Nov. 18, 2010 -- While cold and flu season in the U.S. begins in October and runs through May, there's never a bad time to strengthen natural defenses like washing your hands, staying hydrated, getting enough vitamins and sunlight, and considering alternatives like homeopathic remedies.
The common cold is the most frequent infectious disease in people, averaging two to four infections a year in adults and up to six to twelve in children, according to WebMD.
In 2008, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory, strongly recommending that over-the-counter cold and cough medication not be given to children under the age of two.
"The best defense is a strong offense," Dr. Lawrence Rosen said.
Dr Rosen stopped by "Good Morning America" to show some natural cold remedies. "Be proactive; simply washing your hands with soap and water should be at the top of anyone's list," he said.
Dr. Rosen is a pediatrician who runs the Whole Child Center in Oradell, New Jersey. He is also a contributor to Kiwi Magazine, which promotes growing families the natural and organic way. He brought along smart tips to boost the immune system.
There are plenty of foods that help support natural immunity to help you avoid the cold and flu. Multi-colored foods like berries, kiwi, papaya, and oranges that are high in antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C are a good first line of defense. It's important to include them in your kid's diets from an early age.
Also make sure to get plenty of vitamin D. "Natural sunlight is the best source for vitamin D," Dr. Rosen said. "So go outside and get some fresh air." Probiotics, found in cultured foods like organic yogurt, are another option to boost immunity for your children this winter.
Always remind your kids to stay hydrated. And while water is the best option, your grandmother's chicken soup is another great source of hydration and also contains potent immune properties. Herbal teas can also be a great option, especially with a bit of lemon or honey for children over one year old.
But What If Your Kids Are Already Sick?
Children metabolize medicines differently than adults do. So it's always good to err on the side of caution and consult with your doctor when your kids have a fever or when giving your kids any over the counter medication.
"Saline nose drops are a good choice to help with congestion in little ones," said Dr. Rosen. "They can offer quick relief without the risk of side effects like drowsiness or hyperactivity." A humidifier may be helpful for congestion or dry coughs, but remember to clean it regularly with vinegar to keep away mold.
A recent study in Pediatrics found the combination of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oils can reduce a child's cold symptoms and help those with upper-respiratory infections sleep better. "Eucalyptus by itself can be quite helpful," noted Dr. Rosen.
Homeopathic medicines are generally considered a safer option for treatment. Defined by their therapeutically active micro-doses of mineral, botanical and biological substances, they may be enough to treat the cold or flu, without many of the adverse side effects. They are widely used in Europe and are becoming more popular options with parents in the U.S. who are looking for alternatives to typical over-the-counter cold and cough treatments.
Oscillococcinum has been found to be a good homeopathic treatment for children and adults with flu-like symptoms. "Boiron's Chestal and ColdCalm are two good options for kids who are fighting a cold and cough," according to Dr. Rosen, "especially if parents are wary of using conventional over-the-counter products."