It’s that season—school’s out, and the kids are spending more time outside, which means you’re spending more time handling the latest rash, burn, or bite. Here’s how to treat some of the dog days’ most common ailments naturally, and ensure that your little one is up and running again soon.
The easiest way to relieve sunburn, of course, is to avoid it altogether by applying plenty of natural sunscreen. But sometimes, despite our best intentions, even the most liberal application is no match for the sun’s harsh rays. If that happens, bathing right after the burn starts to show is a good idea, advises Brigitte Mars, an herbalist and author of The Country Almanac of Home Remedies. She suggests adding one cup of apple cider vinegar or seven drops of anti-inflammatory peppermint or lavender oil to a tepid bath—the cooling properties in these natural ingredients help to draw the heat out of the burn, providing temporary relief. Mars also recommends “cooling the burn from the inside out.” Keep your child hydrated with plenty of water and have him eat cooling, diuretic foods, like cucumber and celery, which can help lower his body temperature, she says. For more localized burns, like on the cheeks or around the eyes, cool with water, then apply slices of cucumber or potato. With larger areas, try applying a thin layer of plain yogurt or aloe vera to the skin.
SEE A DOCTOR IF high fever develops, your child is dehydrated, or the burn appears to be getting worse. Also, keep an eye out if large areas of the skin start to blister—broken lesions can lead to infection, says Heather Jeney, M.D., an integrative pediatrician in Montclair and Oradell, New Jersey.
First, wash your child’s skin and clothes right away to remove the plant’s oils, which cause the irritation, Mars says. (You can use regular detergent, and it’s safe to wash contaminated items with non-contaminated clothes.) Then, apply a paste made of equal parts water and either baking soda or apple cider vinegar—two natural antiseptics that can help ease inflammation—to affected areas; you can also add a half-cup of the vinegar or baking soda to a bath for all-over relief. When looking for a topical ointment, avoid cortisone, as it can be harsh on kids’ sensitive skin, says Mars. Instead, try a calendula cream, or a homeopathic formulation of rhus tox—derived from the poison ivy plant, rhus tox can help ease discomfort and minimize the duration of the rash. One to try: Hyland’s Poison Ivy/Oak tablets, $8 for 50 tablets, kiwishoponline.com.
SEE A DOCTOR IF there’s no sign of improvement after three to five days of treatment at home, if there are signs of infection (pain or swelling), or if the rash has spread anywhere near the eyes or mouth.
If you’re dealing with a bee sting, be sure to remove the stinger with a sterilized pair of tweezers before treating the pain, says Mars. Then, apply the same water-and-baking-soda or apple cider vinegar combination used to ease poison ivy—the paste will help reduce bee sting swelling (and also works on fire or carpenter ant bites). For a mosquito bite, Jeney recommends a natural astringent compress to draw out inflammatory fluid: Soak a piece of gauze in witch hazel and tape it to the skin, leaving it on as long as necessary until the itching stops. For multiple bites, a baking soda or apple cider vinegar bath can provide all-over relief.
SEE A DOCTOR IF you notice swelling of the lips and tongue, or your child is having a hard time swallowing or breathing— these could be signs of a serious allergic reaction.
If your child suffers from motion sickness, it can make long car rides to visit Grandma feel even longer. Peppermint and ginger, known for aiding in digestion, can be particularly helpful in treating nausea and vomiting, either as a tea, sweetened with lemon and honey, which can be cooled and put in a sippy cup for the road (remember: kids under age 1 shouldn’t have honey) or in candy form for older kids. But either way, make sure it’s made from pure peppermint and ginger—artificial ingredients won’t help relieve symptoms. Also, crack a window to allow fresh air in, and try to have your child keep her head still if possible—motion sickness is caused by sensory confusion in the brain and inner ear (your body feels itself moving forward, but your brain tells you you’re sitting still), and any extra movement can add to that.
SEE A DOCTOR IF your child suffers from motion sickness at the onset of any movement—something could be wrong with his inner ear or another part of the body that senses movement.
Four essentials for your natural first-aid kit
TEA TREE OIL
Whether your child’s got a bug bite, or you’ve spotted what’s sure to be a pesky pimple, this essential oil, derived from the tea tree in Australia, will cover many of your skin-care bases.
This kitchen staple can be used for a variety of first-aid purposes. For example: mixed with apple cider vinegar, it can be made into a paste and applied topically up to three times a day to treat numerous skin issues— from ant bites to poison ivy.
Derived from the arnica montana plant, this herb is a common homeopathic remedy for everyday aches and pains, including bruising, swelling, and inflammation. It can be taken by mouth as a tablet for bruising and swelling up to four times a day or it can be used up to three times a day as a topical gel applied directly to a sore or bruise (but don’t use it on open wounds). One to try: Boiron Arnicare Gel ($7, kiwishoponline.com).
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
When used in its raw, unpasteurized form, this vinegar, fermented from pulverized apples, helps when applied directly to the skin—plus it’s an antiseptic, so it kills germs on contact, says Mars. It’s also alkalinizing, meaning it can help balance your body’s pH—mix 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with 2 teaspoons of honey and warm water to make a tea that’ll help calm an upset tummy, up to three times per day.