A cry rang out over the gorgeous sunset on our vacation on Grand Manan Island, NB. But it wasn’t the familiar squawk of a seagull. It was my toddler, Sasha.

Sasha clutched her foot. We winced to see a long, thick sliver from the porch deep in her skin. Sasha braved the prodding of my wife’s fingers as she pulled out part of the sliver. But when I brought out the tweezers to go after the rest of it, Sasha just about lost her mind.

What were we to do? Go to the hospital? A Google search convinced us to try a home remedy first. And wouldn’t you know, it worked!

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Before the days of 24-hour pharmacies and WebMD, parents consulted wise old Granny who’d whip up a curative concoction out of something in the kitchen or garden. But which remedies really work, and what’s just myth? Here are some tried-and-true ways to handle common kid discomforts at home, with modern medical professionals weighing in on their merits.

Please consult a health professional to ask about your child’s specific condition.

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What to do: First, try removing the splinter with your fingers or disinfected tweezers. Or gently apply duct tape to the area, taking care not to push the splinter further in, then slowly pull the tape off. Repeat, if necessary. Be sure to wash the area well afterward, then apply an antibacterial ointment.

Or try what our Google search suggested: We soaked our daughter’s foot in the tub (Natan Gendelman, a Toronto osteopath with an interest in home remedies, suggests adding salt to the water as a disinfectant). Then we applied a poultice of white bread soaked in warm milk (this apparently helps draw out the splinter) and covered it with gauze overnight. We also cleaned her foot regularly and applied calendula gel. A week later, the sliver popped out on its own.

What not to do: Avoid aggressively digging for a splinter with tweezers or a needle if it doesn’t come out with reasonably gentle effort, or putting pressure on the splinter, which could further embed or break it.

Caution: Seek medical attention if: the splinter is close to an eye; the skin gets red, pussy, swollen and hot; or a fever sets in.

What to do: Put the burned area in cool water for a few minutes or apply a cool, soft compress (a wet washcloth or paper towel) to help relieve pain and keep burn damage from spreading. Then cover the skin with a gauze pad or clean dry cloth.

The key, says Henry Ukpeh, a clinical associate professor of paediatrics at the University of British Columbia, is to reduce heat at the burned area, so anything cool will work. Aloe vera or calendula gel may promote healing after the initial pain has passed, but be sure your child isn’t allergic; consult a health professional if you’re not sure.

What not to do: Don’t apply ice or immerse the burned area in icy-cold water; this can further damage skin. Also don’t apply creams, oils or grease, which can hold in heat and make the burn worse. Folk remedies call for putting a cabbage leaf, yogurt or sour cream on a sunburn, but Ukpeh says those are ineffective and based on myth.

Caution: Get to a doctor right away if: the burn involves the mouth, nose, eyes, hands, genitals or a large part of the child’s body; an infant under age one is burned; or it’s a second- or third-degree burn. (A second-degree burn causes pain, redness, swelling and blisters. A third-degree burn means that all the layers of skin and fatty tissue underneath are burned. It may look white, cherry red or black, and doesn’t change colour when the skin is pressed. The skin may blister and is mostly dry, hard and leathery looking.) Seek help with: any electrical burn or if you see the burned skin changing appearance; an increase in swelling or oozing; swelling or oozing lasting more than 24 hours; or green discharge or pus.

Sore throats and coughs
What to do: Honey and lemon juice are old standards for sore throats and coughs as they both have antibacterial properties and moisturize the throat, says Gendelman. Your child can eat it off a spoon or you can make it into a tea. (Never give honey to a child under one year, due to the risk of botulism.) Ice cream or Popsicles are also great for a sore throat (hurray!), as is any warm liquid or soup, including the chicken variety, which Ukpeh says helps inflammation.

If you’re breastfeeding, you’re already giving your baby one of the best remedies for all kinds of bugs. Breastmilk passes on your antibodies, protects your baby from infection and helps his immune system, so it’s important to keep breastfeeding when your child is sick, says Sandra Seigel, deputy chief of the division of general paediatrics at McMaster Children’s Hospital Centre and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

What not to do: Do not use over-the-counter cough medicines for kids under age six. Research shows they don’t help and potentially have side effects that can be problematic, explains Seigel.

Caution: A runny nose and cough lasting more than 10 days may be a sinus infection needing antibiotic treatment. Constant coughing throughout the night and difficulty breathing are also reasons to seek medical attention.

What to do: Have your child sit upright, and gently squeeze the soft part of his nose shut with a tissue or clean washcloth for 10 minutes to help a clot form, suggests The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Children.

What not to do: Don’t have your child lean back, which can make blood flow into his throat, causing coughing or stomach irritation. Madan Roy, chief of the division of general paediatrics at McMaster Children’s Hospital Centre and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, also advises against putting a cold compress on the nose or back of the neck, saying it doesn’t help and may distract the parent from pinching the nose.

Caution: See a doctor if: there’s a lot of blood loss; there are clotting problems in your family; you can’t stop the nosebleed; nosebleeds are frequent and last more than 15 minutes; your child has trouble breathing; your child is bleeding elsewhere, too, like the gums; or the bleeding starts after a blow to the head.

Bee stings
What to do: Carefully remove the stinger if it’s still stuck in the skin. According to The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Children, it’s best to use a blunt-edged object (credit card, fingernail) to gently scrape the stinger out. Gendelman suggests mashing rye bread and putting honey on it, then applying this to the stung area to suck the venom out of the wound.

Soothe the pain by applying a cool, wet washcloth or an ice cube in a cloth (don’t let the ice touch the skin directly), or dabbing on a paste of baking soda and water to the stung area. Or try the remedy Kim Nichols, a mom in Masonville, Que., discovered when her friend’s daughter was stung: Crush or chew up the leaves of a plantain, a commonly found garden weed, and apply it to the stung area. “She stopped screaming in seconds,” Nichols says. (Plantain can provoke allergic reactions in rare cases; consult a professional if you’re not sure.)

What not to do: Don’t try to yank the stinger out; it has a venom sac attached, which can release more venom if you don’t scrape the stinger out carefully.

Caution: Some children are allergic to bee stings, and you won’t know until it happens. Call 911 if your child has breathing difficulty, tightness in the throat or chest, dizziness or fainting. Go to the ER if a child develops hives, pain, swelling over a large part of the body, or if swelling lasts more than 72 hours.

Thanks to the doctors in the division of general paediatrics at McMaster Children’s Hospital Centre and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton for contributing their insight to this story.

Information is current as of the original date of publication.

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