Back to school often means a trip back to the doctor for kids and their parents. Your little germ magnets get exposed to coughs, colds, sore throats, and sniffles. They trade viruses faster than Pokémon cards, so ailments spread swiftly through the young crowd. Kids rarely make the hand washing all-star team, they stick toys in their mouths, and they often share food. In that spirit of sharing, they bring infections home for the whole family.
What’s more, since there are hundreds of different cold viruses, it’s impossible to build up complete immunity. That’s why kids suffer an average of six colds every school year. If you’re lucky, you might be able to avoid one or two. But chances are, whatever your child brings home will land on you as well. And even if you don’t catch it, if your child is too ill to go to school, you’ll probably have to take a sick day too.
The season’s circulating viruses bring on the three most common back-to-school complaints: colds, sore throat, and earaches. In the best-case scenario, your child won’t get sick at all or the illness will only knock them out for a day or two. You can make those the most likely outcomes by taking a preventive approach. To do that, you need to know exactly what you’re up against.
Bugs to Beat
Colds—officially called rhinoviruses—rank among the most contagious ailments on Earth, especially in the classroom. Marked by runny noses, soggy sneezes, and copious coughing, colds spread easily and quickly. Symptoms usually appear within two days after infection. Most of the time, colds disappear after a week or so with no trip to the pediatrician necessary. Sometimes, though, they can evolve into more serious infections (like bronchitis, for example), calling for a doctor visit.
Sore throat comes from a variety of sources, from common colds to post-nasal drip to the super dry air in heated rooms. Sometimes though, streptococcal pharyngitis—the dreaded “strep throat”—makes the rounds. How can you tell the difference? Strep throat often comes with a high fever, painful swallowing, and nausea. The strep bug may call for a round of antibiotics.
Earaches often grow out of colds, but sometimes they just crop up out of nowhere. Otitis media (the official moniker for an earache) can be shockingly painful and may come with a fever. And while antibiotics used to be the go-to treatment, that’s no longer the standard except for the most severe cases.
With all of these illnesses working against you, it can be a challenge to keep your family healthy once school starts up.
Arm yourself with a natural “antiviral first aid kit” so you and your kids can sidestep most of the viruses floating around. And if you do succumb, you’ll have milder symptoms and get better faster. For complete protection against back-to-school germs, stock your kit with these three thoroughly researched and Dr. Mom-approved remedies.
Andrographis: You may have never heard of andrographis, but you’ll fall in love with it during cold and flu season. Several clinical studies have clearly demonstrated its cold-fighting powers. Andrographis can prevent the common cold from taking hold—even in kids who are constantly exposed. When cold symptoms do show up, andrographis helps banish them in no time flat. Studies show that it reduces symptom intensity (especially runny noses and sore throats) in just two days, and dramatically decreases even the worst symptoms (like earaches and coughing) by day three.
For best results, look for a standardized andrographis supplement that contains at least 80 mg of andrographolides, the key virus-killing compound. For preventing colds and other infections, take 400 to 1,200 mg of standardized andrographis every day, starting about three weeks before the kids are back in school.
Propolis: “Bee glue” may sound weird, but it’s one of the most protective substances in the world. Propolis—a.k.a. bee glue—coats, seals, and strengthens beehives. More important, it protects the bees inside against every invader imaginable, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Propolis also offers a broad-spectrum shield against a wide variety of infectious microbes in humans. That includes the bacteria that cause strep throat, flu viruses, and cold viruses. It can even kill off drug-resistant superbugs! Studies show that propolis (especially when combined with zinc) can reduce the frequency of ear infections, fight the flu, ward off colds, and shorten their duration.
Packed with protective bioflavonoids, antioxidants, and nutrients, propolis contains everything you need to thwart whatever germs the classroom sends your way. To maximize these benefits, most experts recommend a daily dose of 100 to 200 mg. Use care in choosing a propolis extract, though. The best extracts come from “controlled” environments, where hives are placed strategically near the most beneficial plants. Look for propolis that’s standardized, purified, and clear of beeswax.
Probiotics: Believe it or not, your digestive tract holds nearly 70 percent of your immune system. That’s why a healthy gut is your number one ally in the fight against back-to-school germs. Good bacteria (probiotics) strengthen and support your immune system, but things go awry when bad bacteria take over. Many things can contribute to an imbalance including antibiotics, poor diet, and stress.
The good news: You can restore good bacteria with a probiotic supplement. The bad news: Most probiotics sold on store shelves won’t deliver the beneficial bacteria you need. To get the best result, you’ll need at least 20 billion live, active probiotic bacteria in every dose. For full immune system support—and the ability to fight infections before they strike—look for proven probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.