By Lawrence Rosen, MD
Bumps, burns, bruises and bites: a typical summer day in the life of anyone with kids.
The good news? These and other common summer ailments typically respond to safe and easy-to-use natural remedies. Some parents are skeptical that natural cures don’t work as well as conventional OTC treatments – you know, the ones loaded with chemicals you can’t pronounce but sure sound like serious medicines.
My advice? Skip the chemicals – and the side-effects – and check out my top nine natural summertime cures.
(Disclaimer: If you’re concerned an illness or injury may be serious enough to warrant immediate medical attention or is worsening with any home treatment, call your doctor.)
For pesky insect bites, go to your kitchen cabinet before your medicine cabinet. Baking soda has alkaline properties that help neutralize insect bites. You can apply topically as a paste by mixing the baking soda with a small amount of water. Apply as needed until the pain and itching subside.
2. Bumps and Bruises
My go-to option for bumps before they become bruises is Arnica montana (aka “wound herb”), derived from the daisy family. Arnica can be applied topically in ointment form or can be taken orally in homeopathic form (under the tongue).
I generally recommend the 30c dilution for acute oral use. A typical regimen is 5 pellets given every 15 minutes for the first hour, then hourly for four hours and then every 2-4 hours for the remainder of the first 24 hours (while awake). I then recommend taking 5 pellets three times a day for several days until any soreness or bruising has resolved.
For children who cannot or will not put the tablets under their tongue, you can dissolve the pellets in water and let them sip gradually over a few hours. Topical arnica can be used separately or in addition.
“Like cures like” according to one of the core principles of homeopathic medicine. Therefore, for bee stings, I recommend homeopathic Apis mellifica, derived from the honeybee. For acute use, again, the 30c strength is optimal, and this is definitely one remedy you want to start ASAP to limit the pain, redness and swelling from the sting. You can follow the same general dosing guidelines used for Arnica cited above.
If you have one plant in your house, it should be Aloe vera. The medical use of the Aloe plant can be traced back over 6,000 years to early Egypt based on evidence from ancient stone carvings.
The sticky gel found inside the spiky leaves contains numerous natural chemicals that block pain, itching, inflammation and infection, while increasing circulation to speed healing. Of course, you can buy Aloe vera gel if you don’t have a plant handy, and you should apply the gel to the sunburn as often as needed to soothe the inflamed skin.
My first-line option for minor skin irritations is topical Calendula officinalis, derived from the marigold. Calendula possesses potent wound healing capabilities. Apply topically as needed, usually three times a day. Calendula comes in ointment, cream and gel formulations, and it’s so safe that it’s included in many baby diaper rash products.
Cuts and scrapes “gone bad” can lead to weepy, crusty skin infections known as “impetigo.” Caused by staph or strep skin bacteria, impetigo does not necessarily need antibiotic treatment. The best natural solution? Honey. Not by mouth, but directly on the skin. Yes, you read that right. In fact, one special type of honey – Manuka, from New Zealand – has incredible natural antibacterial properties. Apply a small amount to the infected area three times a day and prepare to be amazed.
7. Swimmer’s Ear
Some kids swim so much each summer you’d swear they’ll grow gills. Not likely, but some actually do get horrible ear aches known as “swimmer’s ear” or otitis externa, an infection and inflammation of the ear canal. Typical conventional prescriptions include topical antibiotic and steroid drops, but there are two safer alternatives you can try first. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) contains acetic acid, proven effective in treating the pain and swelling from swimmer’s ear. Place a few drops of ACV into the affected ear three or four times a day for relief.
Another DIY option is garlic oil eardrops. Crush a clove of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil, stir well, and warm slightly on the stove. Mix well and strain out the garlic pieces. Be careful to not make it hot – even room temperature is fine. Instill a few drops of the garlic infused olive oil into the affected ear three times a day until the pain has gone. Both the garlic and olive oil have natural anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
With summer comes heat. Some kids are better than others about staying hydrated, but even the most diligent can suffer from heat exhaustion on particularly steamy days. Looking for a good alternative to artificially colored and sweetened sports drinks? Consider coconut water, perhaps nature’s best rehydration solution. Rich in natural electrolytes, coconut water is now readily available and provides a more holistic option to stay hydrated on those hot summer days. Taste an issue? Flavor with a small amount of herbal tea like mint or lemon.
9. Motion Sickness
Summer road trip on the agenda this year? Long rides in cars or on boats, planes or trains can be tricky business when traveling with motion-sickness prone youngsters. Next time you’re faced with this dilemma, consider giving your child some ginger. All forms of this natural anti-nausea gem can be helpful, including chewables, capsules or teas. Give a small amount just before you go and regularly throughout the journey as needed.
An additional remedy I find really effective are “sea bands,” those wrist bands that come with little buttons on the inside. Place the bands on both wrists so that the button lies on the P6 pressure point (an acupressure trigger point located three finger breadths below the main crease below the palm of the hand, right between the two stringy tendons you’ll feel there). Your child can massage the points gently over the bands for added pressure (and distraction) if need be. Happy traveling!
Dr. Lawrence Rosen, respected integrated pediatrician, has released Treatment Alternatives For Children, providing natural solutions to over 100 common ailments. With summer bug bites, burns and asthma on the rise, Dr. Rosen’s book is a go-to guide for all parents. As one of the only pediatricians in the United States to have an integrated practice merging eastern and western medicine, Dr. Rosen is NY-based and the father of two pre-teens.