What Parents Can Do Against Colds and Flu

When your child is sick in bed, it’s especially important for parents to take a responsible approach to medication. Paediatrician Dr. Alfred Längler addresses key guidelines for parents at their child’s bedside, the role of Anthroposophic Medicine and why illnesses play an important role in childhood development.

They say that prevention is the best medicine. What should parents know in general about preventive care?

Dr. Alfred Längler: I think that it’s important for parents to form their own opinions on the issue of prophylaxis. These considerations should begin even before the child’s birth, with the question of whether to give their newborn vitamin K and in what form. Similar issues surround vitamin D for the prevention of rickets, as well as vaccinations. It’s best for parents to consult their paediatrician on the reasoning behind such recommendations, and especially on the natural development of each illness that the vaccination is meant for, and the possible related risks and benefits. 

What else can parents do for their child’s health?

AL: For me, the promotion of health should not be a defensive approach that encourages passivity, in the sense of protecting against illness. Instead, parents should try to actively shape their children’s environment, to support them in developing their own natural defences. The focus should be on how the family conducts their life as a whole, and helping each family member to maintain or regain their health as needed. This finds resonance in how they organise their daily and weekly activities, and also how they experience together the course of the year. Establish a daily pattern, with regular group meals and a healthy sleep-wake rhythms. Nutrition quality, physical exercise and a conscious approach to the use of multimedia also play a significant role. Furthermore, it is important that parents trust their children to do things on their own, within a framework the parents set and which they can monitor.

What is the role of illnesses in a child’s development?

AL: In principle, getting sick is a prerequisite for long-term health. Children that have been through more febrile illnesses without taking fever-reducing medication are less susceptible to asthma and allergies. This is similarly the case with overcoming the “classic children’s diseases”, which are referred to as such because they have a meaningful place during childhood, and can be especially dangerous if they occur in early infancy, adolescence or adulthood. When a child gets sick, what is generally needed is good support during the course of the illness – instead of abruptly halting the course of the illness by suppressing its symptoms with “anti”-medications. A sustainably healthy immune system develops as it overcomes illnesses. 

It is important that parents trust their children to do things on their own.
Prof. Dr. med. Alfred Längler

What are common illnesses for newborns, babies and children? 

AL: Most of the illnesses that occur in newborns and infants are associated with their arrival into the world. A newborn must first adapt to the new environment, which can lead to related disorders. These include ailments of the respiratory and cardiovascular system directly after birth or in the first days and weeks, or deviations from normal adaptive processes, such as neonatal jaundice or difficulties with digestion. Later there are often teething troubles, which are frequently accompanied by the first febrile infection, usually of the upper airways. Febrile illnesses are common in toddlers, especially the classic children’s diseases. By the time they are ready to begin school at the age of five or six, most children have built up a sturdy immune system, and enter the age of greatest health. Of course, severe unforeseen diseases can occur in individual cases at any age, and require special attention by a doctor. 

How do parents know what medicines are suitable for their child? 

AL: When a doctor prescribes a medicine, he or she will take care that it is suitable for the respective child. Parents should not give their child medicine that was prescribed to treat their own similar adult symptoms without prior consultation with a doctor – after all, children are not small adults. The body of a child differs greatly from that of an adult. Their metabolism works quite differently, and the organs and organ functions are differently pronounced. Since non-prescription drugs can be purchased directly at the pharmacy, parents should always inform the pharmacist that they need the medication for their child. In case of doubt, the package insert also contains information on the correct dosage.

What is the difference between chemical and Anthroposophic medicines?

 AL: Chemical medicines are usually developed to counteract something, for instance, to block a receptor and thereby inhibit a metabolic process. In this way, they work to “turn off” the illness. Anthroposophic medications are designed to support the organism to help itself and find its own way out of the illness.

Are natural medicines always suitable for children? 

AL: The term “natural” is often associated with the notion of being harmless or without possible side effects. However, some of the most powerful substances can be found in nature. This means that both natural and chemically manufactured medications must be carefully reviewed, as to whether they are suitable for children.

Anthroposophic medications support the organism to help itself and find its own way out of the illness
Prof. Dr. med. Alfred Längler

Sometimes children have a number of different symptoms – in this case, is it possible to give them different homeopathic remedies at the same time? 

AL: There are a number of homeopathic and Anthroposophic medicines that have been developed to address several symptoms of an illness – such as flu and fever, body aches and fatigue. But it can also be both sensible and necessary to administer multiple medications at the same time. Still, it’s important to keep the overall situation in perspective, and rarely are more than three or four substances useful or helpful.

What are the limits of self-medication?

AL: Whenever parents have an uneasy feeling about their child’s health, they should take their child to the doctor. Also, for example, if a fever lasts longer than three days, or if their child becomes increasingly weak or listless.

What should parents do if their child refuses to take a particular medicine? 

AL: If the medication has been prescribed by a doctor, parents should consult that doctor. There might be another dosage form or alternative preparation that the child will more readily accept. In the case of self-medication, parents should seek an alternative non-pharmaceutical home remedy that the child is more willing to take. Sometimes it simply helps to administer the medicine in a playful way or mixed into something tasty, such as fruit yoghurt.

What are some proven home remedies? 

AL: There are a number of proven home remedies that are still used today to treat sick children. These include calf wraps for fever, quark compresses for abscesses, or a compress of oak bark tea for severe diaper rash. Proven remedies also include herbal teas and liniments. Depending on the severity of the illness, I recommend using such home remedies to complement a medicine-based therapy and in consultation with the attending physician. 

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Prof. Dr. med. Alfred Längler

Senior Physician in the Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Community Hospital in Herdecke, Germany.

Additionally he is a Professor of Integrative Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the University of Witten/Herdecke.