Which is More Helpful?
Flumist Nasal Spray or Traditional Flu Vaccine? If your child is between 6 months and 2 years or has any medical conditions that put her at higher risk, such as asthma or heart disease, she will need to get the injected vaccine. Otherwise, experts say go with what your kids are most comfortable with or what's easier to get (FluMist isn't always available). A few studies indicate that FluMist may be more effective for children than a shot, but experts say more research is needed and either option is a good choice.
Antibacterial Soap or The Regular Stuff? Plain old soap. Though many liquid hand soaps are advertised as "antibacterial," studies show that they are no better than ordinary soap and water. Also, some environmental groups and researchers have raised concerns that triclosan, an ingredient in many kinds of antibacterial soap, may be contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The FDA is reviewing this.
Thimerosal-Free Vaccine or Not? Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, is used in some multidose flu-vaccine vials for children older than 3, to prevent the growth of germs, bacteria, and fungi. Studies repeatedly fail to show associations between thimerosal and autism or other problems, but some parents continue to be concerned. "I'm convinced by the research that the thimerosal-containing vaccine is safe; I give it to my own sons," says Parents advisor Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital. "But if you're worried, ask your doctor for a thimerosal-free injected vaccine, or try to get FluMist for kids 2 years old and up, which contains no thimerosal."
Hand-Washing or Hand Sanitizer? Soap loosens bacteria and viruses from the skin and helps wash them down the drain, while sanitizers kill the germs. Both methods are equally effective, experts say, but if your child's hands are dirty or have any kind of debris on them, head for the sink. "Hand sanitizers can't get to viruses if they're hiding behind dirt," Dr. Schachter says. Also, hand gel can build up on hands, which prevents it from getting to germs (but won't hurt your child if he puts his hands in his mouth), so make sure you do at least one real hand-washing for every five uses of sanitizer.
Disinfecting Wipes or Spray? Both wipes and spray are effective as long as you use a new wipe for each surface and if they contain one of three ingredients: ammonia, bleach, or quaternary ammonium compounds. Those are the most effective disinfectants, and the ones used in hospitals. Look for them in sprays made by Clorox, Lysol, and Mr. Clean.
Natural Disinfectant or Commercial Spray? Unfortunately, if your goal is to kill germs, lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda just won't cut it. "I know everybody is trying to use products that don't have chemicals in them, but the problem is that most of the natural things don't work to kill germs on surfaces," says Tina Tan, M.D., an infectious-diseases physician at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. The only natural sanitizer that has been proven to kill 99.99 percent of bacteria, Dr. Rotbart says, is thymol, which comes from the herb thyme and can be found in CleanWell and Seventh Generation products.
Products Moms Love
Honibe Honey Lozenges This is real, dried honey that melts in your child's mouth and helps soothe his cough. For kids 5 and older, it's easier than spooning out the sticky stuff. ($10 for a box of 20; honibe.com)
Boogie Wipes These wipes have saline to help dissolve even the crustiest nasal stuff, plus they're gentle and some kids really dig the grape scent. ($11 for three packs of 30; diapers.com)
Children's Earplanes When you have to take your sick child over age 1 on an airplane, pack these plugs. They're designed to stop the ear pain caused by congestion. ($12 for a two-pack; earplanes.com)