Coughing is something that all children experience when they ‘catch a cold’, and sometimes it can be most distressing for parents. Usually, a child will experience severe coughing fits at night whilst they - and everyone else - are trying to sleep.
Whilst it can be an inconvenience for the busy, modern parents, the best thing for children is to be kept home from school and allow the body’s own natural healing process to take place, but more importantly it also means that a child won’t ‘share’ their illness with all their classmates; the common cold - or upper respiratory tract infection - is probably the most common cause for school absence.
Paediatrics as a specialist medicine was really developed during the Song dynasty period in China, around the 11th Century. The understanding that children required something slightly different to adults led to the development of specific massage (tui-na) and acupuncture techniques, as well as paediatric herbal formulas. Children are understood to be inherently more yang - as this is the period of phenomenal growth and development, which requires an abundance of Qi and yang-energies. This also means that there is a relative deficiency of yin, and so this constitutional factor needs to be taken into account when developing treatments for children. Their immune systems are also considered inherently weaker, as they are still in the process of developing fully, and so tend to get sicker easier and quicker; the upshot to that is that they also get better quicker than adults too! As with adults, and congenital factors also need to be taken into account.
There are some key things to look out for, and let your practitioner know about which assist in determining the correct treatment. What does the cough sound like - is it a strong, loud barking cough; or a weak, quiet one? Is it dry? If there is phlegm, is it coming up easily? What colour is the phlegm? Is the throat sore? Is there a headache? Is there a fever? Is the child sore? Is there any nasal mucus, and if so what colour is it? How long has the cough been going for?
Chinese herbal medicine is particular good for this kind of ailment, but it is also useful to be combined with a session of acupuncture and/or massage. Most children may not be keen on having acupuncture needles stuck in them, which is why massage that stimulates the same points and channels can be better in these situations. The other benefit of taking your child into seeing a Chinese Medicine practitioner is so they can assess the nature of the condition and guide you to what needs to be done.
With getting your child to take medicine, I find that using a syringe (around 10ml) is useful, as it also turns the taking of the medicine into a kind of game - they get to squeeze the syringe themselves, thus also teaching them (in a subtle manner) about taking responsibility for their own health. It also means the medicine will get through and bypassing most of the taste buds! When coughing is the main complaint, I will often combine the medicine with a herbal cough syrup - usually containing honey - which will sweeten the flavour somewhat. There are quite a few good herbal cough syrups that are available from most Asian grocery stores as well as Chinese Medicine dispensaries.
And there is plenty that a parent can do at home to speed up recovery. Dietary therapy is of particular importance for all kinds of paediatric illnesses, due to the undeveloped nature of the child’s digestive system. Teas are very useful for treating the common cold, and particularly so for a cough and a sore throat. The types of teas are again dependant on which pattern of illness your child presents with. ‘Heat’ patterns need to be treated with ‘cool’ teas, foods, and herbs, while ‘cold’ patterns need the opposite. If the Lungs are dry (distinguished by a dry cough), they need moistening; whilst the presence of phlegm suggests the use of substances that will ‘dry up’ the mucus.
Another useful method is massaging the child’s chest with some Tiger Balm when they go to bed. Tiger Balm is said to help promote the movement of Qi and disperse the Qi-stagnation in the Lungs. The smell of the camphor can also help clear the nasal passages, allowing the child to breathe easier through their nose, thus reducing the need to breathe through their mouth, where pathogens lodge in the throat (the first signs of a cold are usually the distinctive sore throat and blocked nose). Baby-boomers may remember having camphor pinned to their undergarments to prevent getting sick; dabbing a spot of Tiger Balm behind the ears and on the throat is used for the same reason.
Here is our family recipe for Chicken Soup - it’s what we were always given when we were sick growing up. It provides nourishment (Qi) to help keep the body strong and fight infection. And it tastes wonderful, and kids love it! Enjoy....
“Avgolemono” - Chicken soup with egg & lemon
1x whole chicken - free-range or organic
1x stick celery
pepper & salt
1x cup rice
2-3x free-range/organic eggs
20-30g sliced Huang Qi (Astragalus radix) - available from all good Asian grocers. This is optional.
In a large pot of water, bring to the boil the chicken, carrot, celery, onion, and salt/pepper. Boil for 1 hour. If using the Astragalus root, stuff it into the cavity of the chicken.
After this time, remove the vegies & the chicken (carefully) and place in an oven tray. The chicken can be roasted, to provide a second meal, thus getting value for money!
Add the rice to the broth, and boil until rice is ready.
Whilst the rice is cooking, beat the eggs and the juice of the lemon together in a large bowl. When the rice is cooked, turn off heat, and begin to slowly ladle the liquid (not the rice) into your egg/lemon mixture, and continue to beat to create a fluffy mixture. The purpose of this is to slowly bring the egg/lemon mixture to the same temperature as the soup, so the egg will not curdle. Keep ladling soup into the bowl until it feels the same temperature as the soup pot. Then transfer this back into the soup pot. Add salt/lemon juice to taste (if necessary). Serve with some ground pepper.