One of the reasons I started this blog, was that, being a consumer journalist, I get a fair amount of calls/emails from friends asking me about stuff they want to buy: “Should I buy this, should I buy that, what’s the best one to get” etc. Or, from  my friend Mark (I was SO going to name you in full but shan’t) “do I need an electric food steamer? (no, just use a pan with a steamer on the top); do I need an electric rice cooker? (no, just use a pan FFS); do I need a cappuccino machine (yes).

I’m not complaining, it’s a privilege, etc, but when you’ve got two young children, it’s not always easy to chat. So much easier to say “go look at my blog”.

Many moons ago, I used to write a column called Dear Annie in the Independent on Sunday (and, for a bit, the Observer); it was like being a doctor at a party (except SO much more important). I’d get people coming up to me saying “I need a dress for a wedding a week Saturday, what do you suggest?” I still get emails from readers asking me about clothing issues, even though I stopped writing the column some years ago. When I was fishing correspondent of the Independent I used to get people phoning me up in a panic at the supermarket: “Can I buy cod?” “The prawns are from Madagascar, is that okay?” “What is it about farmed salmon that I should know?”

Now that I’ve neatly told you some of the things I used to do, as a by the by, I can also slip in another one, as co-founder of a parenting website (no not that one, this one: I’ve been hugely fortunate in learning lots from other mums. Nothing like a bit of collective wisdom is there? And one of the things I learned, luckily fairly early on, was that steam is a valuable tool in the fight against snot.

This is relevant because the question I’ve been asked three times so far this week is about babies or children having colds. Now, do I need to point out, (do I really need to? I guess so) that I’m not at doctor. I have no idea if you should take your child to the doctor or not. But when my children have colds one of the things that helps is a steamer. You know, a slightly more sophisticated approach than standing over a sink full of boiling water. Which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do except it’s not a great mix: young children and boiling water. And anyway, you get only a short amount of time between the water being so hot you can’t get near it or too cold.

The Vicks Warm Steam Vaporiser, about £30

For the night time, this steamer by Vicks is really worth getting (it makes a great, if boring-looking, new baby present). Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s anything special: it ain’t. It’s a big hulk of plastic that sits on the floor, heats water up and lets warm steam out. There’s a little compartment where you can put essential oils ‘n’ stuff. When the water runs out, it switches off. The lid is sort-of locked down but I still wouldn’t risk it with very young children (what I found was that the steamer was great when they’re babies and trapped in their cots, and when they’re older and you can say “look it’s hot, don’t touch it” but there’s a period in the middle, where they’re mobile but have no sense, where you might not be able to use it). You put it on at night and it fills the room with warm steam, making it easier for them to breathe. It’s not a miracle cure, but it can really help, especially with coughs.

For older children, and adults, this electric steam inhaler by Vicks is a good addition, you put your face right over it and inhale. (Note: I have no experience of the site I linked to, I got mine from Amazon but it doesn’t seem to sell it anymore, or at the moment.) It’s highly recommended if you have sinus problems (I find steam, and sinus massage one of the few things that work when my sinuses are inflamed and I can feel my teeth). And especially useful when you’re pregnant and get a cold/sinus inflammations and can’t take much.

It holds a small amount of water – enough for about fifteen minutes of steaming. It heats it up and lets it out a consistent temperature, and you can control how fierce it is by shutting down some vents. Or something like that. You do have to stand over the counter top (you can’t really do it whilst watching TV unless you get an extension cable out), but it’s really great to do before bed as it helps you breathe. I use it on my six year old when she has a cold but she gets bored after about ten seconds.

I hate to think about the seasons changing and colds a-visiting. But it looks like they might be and when you’re bunged up you can’t really eat or enjoy cake so much.

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