While it is normal for a child to have catarrh for a few days after a cold until the irritated mucous membranes are fully recovered, in some children the catarrhal stage persists chronically for weeks, months or longer. There are several reasons why this could occur.
• Irritation of the airways by atmospheric pollution, cigarette smoke, dust, petrol fumes, dry air from central heating, carbon monoxide, etc..
• A poor diet, junk foods, excess milk products, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and wrong food combinations can cause constipation and putrefaction in the bowels allowing toxins to be circulated in the bloodstream. Mucus or catarrh is one way the body can discharge some of its toxic overload.
• Allergy to milk / wheat can cause chronic catarrh and predispose to frequent respiratory infections, colds, sore throats, chest and middle ear infections.
• Sinusitis can cause chronic catarrh as well as post-nasal drip and an accompanying irritating cough.
Herbal treatment of chronic catarrh
• Echinacea is indicated where there is chronic infection in the sinuses.
• Astringent herbs such as marigold, elderflower, eyebright (Euphrasia off.), thyme and plantain can be used, which tone the mucous membranes and protect them from irritation and reduce phlegm.
• Aromatic herbs with a high volatile oil content have stimulating and antimicrobial properties and help to loosen sticky mucus, making it easier to expectorate. Chamomile, peppermint, thyme, ginger, hyssop (Hyssopus off.) and basil are good examples of these.
• Warming spices including ginger, cloves (Eugenia carophyllata), cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.), caraway (Carum carvi) and black pepper (Piper nigrum) in hot tea will enhance digestion and cleanse toxins from the gastrointestinal tract, as well as stimulate clearing of mucus from the respiratory tract.
• Essential oils can be used in inhalations or vaporizers, a few drops can be mixed in a base oil of sesame for massage of the face around the frontal and nasal sinuses. Chamomile, lavender, lemon, pine, basil, eucalyptus and peppermint are all suitable.
• For sluggish bowels it is well worth using bowel cleansing herbs for a week or two on commencing treatment, such as liquorice, dandelion root, linseed (Linum usitatissimum), psyllium seeds (Plantago psyllium), (see Constipation). Garlic in the form of capsules / juice / raw can be given daily to clear putrefactive bacteria from the bowel as well as to clear catarrh and sinus infection.
For the first few days of treatment the child is best fed only on a light diet consisting largely of fruit and vegetables, soups and herbal teas. Mild spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric and ginger can be added to these to help clear congestion. For the next 2-3 weeks they should avoid sugary foods, red meat, milk products and excessive amount of grains, particularly wheat and bread, as far as possible. Dried fruit such as prunes and apricots can be given to keep the bowels moving. The child needs to drink plenty to encourage elimination of toxins through the kidneys. Hot lemon and honey and hot unsweetened elderberry or blackcurrant juice help to break down thick mucus.
The skin presents a huge area available for the excretion of waste products through the pores by sweating. If this major pathway of elimination is not employed through regular vigorous exercise, which warms the body and encourages sweating, then more pressure is put upon other pathways of elimination. For this reason children need to take plenty of vigorous outdoor exercise.
There also needs to be enough fresh air in the house, especially in winter when infections abound, windows are rarely opened and children may be reluctant to play out in the cold. Bowls of water placed near radiators in centrally heated houses may help to reduce drying of the atmosphere which can cause irritation of mucous membranes and render the child more susceptible to catarrh. An ionizer may help to reduce the harmful effects of the atmosphere on delicate mucous membranes. Sweat therapy is advised using diaphoretic and expectorant herbs prepared as a tea, including cinnamon, ginger, pippali, tulsi, liquorice and sitopaladi ½ – 1 tsp in honey 3-4 times daily.
The nose is the gateway to the rest of our breathing apparatus through which we inhale fresh air and prana. It is therefore of utmost importance that a child is able to breathe freely. An excess of mucus which blocks the passageway is seen predominantly as an excess of Kapha dosha brought about generally by over consumption of Kapha foods and especially wheat products, dairy products, salt and sugar. This can be exacerbated by other Kapha increasing factors such as cold, damp weather, sedentary lifestyle, sleeping too much and, most importantly, by low digestive fire. (For general treatment of Kapha)
• Warming spices are the best way to raise digestive fire and clear excess Kapha from the system. Suitable spices to be given three times a day as hot teas include: ginger, pippali, cinnamon, cloves, caraway (Carum carvi), coriander, ajwan (Trachyspermum ammi) and black pepper. A teaspoon of ajwan seeds with a pinch of rock salt stirred into a little hot water will also help to raise digestive fire.
• Hingwastaka makes a suitable formula and ¼ – ½ tsp can be given in a little hot water twice daily, before lunch and dinner.
• One of the best remedies for clearing mucus is ¼ – ½ sp of turmeric powder stirred into hot water twice a day. Alternatively ½ tsp of turmeric can be boiled with 1/8 tsp of ajwan seeds for 10 minutes and a teaspoon taken in a teaspoon of honey 2-3 times a day.
• A tea made from a teaspoon of dried holy basil leaves with a pinch each of clove and cinnamon powder sweetened with a little honey, will help to clear mucus.
• Another useful prescription is a ½ tsp each of liquorice and ginger powder simmered in a cup of water for 10 minutes.
• A steam inhalation of ajwan is also an effective way of relieving nasal congestion. A tablespoon-ful of ajwan seeds can be added to ½ a small pan of boiling water, simmered for 5 minutes covered, removed from the heat and then the steam inhaled. This is suitable for older children under adult supervision but for younger children the pan can be left in a safe place nearby for the steam to fill the room the child is in. Eucalyptus leaves or a few drops of the essential oil can be used similarly.