Relieve chapped skin. When the skin under a runny nose becomes red and sore so that it hurts when your child blows his nose, smear a bit of petroleum jelly around the nostrils. "It's very comforting," says David Horwitz, M.D., clinical associate professor of pediatrics at New York University, who has long used this remedy for his son, Daniel, now 11. (If your child is also prone to eczema, dab a little antibiotic ointment -- neomycin-free, since many kids are allergic -- inside each nostril twice a day. It wards off a type of staph infection that can develop when bacteria in mucus flow into chapped skin, keeping eczema at bay.)
Serve broth. It doesn't matter whether it's chicken or not: "It's the hot fluid and aroma that help loosen mucus," says Irwin Ziment, M.D., professor emeritus of clinical medicine at UCLA School of Medicine. The broth also soothes a scratchy throat. Add garlic (if your child likes it) for extra mucus-clearing powers.
Make your own nose drops. David Fleece, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Temple University School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, used the following remedy when his daughter, Clio, was 2 months and had a cold. It's for babies, who can't blow their nose when their tiny nasal passages fill with mucus: Stir a quarter teaspoon of salt into a cup of lukewarm water; then, with a nose dropper, place a couple of drops into each nostril. Wait a few seconds to let your baby sneeze, then gently suction out the secretions with a bulb syringe. "Mix up a fresh supply daily, and use the drops hourly," says Dr. Fleece. "But suction your baby's nostrils only three or four times a day because overusing the syringe causes nasal tissues to swell, which defeats the purpose."
Call the doctor if your child's cough and runny nose last more than a week or he develops such symptoms as ear pain, a sore throat, or a fever for more than three days. (Call at the first signs of illness if your baby is under 6 months.)
Put a sock on it. To ease an earache, put a potato in the microwave and cook it on high until it's soft, stick it in a thick sock, and hold it to your child's ear. (Check it against your own ear first to make sure it doesn't have too-hot spots.) "The narrow passages between the ears, nose, and throat plug up easily, and heat reduces the painful inflammation and swelling," says Anju Sawni, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Wayne State University School of Medicine, in Detroit.
Call the doctor if your child is 2 or younger, as a minor ear infection can turn more serious. For an older child, call if mild pain persists for more than 24 hours, if she's in great pain, or if she runs a temperature of 102°F or higher. "You may not need an antibiotic, but you should get a diagnosis," says Audrey Kunin, M.D., assistant clinical instructor of dermatology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and founder of Dermadoctor.com.
Colicky Babies & Tummy Trouble, Part 1
Some babies between 1 and 3 months cry inconsolably for hours at a time, at about the same time every day. Many physicians believe the cause is an immature digestive system. "It's a behavior, not a condition, that's at the upper end of the spectrum of normally developing infants," says pediatrician Joy Weydert, M.D., director of Integrative Pain Management at Children's Mercy Hospital, in Kansas City, Missouri. "Colicky babies don't cry more often, just longer. It takes them more time to make the transition to a quiet state." To help:
Use a tender touch. After bathing your infant, apply baby oil and rub up and down his arms and legs; then rub in circles from the hips toward the tummy. "This stimulates the belly and may relieve gas," says Dr. Sawni.
Soothe with chamomile. "It's the only herbal preparation for colic that's been scientifically studied," says Dr. Weydert, "and it has definite calming effects." Her recipe: Steep one heaping teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers (available in health-food stores) in one cup of hot water for five to ten minutes. "Cool to room temperature and give the baby two tablespoons three or four times a day as needed," she says.
Call the doctor if your infant cries constantly all day and can't be comforted; he may have reflux, milk intolerance, or pyloric stenosis (a condition caused by a narrowing at the stomach's end).
Try a spoonful of heavy syrup (not light) from peaches or other canned fruit. "Have your child -- if she's over age one -- take a few spoonfuls about every twenty minutes," suggests Dr. Fleece. The heavy syrup soothes the tummy, though no one is sure why. But skip acidic fruits like pineapple, which irritate the gut.
Call the doctor if your child has repeated bouts for more than a few hours and can't hold down fluids. Watch for signs of dehydration -- decreased urination, dry mouth, tearless crying -- especially in a child who's vomited at least ten times in a single day. Also seek medical attention if she's in severe pain or the vomit is bloody or greenish, which may signal a bowel obstruction.
Shiners & Tummy Trouble, Part 2
For a shiner, lay an egg on it. If a wayward ball hits your child's eye, freeze a raw egg in its shell for three or four minutes (any longer and it might explode), put it in a plastic bag, then hold it to the eye to ease pain and swelling. "An egg's just the right size to fit in the eye's contour," says Dr. Horwitz.
For pinkeye, apply compresses. First, get medical treatment for the condition (conjunctivitis), then soothe the pain and itching with cotton balls soaked in warm water and placed on the eyes. Replace them often, as pus may ooze from the eyes. "Pinkeye is very contagious, so use disposable cotton balls, not a washcloth," says Mark Stegelman, M.D., a pediatric urgent-care physician at Emory Eastside Medical Center, in Atlanta.
For a sty, try a tea bag. If your child develops a bump near the eyelash or in the eyelid, dip a bag of regular tea in warm water, squeeze out most of it, and put the bag on the affected eye for about ten minutes. "It reduces swelling because tea contains tannins, which stimulate secretions from the mucus glands," says Dr. Horwitz. "Plus, the warmth increases blood flow."
Call the doctor if the sty doesn't resolve within four days; it may need to be removed. Call immediately if your child's eye is reddened by illness or injury (a black eye may indicate damage to the eye socket, for instance). Antibiotic eyedrops are usually prescribed for pinkeye -- even though the drug won't treat viruses, it's difficult to tell whether a case is viral or bacterial.
Fight bad bugs with good bugs. A healthy digestive system is full of beneficial bacteria, and studies show that providing extra (through a supplement) to a child reduces diarrhea by almost a day on average. "Friendly bacteria seem to prevent pathogens in the intestines from taking over," says lead study author Cornelius Van Niel, M.D., clinical assistant professor in pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Many yogurts contain these good-for-you lactobacillus bacteria, and they're worth a try, says Dr. Van Niel. But for recurrent bouts, the best bet may be a probiotics supplement, available in health-food stores. "A twice-daily dose of 10 billion live organisms is most effective," he says. First talk to your pediatrician, who can advise whether this is right for your child.
Call the doctor if loose stools are bloody (a sign of bacterial infection) or if your child has a fever or symptoms of dehydration, such as reduced urination, dry mouth and eyes, and listlessness.
Croupy Kids & Irritated Bottoms
Plenty of parents have awakened in alarm to the sound of croup -- a viral infection characterized by a harsh, barking, seal-like cough. Your pediatrician can help you determine whether it's croup -- and mild enough to treat at home. If so, try these:
Take a midnight stroll. "It's a classic story: Parents drive a croupy kid to the hospital in the middle of the night, and by the time they get there, the child is better," says Dr. Fleece. "The chilly, moist night air helps the airways." So save yourself a trip to the ER: Bundle up your child and go outdoors for five to ten minutes. A bonus: Gazing up at the stars will distract your anxious child.
Get steamed. If you can't run outdoors or it's below 40 degrees, run a hot shower and take your child into the bathroom (but not the shower), says Brianne O'Connor, M.D., a pediatrician in private practice in Brooklyn, New York. That's what she did for her son James when he was a croupy toddler. Warm, moist air -- like cool mist -- also reduces the throat inflammation that causes the cough, says Dr. O'Connor.
Call the doctor if moist air doesn't ease symptoms in 20 minutes. Call 911 if your child has trouble breathing or can't talk or cry.
Apply an antacid. When your baby has a red, bumpy bottom along with a bout of diarrhea, swab the rash with a liquid antacid after each diaper change. It neutralizes the acid in loose stools, which irritates the skin. Abraham Green, M.D., a pediatrician in private practice in Woodmere, New York, used this remedy "with excellent results" when his daughter Sheryl, now 6, was a baby in diapers.
Expose the problem. Yeast, the culprit behind many diaper rashes, thrives in warm, damp places -- the very characteristics of a diaper-clad bottom. So let your baby enjoy a little nakedness. "Promote healing by keeping your baby diaper-free for at least ten minutes after a diaper change," says Dr. Kunin. Keep your bare-bottomed baby outdoors, on a linoleum floor, or on a plastic sheet.
Call the doctor if the rash doesn't improve after 24 hours using home remedies or store-bought diaper-rash preparations -- or if it develops red streaks or blisters, which signal an infection and may require antibiotics.
Rachelle Vander Schaaf writes frequently for PARENTING and other national magazines.