10 Ayurvedic tips for preventing and treating colds in kids
As the parent of two school-aged kids, I’m well practiced in battling the incessant stream of viral and bacterial invaders these kids bring home. At any given time, you can walk into a classroom and it seems at least a quarter of the kids have a runny nose or cough.
So we use antibacterial goods, and the bugs get stronger (and that doesn’t do anything for viruses). Some people get flu shots (which is a very funny concept given the rate of viral mutation) and everyone still gets sick.
“Flu Season” – what does that even mean?
The truth is that the “bugs” all around us don’t really ever go away, or change that much in our exposure to them. There is NOT some increase in the amount of Influenza viral particles this time of year.
Viruses and bacteria are all around us, on us, and in us – ALL the time. door handles, light switches, gas stations, credit card machines, and on and on. So, none of is getting infected because the bug population or exposure is drastically changing. We get sick because we’re depleted and our immune systems are weak. Period.
You can make out with someone who is sick, and be fine if your immunity is good. You can get sick predictably with little exposure if your immunity is weak.
At the time of year when Vata is still high, and Kapha is also on the rise – weak immunity meets congestion. That’s why it’s an opportune time for BOTH viruses and bacteria, and the start of allergy season.
So, if you want to stay healthy through the winter, you have to be mindful of not getting too depleted or stressed, and of supporting your immunity. Those are both lifestyle practices that Ayurveda has a lot of tools for. Strengthen your child’s immune system. Lowered immunity is a state of vata imbalance. So much of the practices in boosting immunity have to do with vata reduction.
In case you, or your little ones need it, below are my 10 tips for cold care and prevention. All of the tips below can be used as prevention, or during a cold.
I use a basic humidifier at night in the kids’ bedroom to help keep their upper respiratory tract nice and moist, which is how it likes to be. This helps their membranes do their natural protective job, and keeps them from having too many dry boogers that they go digging for with dirty little fingers (reduced exposure). Sometimes I’ll put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil (see more below), or a piece of camphor in the water. Just clean out the humidifier every few days with a rinse of white vinegar. You can also do an old school steam session over a pot of hot water with a slice of ginger or camphor, and a towel over the head.
When we are asleep is the time the body systems regenerate, including the immune system. Even though we have a decent “bedtime” for the kids, it’s not uncommon for the little critters to stay up late, or resist a nap. When I see that they are with the first signs of a cold, I really try to curb my own vata to be able to prioritize sleep for the kids (and myself). I aim for 10-15 hours of sleep for all of us in recovery.
Personally, I like Little Tummies brand saline as it is without any strange additives. Although the aerosol spray type looks cool, they usually have more preservatives and propellants in them, so go for the simple squeeze bottle. The saline helps to break down congestion, and moisten the mucus membranes. Basically, this is the kid version of the neti pot. For adults, please use a neti pot. We have the 16oz stainless steel ones I love.
Nose oil (Nasya)
Right after the saline ritual, I’ll put some oil in their nostrils with my clean pinky finger, or a Qtip. My kids prefer to use their own fingers to coat the inner surface of their nostrils. (This is not traditional nasya, where herbal oil is dripped into the sinuses from the nasal passages.) Again, this helps them be able to breathe and not feel like they need to pick their nose.
If you are using a neti pot and want to do nasya, I’d recommend neti in the am, waiting the day for the tissues to dry, and doing nasya before bedtime. Sleeping after nasya allows the oils to soak in the sinus tissues why you are laying with your head horizontal, instead of just draining into your throat. I don’t recommend nasya when the there is a lot of slimy congestion. This is better at the very onset of dry throat, and fatigue, before heavy congestion; or after the congestion has passed as rehab, or as vata season regular practice for prevention. Here is a nasya oil if you’d like to try. Otherwise, you can just use any organic food grade oil – olive is my favorite.
I cannot emphasize enough the power of this little concoction. There are several types of herbal honey (click for article and recipe) you can make, and most all are wonderful. Honey is naturally antimicrobial, breaks down mucous, expectorant (brings mucous up out of the lungs), soothes the throat and reduces vata. I always use sitopaladi (a very yummy decongestant–we carry this in our store) in raw honey. I give the kids a spoon of this honey every night before bed as prevention, and one in the am before school during active congestion.
The strength of our immunity is directly correlated with the strength of our digestion. So, if you keep the digestive system strong and healthy, good immunity follows. With vata imbalance, appetite wanes and digestive capacity is reduced. You can balance this by increasing digestive spices in your cooking, as all culinary spices are digestive aids.
I find nutmeg and cinnamon easy to incorporate in breakfast foods, and cumin and ginger easy to hide in most dinner items. Any spice in any food will work, and black pepper is another easy one to add more of. All of the warming digestive spices are antimicrobial and help to break up mucous as well.
My little ones drink a half cup of VP Digestive Tea each am – a tea to balance vata (depletion) and pitta (infection) – as prevention. When actively sick, I give them my Cough & Cold Tea instead. Both have licorice and so are naturally a bit sweet and somewhat more kid-friendly in taste. You can always add brewed herbal tea to juice with little ones.
Garlic sesame oil in the ears at bedtime is a commonly recommended Ayurvedic recipe. I find this leaks out on the pillows/sheets, and my kids end up reeking of garlic in their hair and necks. So personally, I use Vata Reducing Nasya Oil as ear drops. I warm the nasya bottle by setting in a cup of hot water for a few minutes, and put 1-2 drops in each ear a few times a week. The ear canals are part of the upper respiratory system and more vata balancing is great to strengthen the body here where colds begin.
Warm moist food supports healthy digestion, and is easiest to digest during vata imbalance. For example, favor warm cereals and soft egg scrambles for breakfast over dry toast or cold cereal. More soups, and warm-moist-cooked-spiced foods for dinners are a great idea during the fall, for the whole family. Think soups and stews and stir-fries and curries.
FRESH food is also really important. The quality of food is the quality of the nutrients we receive from it. A can of Campbells chicken noodle soup is not going to provide as much nutrition as it is preservatives. Making sure food is farm-fresh as possible, and cooked fresh really helps to support healing, digestion, and immunity.
This is easy and probably my favorite part of the whole immune boosting regimen. My favorite vata reducing essential oils are eucalyptus, lavender, vetiver, and frankincense. I but these in the kids’ baths, in little oil burners around the house, and as aforementioned in their humidifiers.
Here’s one that we don’t think of often, but is a powerful way to reduce vata. We’ve all experienced the soothing power of natural soundscapes and healing music. Mantra chanting is also nice–everyone feels grounded with the “eternal om” track. Sound is one our most powerful sensory inputs, and having grounding music playing during bedtime, or whenever is a lovely way to boost immunity. I like the “yoga” channel on Pandora, or binaural beats healing frequency music for sleep on YouTube.
Happiness -This maybe goes without saying, but staying stress free and happy is fundamental to healthy immunity. Do whatever you need, or your kid needs to feel happy and supported – so your emotional body can support your physical body healing.