Q: My 5-year-old keeps getting colds. Can echinacea help?
A: The research is mixed -- some studies have shown that the plant root echinacea may be no better than a placebo at soothing cold symptoms in kids, though if your pediatrician approves, it certainly can’t hurt. You’re better off having your child drink lots of fluids to keep mucus thin, giving an age-appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever, and using salt-water nose drops or spray to ease congestion. You can buy these or make your own with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda to a cup of lukewarm water. Take care to mix a new batch daily and toss the old one. See her doctor if a cold lasts more than 10 days, if she has a fever above 102 F., or if a fever starts or returns late in the course of a cold. Remember, colds are caused by a variety of viruses (they’re passed along through droplets being sneezed, coughed, or wiped on you by infected people) and there’s no quick fix to get rid of them. Antibiotics aren't any help as a treatment unless there's a bacterial complication like an ear or sinus infection.
Originally published in Child magazine, 2006.