Is it safe to use home remedies to treat my sick child?

An experienced homeopath, pharmacist and father of three weighs in on the safety and effectiveness of home remedies versus traditional medicine.

Home remedies versus traditional medicine

Let’s face it, when our children get sick, we want to treat them the best way possible and avoid recurring infections, but the choice of whether to use home remedies or traditional medicine isn’t always clear-cut. For instance, some families swear by essential oils rubbed on feet and natural honey to treat coughs, while others opt for traditional, over-the-counter medicines. Chances are, you’ve probably used at least one home remedy to treat your child, but does this always work and when should you see a doctor?

ALSO SEE: 5 home remedies  to keep in your medicine cabinet

The traditional route

In some cases, home remedies simply aren’t enough to fight serious infections. A couple in Alberta, Canada, where convicted last year for their toddler’s death due to bacterial meningitis because they “failed to provide him with the necessities of life.”

David and Collet Stephan suspected their 19-month-old son had croup or flu and treated him for two and a half weeks with home remedies, including hot peppers, garlic, onions, horseradish and a product from a naturopathic doctor aimed at boosting his immune system.

Even after being advised by the naturopathic doctor to take him for further medical assessments, the couple failed to do so, and their son tragically died after he stopped breathing. In a television interview shortly after the incident, Juliet Guichon, a medical bioethicist from the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine said, “If parents are unsure whether their child is sick enough, I’d advise them to see a physician to be sure, as they should think about their own personal responsibility.”

Ardil Battey is a registered pharmacist and owner of the Bryanston Pharmacy in Johannesburg. Hes also a father of triplets (5). He says:

“My initial thoughts on the use of natural, homeopathic or contemporary medicines is that one must do no harm when giving them. Most of these medications won’t affect a patient negatively and may give some initial relief from mild to moderate symptoms of general ailments like colds and flu, sore throats, aches and sprains. If parents feel that they want to try out some of these home remedies first, I support their use as most can do no harm.”

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When do problems arise?

“Complications can occur when parents or natural practitioners continue to use alternative medicine even after it’s evident that they’re not working.

“The medical community, including doctors and pharmacists, have proven that we have effective, reliable medications, which are proven to alleviate and treat certain ailments, so why not use them? Don’t get me wrong. I’m one of a few pharmacists who truly believes that there’s room for both conventional and alternative medications to co-exist and to be used effectively. However, the question of when to use which line of treatment is the most important consideration parents need to make,” says Ardil.

Are there ailments or symptoms that need urgent medical attention?

If you have an infant at home, they’re very vulnerable and susceptible to infections and can either respond quickly to treatment, or deteriorate just as fast. This means that the sooner you react and treat your baby with the best medications, the less risk of harm there’ll be. If your little one has any of the following symptoms, see a doctor immediately:

  • A high temperature approaching 40 degrees.
  • Headaches, dizziness stiffness of the neck or trouble breathing (this could be a sign of a serious bacterial or viral infection, such as meningitis).
  • If your little one is weak and listless or unresponsive, seek urgent medical attention as dehydration can worsen very quickly and needs to be treated right away.

“When it comes to treating your baby or toddler, there’s room for both natural and traditional medicines. However, as parents, you first need to protect your child and ensure they get well. This means that common sense must prevail and it’s important to be as objective as possible when considering which course of action to take,” says Ardil.

The natural route

Historically, people have used homoeopathy to maintain optimal health and to treat a wide range of chronic and acute illnesses. Homeopathy has also been used to treat a host of mental and emotional illnesses such as anxiety, depression and sleep problems as well as skin conditions such as eczema and acne.

A qualified homoeopath is also well trained in diagnostics and some specialise in paediatrics. Remedies are then chosen according to the complete picture of symptoms that the patient presents with. There are hundreds of homoeopathic remedies that are safe and effective.

ALSO SEE: Homeopathic remedies to treat common pregnancy niggles

Dr Vicki Compere is a Johannesburg-based healthcare practitioner who specialises in homeopathy. She has a wealth of experience with babies and children. She says:

“A qualified, experienced homeopath will know how to choose the right homoeopathic remedy to treat a variety of symptoms – whether it’s a common viral cold or gastroenteritis. Home remedies are generally supplemented with natural products like probiotics, and the homeopath is trained to offer advice on how and when to expect improvement and what symptoms to be careful of.”

Health issues that respond well to homeopathy

“There’s very little that can’t be treated with homoeopathy. A Homoeopath is also trained to recognise conditions that are beyond their scope of practice, or that are serious or not responding to treatment. If this is the case, you will be referred to a paediatrician. We don’t claim to be able to replace the skills or knowledge of a medical practitioner such as a paediatrician. However, many of the treatments we use are very effective at treating a variety of health problems.”

  • Arsenicum album is effective at treating vomiting and acidic diarrhoea.
  • Pulsatilla works well to combat nausea and anxiety.
  • Nux vomica has been proven to be very effective at treating nausea, abdominal cramps and irritability.
  • Homoeopathy is also excellent at treating the symptoms of allergies, as well as desensitising to the allergens.

Symptoms that need urgent medical attention

  • Severe shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Blue or grey skin colour
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhoea that isn’t responding to homoeopathic treatment
  • Not waking or interacting
  • Sharp high-pitched screaming or signs of severe headache
  • Fevers that are uncontrolled after 72 hours and aren’t responding to homoeopathic treatment.


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