Children's Health

Natural remedies for back-to-school problems

Now that the kids are back to school - they may come home with more than just homework.  Dr. Manny talks to the Medicine Hunter, Chris Kilham, about natural ways to combat common childhood issues like lice, ringworm, athlete's foot and pink eye


It’s back to school time, and with this time of year comes some predictable childhood health problems. When dealing with head lice, pink eye and anxiety, try these simple natural remedies for relief.

Head lice

The National Institute of Health’s website describes head lice as follows: “Head lice are tiny insects that live on the skin covering the top of your head, called the scalp. Lice can be spread by close contact with other people… Head lice can live up to 30 days on a human. Their eggs can live for more than 2 weeks.  Head lice spread easily, particularly among school children. Head lice are more common in close, overcrowded living conditions.”

According to the National Institute of Health, the most common ways that people get head lice are by head to head contact, sharing hats, scarves, towels and head rests. Common drugs for head lice like the insecticide malathion, as well as lindane and benzyl alcohol, can be quite harsh on the scalp. In four different published studies, natural essential oils from plants proved equally effective in getting rid of head lice. These oils include oregano oil, lavender, anise seed and cinnamon leaf bergamot, spearmint, clary sage, pennyroyal, benzoin, caraway seed, Roman chamomile, tea tree, eucalyptus and lemongrass oils.
To treat head lice, mix any of these essential oils with a simple alcohol such as isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).  Alcohol will help the essential oils make it further into the skin and follicles. Try a mixture of five parts of alcohol mixed with one part essential oil. Leave the mixture on the scalp overnight and then shampoo the hair thoroughly in the morning.  This treatment should be sufficient to kill the lice and their eggs – resolving the problem.

Pink eye

Conjunctivitis – more commonly known as pink eye – is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that lines the eyelids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conjunctivitis can be caused by many factors, including allergies, bacteria, chemicals in the environment, fungi, viruses, and contact lenses – most often extended-wear contacts.  The condition is typically spread among children.

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Symptoms of pink eye can include redness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, itching of the eye, a gritty feeling in the eye, pain and increased tear production. Viral conjunctivitis usually resolves on its own, whereas bacterial conjunctivitis is typically treated with antibiotic eye drops.

Simple natural methods can relieve feelings of discomfort in the eye when pink eye infection is present.  A compress of a clean wash cloth soaked warm water can help.
Also, tea bags of green tea or chamomile tea can be helpful. Simply make a cup of tea with a bag of either, but only keep the bag in the water for about a minute. Take the bag out of the cup or pot, and let it cool. When the bag is just warm, apply it to the eye. Green tea and chamomile both have soothing properties that will help to reduce inflammation and discomfort.

Remember, the eyes are sensitive. If you get an infection in the eye, consult a doctor immediately to avoid further complications.


Anxiety affects 25 percent of children between the ages of 13 to 18, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  About 13 percent of all children experience generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), or persistent anxiety, at some point in their lives. Children suffering from GAD worry about their performance in school or in sporting events, about their social standing, and about personal safety or the safety of those they love. They may also experience irrational fears of catastrophic events.

The effects of stress and anxiety can include weakened immunity, nervousness, indigestion, difficulty concentrating, sleeplessness, chronic fatigue and an overall haggard feeling. When anxiety blossoms into full-blown panic, symptoms can include rapid heartbeat, palpitations, uncomfortable sensations, and extreme fears of dying or losing control of the mind.

To combat these symptoms of anxiety, many people turn to tranquilizers such as Valium®, Halcion®, Serax®, and Xanax®. However, these drugs can sometimes lead to addiction and complications, including seizure disorders, vision problems, headaches, anorexia, neuromuscular difficulties and psychosis. Children are especially sensitive to side-effects from anti-anxiety drugs.

Fortunately, a number of natural plant-based remedies work very well to reduce or eliminate anxiety, as well as helping children to cope with the tight schedules and busy days of their lives. For mild anxiety, a cup of chamomile tea can quell tense nerves. Widely available in grocery stores, chamomile contains compounds that help to take the edge off  of mood.

The Indian herb Holy Basil demonstrates significant relaxing and anti-anxiety properties and is available in capsules at most natural food stores. Holy Basil is also known as Tulsi. It is available either as a tea, or in capsules. Holy Basil promotes a feeling of ease, helping to dissolve anxiety.

When children need quick relief from anxiety, nothing works as well as a fluid extract of the South Pacific herb kava, which is also found in natural food stores. Many human studies show kava’s effectiveness for anxiety relief.

Getting back to school is a big transition for kids, and it can be made smoother by using these natural remedies when problems arise.

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide.  His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies, is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide, and is the author of fifteen books. Read more at