Mucus membranes act like an ‘internal skin’ in the human body. They line all hollow organs and passages. It is their job to produce mucus, partially to keep the membranes moist and supple and partially to help entrap irritants. When foreign or allergenic substances affect membranes, they will produce more than normal amounts of mucus to help encapsulate these substances and work them to the outside, by sneezing or a runny nose, for instance.
In the early days of life babies are often very mucousy or sneeze a lot, to clear amniotic fluid and any accumulated mucus from the airways. Colostrum, the breastmilk of the first few days, promotes breaking down of mucus and helps babies get rid of this, precisely to prevent infection taking place. Tickling a newborn’s nose with a tissue to cause sneezing or a drop of saline in the nostrils will also help clear this quickly. If nasal congestion is just this, it will clear quickly and baby should be fine.
Excess mucus is preventable, but generally requires lifestyle and nutrition changes, which we are not always keen to implement. Natural remedies will provide one with a safe way of keeping things under control and ensuring that the mucus does not get the upper hand, but for a real cure, one must make more in-depth changes.
The allergy link
Young children and babies often display symptoms of allergies, especially excess mucus production, itchy eyes, sneezing, digestive discomfort like bloating and skin rashes. Often these symptoms are linked too. There are many possible triggers for this.
- If there is a history of allergies in the family, little ones are inherently more at risk. Formula-milk babies are more prone.
- Regular use of certain medications can be the trigger.
- The use of certain creams, cleansers and cosmetic products may cause sensitivity in some.
- Pets in the home may affect sensitive children.
- Some are affected when homes are carpeted or covered in thatch, for example.
- Certain fabrics are common triggers, especially wool.
- The environment and climate will affect some children.
- Too early introduction of solids, especially baby cereals, is a common allergenic factor, and grains and dairy products remain a factor for a long time for many children and even adults.
- Some babies display allergy symptoms from after one or other of their immunisations; although most doctors dispute that this was the trigger, allergies are one recognised adverse effect.
Mucus – friend or foe?
Excess mucus production protects, but unfortunately has a downside too. It provides an excellent medium for growth of organisms that may then lead to infection. Instinctively everyone knows that there are different types of mucus, but mostly we don’t bother to think more deeply about this, because it has that ‘shudder’ factor! However, from a holistic point of view, it is very important to know the character of the beast, in order to best choose a natural remedy.
There are four main categories of mucus and Mother Nature provided us with four versatile tissue salt remedies to deal with these safely and effectively.
- Clear, frothy, profuse, watery mucus is often related to acute and short-lived bouts of allergy. and is mostly accompanied by a lot of sneezing and responds well to tissue salt and homoeopathic remedies. Baby’s nose will become red and painful from this mucus, as well as from all the wiping required. This mucus responds very well to the tissue salt Nat mur (nr 9). For burning mucus one could add Ferrum phos (nr 4) and apply a soothing Calendula cream to the area.
- If the mucus is thick, white to grey and sluggish, there is often a family tendency to sinus congestion. Baby might well be a plump, friendly and generally happy little one, who loves his food and milk. This excess mucus tends to clog all the upper airways, and baby may well also succumb to bouts of croup or bronchitis. This mucus responds very well to the tissue salt Kali mur (nr 5).
- Yellow, sticky or slimy mucus is generally accompanied by skin rashes and eczema in the family. This mucus responds very well to the tissue salt Kali sulph (nr 7).
- Green, lumpy mucus is often considered to be infected, but if not accompanied by raised temperature, need not necessarily be the case – however, this is usually due to persistent and recurrent mucus build-up. This mucus responds very well to the tissue salt Calc sulph (nr 3).
Top tips to prevent excess mucus
- Avoid or reduce allergen foods in pregnancy, like dairy, grains, shellfish, peanuts, soya and eggs
- Breastfeed babies as long as possible
- Reduce dairy and grain products in a breastfeeding mom’s diet
- Avoid giving baby cereals as a first food
- Make home-cooked, fresh veggies rather than bottled baby foods and choose organic foods for babies
- As far as possible use organic produce in the home
- Avoid grain products in baby’s diet until well after a year
- Avoid smoking in pregnancy and around children
- Reduce or avoid processed foods, colourants and preservatives
The cough link
Chronic excess mucus may well lead to more than upper airway congestion and infections. Coughing may be one sign of this, although irritation in the throat may be the more simple explanation. A wheezy or tight-chested cough must be taken seriously as this could be linked to asthma. Homoeopathic remedies are mostly very helpful but asthma needs professional care.
Loose coughs respond well to homoeopathic remedies too – ask your health store to show you the range available. If your little one does not improve soon or the cough develops into something more serious, see your doctor as soon as possible. Of course factors like smoking are a concern and if anyone close to your child does smoke, this could be the trigger for coughing. Smoking outside the house helps, although it is not an absolute cure, as the nicotine is in the system and breathed out over the child too. Quitting is the only option.
There are many natural tips for treating coughs at home. For instance, add a few drops of Eucalyptus oil under the hot tap when you run your little one's bath. This builds up soothing vapours that help disinfect and open the airways. Steam treatment with Friar's balsam is also an age-old tip that works wonders. Simply add a capful to a basin of boiling water, drape a towel over your child's head and encourage her to breathe these vapours in – but take care to avoid burning.
Run a warm air humidifier to which you have added a few drops of Eucalyptus oil overnight if the cough is dry and hacking, but it is essential to have good ventilation and to clean and dry the humidifier thoroughly each morning. In acute cough attacks, close windows and doors and boil a kettle that does not automatically switch off, to ease breathing. Apply a layer of vapourising rub to baby's chest and throat or onto a vest if the skin reacts with a rash.
Try this homemade cough syrup too: Cut an onion into rings. Cover with pure honey and leave for four hours. Remove the rings. Give one teaspoon of the frothy liquid three times a day for coughing from postnasal drip.
Glue ear and ear infections
Ear infections are very common in toddlers and small children, but even babies under the age of one year can be prone. In fact, if prone as a baby, one might well retain this as one’s ‘weak health spot’ throughout life. Ear infections in babies of under one year are frequently secondary to teething, in which case appropriate treatment can prevent recurrence and associated glue ear. Babies prone to this respond excellently to treatment with Chamomilla D6, a homoeopathic teething remedy. The same mucus-linked triggers discussed previously are involved in ear infections and glue ear too.
Symptoms to alert you to risk of ear infections
- If a cold or other upper respiratory congestion persists for over two weeks, it may well be associated with glue ear.
- Thick yellowy-green discharge from nose and/or eyes often extends to the ears.
- Baby's ear might drain watery or thick fluid.
- Baby may well object to the horizontal position, as fluid collects in the Eustachian tube and cannot drain off, pressing uncomfortably on the eardrum.
- Hearing might seem impaired or reaction to sounds inappropriate.
- Calling or commands might be ignored.
- Speech development might be slower than expected.
Ear infection terminology
Otitis media: Commonly known as middle ear infection, this is an acute condition which might be associated with other upper respiratory conditions like excess mucus (in which bacteria or viruses might thrive) or infections elsewhere, like the throat. Symptoms of ear infections include redness on examining the ear, pain on the affected side, swelling of the eardrum only visible to your doctor, crying that is higher pitched than normal and fever. There is mostly no discharge from the ear unless the tympanic membrane has burst from pressure of discharge in the middle ear region.
Otitis media with effusion: This is a chronic condition commonly known as glue ear and seldom resolves as quickly as most acute middle ear infections. Symptoms of glue ear include discharge from the outer ear if there is a hole in the tympanic membrane or eardrum and the discharge may be watery or thicker and sticky. There is mostly excess mucus production in other parts of the upper respiratory tract, such as a runny nose.
The growing-pain connection
If one considers how fast toddlers and primary school children grow, and that growth centres are located in the long bones, it seems understandable that they might feel pain in their legs. These pains are mostly felt in the knees and calves and often wake children from their sleep. This frequently occurs after a really hectic, physically tiring day or a succession of poor nights. One often notices that the child is heading for a night of pain even before going down for the night, as they might well complain of sore knees or legs. There is another connection too that is less easy to understand but still seems valid. Children who suffer from excess mucus, either from allergies or frequent respiratory illness, are more prone to these pains.
Treat excess mucus and the pain will often disappear! The most likely trigger is dietary, specifically a diet high in dairy and grain products (bread, cookies, cereals) and so-called 'junk' foods. Decrease these drastically if this is a problem and increase fruit and vegetable intake. If you remain concerned and the above tips do not help and your toddler’s milestone attainment is below par, see your paediatrician for a detailed assessment.
(by Sister Lilian Paramor, January 2010)