A common problem for kids with Down syndrome is excessive congestion in the nose and throat. Many children suffer with runny noses of course, however children with Down syndrome are particularly affected due to smaller than average air passages and often flatter nasal bridges.
Having clear airways is beneficial to your child’s health, as it encourages nose rather than mouth breathing, contributes to a well oxygenated brain and a good night sleep for all! Constant congestion is not only uncomfortable for a child but it means that these benefits are compromised, and the likelihood of infection is increased.
ANATOMY OF MUCUS
Mucus is secreted by goblet cells, which are found in the lining of the intestinal and respiratory tract, they are also found in the conjunctive in the upper eyelid.
Mucus is made up of water, salt, antibacterial enzymes and proteins called antibodies that help trap and destroy germs, bacteria, viruses, allergens and particles of dirt. It is naturally and constantly produced, as a way of protecting mucus membranes.
The yellow and green colour of mucus indicated that this job is underway, as the proteins change colour once they die with the pathogen. The idea is that this contaminated mucus is then either blown out of the nose or swallowed, something that is difficult for small children and impossible for babies.
In small amounts as you can see, mucus can be very beneficial, however once it starts to build up or get thick and the body can’t eliminate it, then problems can arise. The goal is to keep mucus loose and running, so that the body can clear it and treat any associated infection.
ACUTE CAUSES OF EXCESSIVE MUCUS
- Bacterial of viral infection
- Air born pollutants
- A dry environment (excessive heat or air conditioning)
- Not drinking enough water
- Structural differences that create a cramped environment in the head region
WHAT YOU CAN DO STRAIGHT AWAY
Although excess mucus production can come from allergies, household chemicals, pollution, or bacteria and viruses, a major cause of mucus production is from the diet.
Whether you are tackling excessive mucus due to infection, or more chronic congestion, the first thing you can do is stop feeding your child foods that create inflammation, as inflammation will cause the body to secrete more mucus. The most common culprits include gluten, soy, sugar and dairy products.
Foods that help to reduce inflammation and congestion include the following:
Plenty of cooked vegetables especially leafy greens
Fresh lemon and lime
Onions and garlic
Fresh or ground ginger (not if the mucus is green or yellow)
Ghee if tolerated
I’m aware that for some of you reading this, the idea of shifting your child’s diet like this may seem extremely hard, so if that’s the case for you, don’t worry, just start by removing dairy, sugar, soy and gluten. Here’s a simple chicken and turmeric soup for you to try, that includes many of the beneficial ingredients previously mentioned.
Increasing fluid intake will help thin sections, which makes it easier to cough or blow mucus out of the lungs and nose, so make sure your child is well hydrated with pure water or herbal teas.
If you’re breastfeeding removing these foods from your own diet will help your baby deal with the excessive mucus. If you are giving your baby cow’s milk formula, you may want to look at switching to organic goats milk formula, as it seems to be better tolerated and less mucus forming.
DE-CONGESTING THE NOSE
Many parents head straight to saline sprays when their children have blocked noses. If your child will tolerate such a procedure, then doing so a few times a day only, can really help to lubricate and break down the mucus.
You can purchase saline sprays from pharmacies, alternatively you could try this activated nasal mist that incorporates xylitol and essential oils to help with infection and the thinning of mucus. If your child can and will breathe through a warm wet face cloth, this is another great way to decongest the nasal passages.
If you are breastfeeding, then a few drops of milk up your child’s nose, or in a gooey eye or ear can produce great results.
If you were considering a device to suck the mucus out of the nose once it becomes loose, you may want to think about a few things such as hygiene, safety and the possibility of drying out the membranes, which will only cause more mucus to be produced. One of the safest and most hygienic devices available is the Nose Frida.
Massage is not recommended during times of illness, however once infection has passed, or for general congestion, it can really help to loosen and circulate residual mucus. If your child will let you near their face, some gentle pressure point massage may help to circulate congestion and release pressure and fluid. You can also gently clap your child’s back with a cupped hand over the chest and lungs to help shake the mucus, which allows the lungs to cough it up more easily.
You can try elevating the mattress to help with drainage at night and use a humidifier in the room to help keep secretions loose during the night. Keeping the room at a steady temperature can also help, as cool air can dry out the nasal passages which stimulate mucus production.
There are many brands of essential oils on the market and equally as many points of view regarding their safety. I recommend the “Kids Safe” blends from Plant therapy. Synergy blends such as sniffle stopper and immune boom, have been designed specifically for children and are both safe and affordable. You can diffuse the oils, or put them on the soles of the feet, with a little coconut oil as a barrier.
NATURAL MEDICINE SUPPORT FOR INFECTION
If the cause of excessive mucus is an infection, then herbs such as Echinacea and elderberry, which are safe for infants, are beneficial remedies that help to strengthen and stimulate the immune response, by interacting with various cells of the immune system. Echinacea should not be used long term.
A very popular and effective herbal blend is “De Stuff” from Kiwi Herbs, alcohol free and made for children. De-stuff is made from certified organic elderflower (elderberry), ribwort and echinacea root, this formula can be used for infants and children 0-12 years old and may help to relieve catarrh and congestion in the upper respiratory tract.
Vitamin C significantly alleviated the severity and duration of colds and helps deal with the oxidative stress that is increased during times of infection. Zinc should also be considered as part of any natural health first aid cabinet. Both of these supplements are beneficial in times of illness to assist in boosting immunity and reducing the duration of infection.
The connection between the gut and the respiratory system has been understood by natural therapist for centuries and there is accumulating evidence that supports the use of probiotics as a treatment and preventive measure against respiratory tract infections.
Immunity starts in the gut and ideally a comprehensive stool analysis should be done in order for the correct strains of beneficial bacteria to be selected, this is especially beneficial if the congestion is ongoing even when your child isn’t sick.
During times of illness, you may find the addition of the following product beneficial in terms of boosting immunity and gut function.
For infants the broad spectrum dairy free“baby biotic” from Bioceuticals contains strains of bacteria commonly found in breast milk and is a popular and effective choice of probiotic. You can dampen the powder with water before pasting it on to your nipple, or bottle teat before feeding, or insert it into your child’s cheek or bottom lip before feeding.
For older children Ultra Flora Immune Enhance by metagenics is another good choice. You can give the probiotic last thing at night on a spoon, which will help to coat the back of the throat and reach the nasal passages more easily.
If you have had to give your child antibiotics to overcome infection, then you can follow up with a course of probiotics to help re-establish the beneficial bacteria in the gut that the antibiotics would have destroyed.
CHIROPRATIC AND OSTEOPATHIC CARE
Chiropractors and osteopaths offer treatment that can safely assist in the drainage of congestion and fluid from the Eustachian tubes, and sinuses. A lesser known modality is craniosacral therapy, which works towards moving the fluids around the body, so is therefore another valuable treatment option when congestion is a problem.
LONG TERM TREATMENT FOR PERSISTENT CONGESTION
If your child is suffering with congestion, even when they aren’t sick, it’s worth investigating the following causes with the assistance and guidance of your health professional.
- Poor gut health
- Food intolerance
- Exposure to chemicals
- Excessive production of interleukin 10, which is over expressed in Down syndrome. (down regulated by the supplement curcumin)
- Swallowing difficulties that cause aspiration and associated fluid in the ears and bronchial
- Reflux which can cause an increase of mucus in the throat
As we have discovered, mucus is a natural and beneficial substance that assists in protecting the body from pathogens and disease. When it starts to be produced in excessive amounts however, it can prove problematic as a child’s breathing and oxygen intake becomes compromised, as does sleep and the chances of infection increases.
Congestion often occurs as a direct response to bacterial or viral infection as a way of helping to destroy and remove them from the body. There are however many other reasons for ongoing congestion problems, such as food intolerance, poor gut health and environmental pollutants.
Children with Down syndrome are more vulnerable to congestion due to the smaller airways and compromised immune and gut function, which is why we see so much for it in our community.
Finding some strategies that work for you and your child during acute episodes, will help to keep congestion in check. Addressing some of the possible underlying causes will provide more long term relief and overall health benefits.
It’s important to always have your child’s ears, nose, throat and chest looked at by a professional when excessive mucus or illness strikes, as It’s not always obvious where the congestion is settling, or how severe it has become. Not treating problematic congestion can lead to complications with breathing, so it’s important to seek medical attention.
Role of mucus layers in gut infection and inflammation www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3716454
Antibiotics and probiotics https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3601687/
Chiropractic research and the immune system http://icpa4kids.org/Chiropractic-Research/Immune-Function/
Echinacea and immune system modulation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1297498/
Echinacea and the modulation of immune function https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1297498/
Impact of probiotics on respiratory infections https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5104466/
Vitamin C promotes maturation of T cells https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3869442/
Vitamin C and infections https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409678/