It is not abnormal for an infant, toddler or preschool child to get a half-dozen or more viral, upper respiratory illnesses (URI’s or colds) each year.  That number varies according to whether — and for how long — the baby was breast fed (fewer illnesses), attendance in day-care or preschool, presence of older siblings, exposure to tobacco smoke, or chronic underlying medical conditions (more frequent illnesses).  Even healthy teens and adults are destined to have at least two colds a year, with the numbers primarily determined by the amount of exposure to cold viruses (with parents, teachers, and pediatricians probably getting more colds than others).  Smokers and those exposed to second-hand smoke — as well as other air pollutants — are also likely to be sick more often because of the paralysis of natural airway defenses that airborne chemicals cause.

Pediatrician Howard J. Bennett has some more hard, cold facts:

The truth is, a cold has a predictable life span, and not much can be done to interrupt it. When a child starts to get a runny nose, sounds congested and acts cranky because his throat hurts, you know a cold has settled in. The sore throat usually resolves in a couple of days, but it may be replaced by sinus pain, headache, muscle aches, a hoarse voice and cough.

Children are more likely to develop a fever with colds than adults. Nasal mucus turns from clear to yellow or green by the second or third day of the illness. Sleep may be interrupted, especially in babies and toddlers. Symptoms typically resolve by seven to 10 days but may last for two or three weeks. (Contrary to what many people believe, discolored nasal mucus usually does not require antibiotic therapy.)


What we know about URI’s is that they can only be prevented, not cured.  Caused by viruses, antibiotics are pointless.  Over-the-counter cold remedies have been shown through numerous studies not to be effective in relieving symptoms in children.  There is one thing Dr. Bennett says can reduce cold symptoms — something that has been recognized and used for centuries:

It has never been studied in children, but generations of grandmothers (including my own) have been firm believers in the medicinal value of chicken soup. So the next time your child has a cold, walk past the cold-medicine aisle at the supermarket and pick up some soup instead.


Tara Parker-Pope has the science:

The most widely cited of these studies, published in the medical journal Chest in 2000, is by Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. He conducted laboratory tests to determine why chicken soup might help colds, beginning with his wife’s homemade recipe, handed down by her Lithuanian grandmother. Using blood samples from volunteers, he showed that the soup inhibited the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection. Dr. Rennard theorizes that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup essentially helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms.

The researchers couldn’t identify the exact ingredient or ingredients in the soup that made it effective against colds but say it may be the combination of vegetables and chicken that work together. The tested soup contained chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt and pepper. The full recipe, as well as the scientific article, are available on the university’s Chicken Soup Web site. The researchers also compared commercial soups and found many of them also had a similar inhibitory effect.


So here’s the recipe, with a video on how to make it from Dr. Rennard below.


(Note: Other chicken soup recipes also are effective, including many store-bought soups)


1 5- to 6-pound stewing hen or baking chicken

1 package of chicken wings

3 large onions

1 large sweet potato

3 parsnips

2 turnips

11 to 12 large carrots

5 to 6 celery stems

1 bunch of parsley

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Clean the chicken, put it in a large pot and cover it with cold water. Bring the water to boil.

2. Add the chicken wings, onions, sweet potato, parsnips, turnips and carrots. Boil about 1 and a half hours. Remove fat from the surface as it accumulates.

3. Add the parsley and celery. Cook the mixture about 45 min. longer.

4. Remove the chicken. The chicken is not used further for the soup. (The meat makes excellent chicken parmesan.)

5. Put the vegetables in a food processor until they are chopped fine or pass through a strainer. Both were performed in the present study.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Note: This soup freezes well.)

Matzoh balls were prepared according to the recipe on the back of the box of matzoh meal (Manischewitz).



As my grandmother might say:  “Would adding a little garlic kill you?”

(Back Pat: Christine Rezac)