Children suffer respiratory illness up to every six weeks during winter
The first cold snap of the year has just whipped through the country and we are seeing a predictable increase in respiratory infections, particularly with children. Interestingly (but potentially alarming) is the frequency with which young children contract an infection – up to every six weeks. Often children may just be more tired than usual and will shake off the infection overnight. However they can develop signs of the infection developing further – i.e. higher temperature, coughing, sneezing and an increase in sticky mucus in the respiratory tracts in the head and chest.
Respiratory congestion – the natural response to infection
Respiratory infections in children always seem to sound and look worse than they do with adults. This is primarily due to their much smaller breathing passages; any increase in respiratory mucus due to an infection blocks up or congests the breathing passages in the chest and the nasal passages in particular.
An increase in respiratory mucus is the body’s natural method of protecting the mucus membranes, and is also the mucus membranes’ response to inflammation caused by an infection. A cough often accompanies the increase in mucus; this is caused by the irritation of the mucus membranes in the lungs. A cough can be a useful way for the body to move the excess mucus produced by the infection – we call this a wet or productive cough.
Wet or dry coughs – what’s the difference?
As herbalists we look to differentiate coughs in two ways – a wet cough or a dry cough – and we are always searching for the cause of the cough. A wet cough (or productive cough) is one that produces or expectorates mucus – i.e. you cough up lumps of mucus (and better to spit this out rather than swallow it). A dry cough has no mucus expectorated – i.e. an unproductive cough. These coughs are often somewhat tickly in nature and can also result in coughing fits.
Herbs traditionally used to relieve coughing
The plant kingdom has for centuries provided us with the natural ingredients to relieve and soothe coughing as well as helping expectorate excess mucus.
Herbs such as Mullein leaves and Marshmellow root, which contain mucilage, have a long history of traditional use to soothe inflamed airways which helps to reduce coughing. These two herbs are viewed as being relaxing expectorants; studies on Marshmellow root demonstrate significant antitussive activity (reducing the frequency and severity of a cough).
Ivy leaves also soothe the airways and are well indicated for dry irritated coughs; ivy leaves appear to increase the amount of mucus secretion and relax the airways. Clinical trials support the use of Ivy Leaf and Marshmellow root in cases of coughing due to the formation of mucus – i.e. colds, bronchitis, etc.
Pelargonium – 5 star rating for respiratory support
Perhaps one of the most promising herbs for a wide range of respiratory condition is Pelargonium root. This plant was traditionally used in South Africa for digestive conditions and respiratory infections. Clinical studies have shown that Pelargonium has:
- reduced symptoms and duration of illness in patients with acute bronchitis not requiring antibiotics
- improved symptoms in acute and chronic sinusitis
- reduced severity of symptoms and duration of illness in common cold
Chest Soothe Day and Chest Soothe Night
By combining the 5 star herbs (Pelargonium, Marshmellow root, Mullein and Ivy leaves), we have a potent formula to soothe that hacking dry cough and reduce the duration and severity of a respiratory infection. Soothing the cough to help children feel more comfortable is important but we must not forget that a cough is good – we need to allow the lungs to move and get rid of the excess mucus and return to their usual equilibrium.
Making sure children have sufficient rest and quality sleep is vitally important to aid their recovery from any infection. Coughing during the night will often keep children awake or adds to broken sleep. Medicinal herbs have a role to play in reducing the cough so as to allow a better night’s sleep.
Wild Cherry bark has traditionally been used to suppress a cough and is often used prior to bedtime and during the night to assist with a good night’s sleep by reducing coughing. We’ve included Wild Cherry bark in Chest Soothe Night together with soothing herbs such as Marshmellow and Licorice roots; these help soothe inflamed, irritated lung tissue and allow children to sleep better which will help recovery.
For best results make sure you discuss your specific needs with your local health professional. Or you can ask me more by getting in touch through our contact page. Wishing you and your children a healthy, happy winter!