Common Home Remedies for Sick Kids

Sick Child
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Sometimes, parents can treat kids' minor illnesses and conditions with home remedies or over-the-counter medicines. While you should always consult with your pediatrician, you may find that they recommend these simple treatments as well.

One pediatrician commonly prescribes the three S's to patients when they have a cold: suckers, showers, and soup. Lollipops or suckers might relieve a sore throat, while the steam from a shower could help congestion. And of course, chicken soup is a common home remedy for colds and flu.

Home Remedies

Using home remedies isn't all about old wives' tale home cures, such as putting Vicks or Vaseline on your child's feet when they have a night-time cough or rubbing a nickel on a wart to get rid of it. Common home remedies include treatments that can actually relieve bothersome symptoms.

As with prescriptions, herbal treatments, and vitamins, be sure to tell your pediatrician about all home remedies you have tried or are considering for your child.

Common home remedies that parents may be familiar with include:

  • Bleach baths: Dilute bleach baths (1 teaspoon bleach to 1 gallon of water) may help children with recurrent skin infections, especially those with hard to control eczema and/or MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections.
  • Chicken soup: Will homemade chicken soup help your kids heal faster? A lot of people think it will, but even if it doesn't, a bowl of chicken soup will likely make them feel better, and will give them some electrolytes (from the salty broth) and protein (from the chicken.
  • Neti pots: Using a Neti pot can help provide nasal irrigation for kids with chronic sinus infections, allergies, congestion, and dry nose due to exposure to dry air.
  • Sitz baths: A sitz bath is a warm water bath with salt or baking soda that your child sits in for 10 or 15 minutes. These baths can be helpful for children with vaginitis or inflammation around their vaginal area, which can be caused by bubble baths, improper wiping, or wearing wet clothes too long after swimming.
  • Tincture of time: This is a fancy way of saying "Patience," or waiting out a condition. Tincture of time works well for most viral infections, especially for things like the common cold, stomach flu, and even warts.

Home Remedies to Avoid

While some home remedies are harmless (and may have benefit, even if it is just a placebo effect), there are some home remedies that are quite dangerous and should be avoided.

  • Cleaning cuts and scrapes with antiseptics like hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol can damage surrounding healthy tissue. Use soap and lots of warm water instead.
  • Ear candles may start fires and/or cause burns to the face, ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear. They may also injure the ear with dripping wax, plug the ear with candle wax, or cause bleeding or even puncture of the eardrum. See your pediatrician for manual removal of the ear wax instead.
  • Gasoline, kerosene, rubbing alcohol, dog shampoo, or agricultural pesticides, sometimes used to kill head lice, can all be toxic.
  • Giving aspirin to children and teens can be associated with Reye syndrome.
  • Honey can be used to treat coughs. It is safe, and as effective as cough medicine, for children who are at least 1 year old. But honey can be contaminated with spores of Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which can cause botulism in children under twelve months old.
  • Putting butter, peanut butter, or ointments on burns can hold heat in the skin, causing further damage. These treatments also increase the risk of infection.
  • Some traditional herbal remedies and folk remedies, including Greta, Azarcon, Ghasard, and Ba-baw-san, may contain lead, and can lead to lead poisoning.
  • Using rubbing alcohol or cold water as fever reducers are not effective. Rubbing alcohol can be absorbed through your child's skin and cold water can cause shivering, which can actually raise your child's temperature.
  • Restricting milk and milk products when your child has a cough or fever is not helpful. Milk doesn't cause mucus build-up or worsen a fever. Kids who are sick need fluids and milk provides important nutrients for many children.

Best Home Remedies by Illness

Try these safe and effective home remedies instead:

  • Bee stings: After removing the stinger by scraping it out with a credit card (don't pull it out with tweezers), home remedies for bee stings include applying a cool compress, meat tenderizer solution (soak a cotton ball in a mixture of one part meat tenderizer and 4 parts of water and apply it to the sting for 15 to 20 minutes), baking soda paste, or topical steroid to the bee sting.
  • Colds and sinus infections: For a cold or sinus infection, remedies include rest, drinking lots of extra fluids, using a cool mist humidifier or steam vaporizer, and a Neti pot for chronic sinus infections. Remember that the use of over-the-counter cold and cough medicines is discouraged for use in kids under the age of four years.
  • Constipation: Increase the amount of fiber in a child's diet and decrease high-fat foods, which can be constipating. Provide a stool to prop their foot on when using the toilet. This helps them bear down, which can make it easier to poop. It's also helpful to encourage daily exercise, and when necessary, use a stool softener. Karo syrup is a common home remedy for constipation that some parents try.
  • Cradle cap: Cradle cap is usually a mild condition, but it can sometimes be more extensive and does distress some parents. Home remedies include simply waiting for it to go away as the baby gets older, rubbing baby oil onto the scales and crust and then washing it out after about 10 or 15 minutes, applying a mild topical steroid to the affected areas, or washing your baby's hair with an antiseborrheic or anti-dandruff​ shampoo such as Selsun Blue a few times a week.
  • Croup: Most parents are familiar with the home remedies for coughing from croup, which can include the use of a cool mist humidifier, taking the child into a steamy bathroom (close the door and turn on all of the hot water), or taking your child outside on a cool night. Keep in mind that steroids and/or breathing treatments might be needed for more severe cases, especially if your child with croup is having trouble breathing.
  • Diarrhea: In addition to giving kids with diarrhea lots of extra fluids to prevent dehydration, extra probiotics are one home remedy that many parents try.
  • Earache: When a child has ear pain, parents often try applying a warm or cold washcloth on the outside of the ear, using a heating pad on the ear, or placing a few drops of olive oil in the ear. A pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, will likely provide more long-term relief, though.
  • Eczema: Recommended home remedies to prevent and control eczema often include the regular use of moisturizers and mild soaps or soap substitutes. However, topical steroids, typically prescription strength, are often needed for flares.
  • Fever: Treating a fever isn't necessary, unless a child is so uncomfortable that they have trouble eating or sleeping. In that case, the best remedy is age-appropriate doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil).
  • Head lice: Most natural home remedies involve applying products such as mayonnaise or oil to smother the head lice, but no research has shown that these work. The most effective head lice remedy is to use an over-the-counter or prescription shampoo, followed by removing the nits and live lice with a lice comb and/or tweezers.
  • Itching: Home remedies for itching, like from poison ivy, can include soaking in an oatmeal bath; applying a non-steroidal topical cream or lotion, such as calamine lotion, aloe vera gel, or Sarna Ultra Anti-Itch Cream, to itchy areas; or using wet dressings, compresses, or soaks with Domeboro powder packets (modified Burow's solution). Oral antihistamines and topical steroid creams can also be helpful to treat itching, although steroids should be avoided if the itching is caused by a viral infection, like chicken pox.
  • Jaundice: Jaundice is common in babies and the only real home remedy is to make sure that your baby is feeding well. Putting your baby in sunlight is not recommended as a safe way of treating jaundice at home, as it can cause sunburn.
  • Reflux: Home remedies for acid reflux in infants usually begin with feeding babies smaller amounts more frequently and keeping them upright after they eat. If a baby's reflux symptoms are bothersome, your pediatrician can help you with other treatments, which might include thickening your baby's formula, changing to a formula designed for babies with reflux, or prescribing a medication for reflux.
  • Swimmer's ear: To prevent swimmer's ear, place a few drops of rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or a commercial product, like Swim-Ear, in a child's ears after swimming. Treatment for swimmer's ear usually includes the use of a prescription antibiotic ear drop, although an alternative home remedy might include drops made from white vinegar or equal parts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol).
  • Urinary tract infections: Drinking cranberry juice is a common home remedy for preventing urinary tract infections (and whether this works is not clear). But it is not a cure and can't relieve symptoms. An antibiotic will need to be prescribed to treat your child's UTI.
  • Vomiting: Home remedies for vomiting usually include giving kids frequent small amounts of an oral rehydration solution or electrolyte solution. Your doctor may also prescribe Zofran if your child is at risk of dehydration from vomiting.
  • Warts: Home remedies for warts range from the silly (selling your warts, or rubbing them with a variety of objects to get rid of them) to the downright painful (freezing or applying blistering agents). Although it may sound silly, applying duct tape to warts was shown in some older studies to be one of the better wart treatments available, although it can take up to two months for it to work. However, newer research says that duct tape is not any more effective than other wart treatments.
15 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.