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Beat the term time nasties

How to keep your family free from colds, viruses and head lice this autumn

September is just around the corner and while it’s great to have the kids back at school after the long summer, every parent knows this comes with a price – colds and head lice. “While ‘cold season’ itself doesn’t really kick off until later, at this time of year we get many parents looking for ways to boost kids’ immune systems in an effort to prevent coughs and colds,” says Elaine Melican of health store Open Sesame in Ennis, co Clare. “We also get many customers looking for ways to prevent head lice because outbreaks when kids go back to school are very common. Unfortunately because head lice only cause a bit of scratching they can often infect a class and then the wider school before they are detected.”

Immune-boosting prevention

“For coughs and colds a good multivitamin and mineral is a great place to start,” says Elaine Melican. “Look for one that contains immune-boosting nutrients such as vitamins A, C and D, zinc and selenium. Probiotics (live native bacteria) should be another consideration as 70-80% of our immune system is situated in our gut. There are children’s probiotics that contain added vitamin C and can be mixed through food or a drink, as well as chewable options.”

“Get out your aromatherapy diffuser,” says aromatherapist Ellen Cox of Irish essential oil company Atlantic Aromatics. “There is a lot of research about certain essential oils and their ability to inhibit airborne bacteria. My choice would be eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, tea tree, lemon, lemongrass and thyme. Diffuse in a well ventilated space and not around young babies under 12 weeks. Never use peppermint or eucalyptus on or around infants.”

Treatments for the common cold

Hand hygiene is important if someone has a viral infection in your family. Teach children to wash their hands, particularly after coughing or sneezing to limit the spread of germs. Keep rooms aired as dry stuffy environments can promote the spread of viruses. Other tips include: wipe surfaces with antibacterial wipes as some viruses can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours, use tissues then throw them away immediately, avoid crowded places where risk of infection is greater, avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth when in contact with a cold sufferer.

“There are a few steps that can reduce the likelihood of the infection spreading to the whole family,” says Elaine Melican. “Make sure they cover their mouth and nose with the crook of the elbow or use a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Washing hands regularly can reduce spread; we often touch our faces without realising. Use separate cups, plates and utensils for the infected individual – no sharing! In many houses toothbrushes are all stored together, but while infected it is best to keep that person’s toothbrush separate.”

“If you have a cold in the family keep diffusing,” says Ellen Cox. “In addition apply diluted essential oils to the body and baths. For 12 weeks–6 years old, dilute at 0.5% (approx. 2 drops essential oil in 10ml carrier/vegetable oil). Roman camomile and lavender are the only oils advised to use with babies. For 6-12 year olds, dilute 1% (4 drops essential oil in 10ml carrier). Eucalyptus smithii is a milder type of eucalyptus; combine it with lavender and Roman camomile and apply to the body and in baths. If the symptoms get worse, apply to the body 3-4 times a day, but do not increase the dilution. If a cold persists or there is any concern,visit your doctor or a qualified practitioner.”

“There are lots of different cough mixtures and antimicrobials out there to help reduce the symptoms and fight the invaders,” says Elaine Melican. “Reduce your intake of sugary foods, as they can suppress the immune system, drink plenty of fluids, especially if you have a temperature, and rest to give the body the time to fight. Nice warming soups with lots of different vegetables, garlic, herbs such as oregano or thyme, and mushrooms such as shiitake or maitake are not just comfort food, but will also give the immune system a real boost. Fresh lemon, ginger and honey tea is also not just a tasty, soothing drink – ginger has antimicrobial properties, and use a raw or Manuka honey for an extra boost.”

Head lice prevention

“Head lice are not a sign that someone is dirty or not washing their hair enough, anyone can get them,” says Elaine Melican. “The good news is there are some natural repellents that discourage unwanted passengers. Essential oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender and rosemary are all effective in repelling head lice. Simply mixing a few drops of one or a few of these oils in water and spraying on the child’s hair can be good.

“It can be hard to try to tell your child to keep their head away from their friends’ heads but you can teach them not to share hats or hair accessories, especially if there are confirmed lice in their school. Little girls love their long locks, but during an infestation its best to keep them tied up in a braid or ponytail. Shampoos that contain essential oils such as tea tree, neem or rosemary can be a deterrent. You can also add essential oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender and rosemary to water and spray on the child’s hair before they head out the door to school.”

Bye bye head lice

“If your child does arrive home with some ‘new friends’ don’t panic – there are lots of ways to kill them and prevent reinfection,” says Elaine Melican. “Natural head lice treatments can be very effective in killing both the lice and the eggs, you can also get special lice combs that will remove dead lice and eggs. Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there; lice can also live in soft furnishings and carpets. Wash all clothes your child has been wearing the last few days along with bed clothes in a hot wash. Put pillows and small stuffed animals in the dryer for 20 minutes. Any soft toys too big for the dryer should be sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks to suffocate any lice. Give everywhere a thorough hoovering, you can sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the carpet and leave for 15 minutes before hoovering to kill any lice. Don’t forget the car; thoroughly hoover the child’s car seat. Finally wash any helmets or hats your child may have worn in the recent past.”

“Essential oils can be very effective to treat and help prevent head lice,” says Ellen Cox. “Mix 100ml lavender water, 50 drops tea tree, 50 drops lavender, 50 drops geranium, 50 drops eucalyptus together. This gives a 4% dilution – for children, make the blend at 2% strength, which is half the quantities. For sensitive skin types and 6-12-year-olds halve it again (12 drops of each oil) for 1% strength.

Online resource
See Aromatic Musings on blog allthingsaromatic.wordpress.com for more information on cold season from aromatherapist Ellen Cox.

Natural help

Aloe vera – for immune-boosting and anti-viral properties, a booster during any infection.

Bee propolis – has reputed antiviral properties and is rich in bioflavonoids. Buy as a powder, granules, capsule, extract or tincture.

Beta-glucans – derived from mushrooms, can boost a weakened immune system.

Vitamin C – recommended in the fight against viruses.

Vitamin D – maintain adequate levels to keep your immunity levels strong.

Echinacea – works to support your immune system.

Elderberry tincture or syrup – can lessen the seriousness of an infection.

Herbal teas – soothing on a sore throat or for respiratory infections – ginger, peppermint, eucalyptus, elderberry and echinacea are good.

Manuka honey – look for the UMF logo to guarantee anti-inflammatory properties.

Olive leaf extract – an antioxidant-rich immune supporter.

Selenium – the antioxidants in selenium can help the body fight a cold.

South American fruit camu camu – for amazingly high levels of vitamin C.

Zinc – can help fight infection and shorten the duration of a cold.

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