the doctor: If you can't get a splinter out, if the area shows signs of infection, or if it's extremely painful.

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Take Care of Poison Ivy

How to do it: Wearing gloves and using liquid dishwashing soap and water, immediately wash any area that came in contact with the plant. Rinse thoroughly with clean water, then pat dry. If a rash develops, apply a cool, damp washcloth to the area.

Why it works: Liquid dish soap, which is detergent-based, will wash away the plant oil and help prevent absorption into the skin. Soaking in cool water or using cold compresses alleviates itching.

When to call the doctor: If the rash is on your child's face or near her eyes, if it spreads to more than 25 percent of her body, or if the itching is severe.

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Calm a Sunburn

How to do it: Have your child soak in a tub of cool water for ten to 15 minutes. Gently pat skin dry, then smooth fragrance-free moisturizing lotion on the burned areas.

Why it works: "Keeping the skin cool will ease swelling and reduce pain, while the lotion helps replenish moisture," says Elizabeth Powell, M.D., a pediatric emergency specialist at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. "Avoid anesthetic sprays or ointments -- they can irritate some children's skin." Give ibuprofen or acetaminophen if he's uncomfortable.

When to call the doctor: If your child has a fever or chills, if the skin blisters, or if the burn covers a large area of his body.

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Next: Treat a Sting

Treat a Sting

How to do it: Immediately scrape off the stinger with the edge of a credit card or a very dull knife. Wash the area with soapy water, then hold an ice cube on it for a few minutes.

Why it works: Scraping off the stinger -- instead of pulling it out with your fingers -- prevents any more venom from entering your child's body, while applying ice helps reduce swelling and pain.

When to call the doctor: If your child has an allergic reaction. Watch for difficulty breathing, swelling of the mouth or neck area, or a rash around the site of the sting.

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Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the August 2004 issue of Parents magazine.

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