Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tylenol for fever? Not worth the risk. 5 Homeopathic Remedies for Natural Fever Support

I've been excited to write this post for a couple of weeks- ever since I heard that the public radio show, "This American Life" dedicated their hour to a report on the risks of Tylenol. The investigative report was initially carried out over several months by reporters at ProPublica-  the risks of Tylenol, coupled with the bureaucracy of the FDA and the machine that regulates drugs, labeling, and oversight in this country. It is inefficient, shady, and when you are talking about people- and children- dying as a result. Well, I would say dangerously ineffective. 

I encourage you to listen to the full report here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/505/use-only-as-directed

If you are not a regular, or even a semi-regular listener to TAL (This American Life) then you are in for a treat. It's one of the best ways to pass a long car ride, while cooking dinner... maybe not before bed though :) There is also a transcript, but the show is way better.

For the sake of context for the article, let me sum up:

- Tylenol contains acetaminophen, and is a pain-reliever and fever reducer, introduced in the '50s. It was a big deal and was basically kind of a wonder-kid of OTC drugs.

-Acetaminophen is toxic to the liver, and there is a *very narrow* range under which it starts to cause
serious problems- much more so than other over the counter drugs.  As little as 25% above the maximum daily dose can cause liver damage, and is even more serious in those with standing liver problems, and combined with alcohol.

-  "Each year, on average, over 150 people died of accidental overdose, 78,000 people land in the emergency room, 33,000 people are hospitalized... this is all based on data from the federal government. McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the maker of Tylenol... disputes that its product is the deadliest over-the-counter pain medication." ...from the transcript of This American Life

-Tylenol is touted as "The safest pain reliever you can buy" and "the pain reliever hospitals use most." See above. 

- One of the biggest issues with Tylenol has been labeling, and there is a long and winding story spanning decades when recommendations were made by federal committees to be more explicit and clear on the labels about the potential dangers of taking more that the recommended dose, etc... The company fought the recommendations and little action was taken.

-Children's labeling has been a significant problem and one that the company actually attempted to be proactive about.  What follows is one family's heartbreaking story of how poor labeling and dosing recommendations were fatal in the case of their 11-month old daughter. Again, from the transcript: 

For the longest time, Infants' Tylenol was three times stronger, three times more concentrated, than Children's Tylenol, the rationale being that it's harder to make a very young child, and especially a baby, swallow medicine. So if you make the medicine stronger, the parents will have an easier time of it. [emphasis mine]. Makes sense on one level.
... Confusingly, he says, there aren't any dosing instructions for children under two on either product. All it says on the box is, "Ask a doctor." And for years, McNeil has been urging the FDA to change that. 
Who is calling the doctor at 2am when their child is hot and feverish? Not me, and not most parents. I could go on and on about the report, but it's best you listen for yourself. 
I want to make it clear that everything that follows is my own opinion and experience. I am not diagnosing and it should not be used as medical advice. There- that's my disclaimer! Oh, and also, TAL did not recommend *anything* in place of Tylenol or endorse any alternatives. 
So what's a parent to do? 

Take the 'fever' out of Fevers

One of the best things you can do is to educate yourself about the role of fevers in the immune system- what the body is trying to do, when it is on track, and when it's cause for concern. We need to relax our own 'fever' over fevers. 

The fever is a vital and important part of the immune response. It is the precursor to antibody development, it raises the body temperature to kill off bacteria, the 'breaking' of the fever allows the body to sweat out toxins and cool naturally. It takes a significant amount of effort to mount a fever and so it is the mark of a strong vital force. 
A fever is a child's best defense and an initial response to forces that disrupt their balance- this can be encountering a bacteria or virus, but it can also come about as the result of being out in inclement weather (too chilled, too hot, too wet), or a big emotional response like grief or shame. Children are not rational thinkers like adults, they don't work through issues with peers and authority in the same way an adult does. They feel everything and they process things on a physical level. It is not uncommon for a child to get sick or have a fever after a fight with a friend. 

Put the thermometer down! Watch your child. A fever is concerning when the child is listless, not able to keep down any liquids, or under the age of 3 months. 
The important thing is to keep your child hydrated and support his or her immune system in doing its job. Often as parents, we are most disturbed by illness than our children are. I talk to parents who report to me that their child has a fever 'but he is playing fine' - the issue is the parent, not the child! 

Suppressing a fever can lead to secondary issues down the line. Once a fever has begun, the immune system is starting a process, to stop it midstream is like bumping into dead end in a maze; it's just going to keep trying. 

Homeopathic Remedies for Support 
Homeopathic remedies are gentle support that don't suppress, but help the body do what it is already trying to do- which is to rebalance the system. It is based on the natural law that 'like cures like.' So, a substance that would cause illness in a healthy person, can cure a sick person who naturally has those same symptoms when given in a highly diluted, potentized dose.  Think of onion- it makes your eyes water and nose run. When prepared homeopathically, allium cepa (red onion) can help relieve watery, itchy eyes and a burning, runny nose. 

Homeopathy does not suppress, remedies are made from single, natural ingredients, they have never been recalled, have no toxic side effects, and they have been highly effective at treating contagious and infectious illness for over 200 years. 

Best Remedies to have On Hand for Fever: 

Aconite (monkshood) 
As you can tell, mine is well used! 
Again! yup! Give aconitum napellus for a high, dry, fever. The child may have a flushed red face, or one cheek red and the other pale. The child may be restless, or have some anxiety- or not. Fevers that come about after playing outside in the cold, or out on a windy day are especially indicated for Aconite. Also for a fever/illness that comes about after a shock, or fright. The fever can alternate with chills. 
The parent will feel: a little concerned, want to check the temperature and stay close by. 

Belladonna (nightshade) 
A primo remedy for children's fevers, the keynotes are pulsation, congestion, and inflammation. What that means is a sense of throbbing- you might see the blood pumping or the heartbeat right in the artery under the skin. A very flushed, red face and possibly dilated pupils. The child may be scared, have nightmares, or be a bit delirious in the fever. These fevers can come on fast and be accompanied by a very painful, red throat and/or headache. Restlessness, and might be worse around 3pm (kid comes home from school and spikes a fever!) or 3am. The head can feel hot and burning, while the rest of the body feels cool. Belladonna is a remedy that might require more frequent re-dosing as you have to meet the force of the symptoms- which is great- with equality in the remedy.  

The parent will feel quite concerned about the high fever and want to check frequently. 

Bryonia (wild hops) 
The opposite of belladonna, Bryonia is for fevers and conditions that come on slowly. A low grade fever may develop over the course of several hours, or even a whole day. You may realize that by the time the fever develops that the child has been low energy and cranky for a few days. We call this the 'grumpy bear' remedy, because the metal state is touchy and grouchy. She often wants to just lie down and be alone, doesn't really care about having company, and doesn't want to move.  She may be thirsty and drink great quantities of water- a whole glass in one go is not unusual. There is a dryness to a condition that needs this remedy- in the cough especially and it hurts to cough

The parent will be less concerned about the fever, more about the cough and the child's desire just to be still, and grumpy. 

Chamomila (chamomile) 
Chamomila is such a great children's remedy. I have given this to my son when he was ill, with the one bright red cheek and the other pale and literally watched the color equalize on his face. The key characteristic with this remedy is anger, whining, and peevishness. This is the child that asks for something and then throws it away. They want to be carried constantly. The fever is more moderate and comes with this agitated mental state. It can often accompany teething, or an upset stomach. 
This is the child who kicks his legs and stiffens up when you try to carry him, but freak out in anger when you put him down. This is an important remedy!! Chamomila will bring back some mental and emotional balance

The parent will be struggling to stay patient and helpful, because the child's behavior is much more of an issue than the physical symptoms. 

Ferrum phosphoricum (phosphate of iron) 
Ferrum phos. is considered the bridge between aconite, belladonna and some of the more low energy down-and-out flu remedies. The fever is not quite so high, there is not the same suddenness, bounding pulse, anxiety or fear. Instead, there is more of a mid-level fever and fatigue. They may be red-faced, but overall, the symptoms are kind of vague. Just malaise, congestion, low grade fever, throbbing headache. If there is no big symptom that stands out for you: anxiety, suddenness, anger, grumpiness and thirst... then this is the remedy to consider. You aren't super worried about them, you just want to help them along. 

The parent will have mild concerns and want to help ease things along, but no big alarm bells. 

You can follow the recommendations on the tube if you buy it in the store. In general, I put a few pellets in a glass of water and then give two teaspoons within one hour. Then I wait and watch. I tend to be impatient and if I don't see any shift within 2 hours, I give another dose (a teaspoon again, but stir the water in the glass 8-10x before). If I am unsure, I may give one more dose within 2 hours. If there is no change, then i start thinking about another remedy. If I do see a shift, then I only re-dose when I think the progress is slowing down, or symptoms are returning. 

It's not unusual to have some symptoms relieved, but others remain. It just means that the remedy was partially correct. You can continue by looking for a remedy to match the remaining symptoms- like a cough, or congestion if the fever was relieved. Or, you can use other naturopathic methods to support the body as it finishes its job. As always, rest and hydration are key. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Belly-aches, Overindulgence, Sugar-Highs, O My! Homeopathic Remedies for Halloween

Ah, Halloween. I love it- the dressing up, the people who go all out and transform their homes, the lore behind it- that the veil between this world and the unseen is the thinnest- and yes, I love the treats. And with most good American holidays there is always a healthy dose of overindulgence, staying up late, excitement, and expectation. These are the hallmarks of a holiday (and spending money, of course).
But you know, there is another aspect to all of these and that is, each of them presents an opportunity to use a homeopathic remedy :)

If homeopathic remedies help our bodies to maintain balance and homeostasis, to resist forces and energy that may overwhelm the vital force, what better holiday to keep a few choice remedies on hand, than Halloween?

Without further ado-

Nux Vomica
Nux vomica is the iconic Halloween remedy, in the same way that a witch adorns probably 90% of decorations and halloween imagery.

With an affinity for the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract, and symptoms arising from over-indulgence and late nights, it's the trick to counter the treats :)

Let's do a little side-by-side comparison:

Symptoms:                                                                   Child: 
- nausea after eating                                                     - complains of bellyaches after class party
- bloating and tenderness                                             - says his belly hurts, and he hasn't pooped
- burping and gassy                                                          and he *can't* poop even though he's
- cutting belly ache                                                           tried!
- constipation, no desire to go                                      - vomiting after eating too much candy/treats
- chilly                                                                          - might describe belly as 'full' or a cutting
- mean-tempered, irritable,                                                  pain
- easily excited and angered                                          - falls apart after trick or treating, or a party
- oversensitive to stimulation                                         - grumpy and irritable at things she usually
- headache accompanied by gastro troubles                        loves
- hangover                                                                     - short tempered, exhausted, and grouchy the
                                                                                            morning after.

In short, when you see any combination of grumpiness and irritability and tummy troubles, think Nux Vomica. 

You might notice (if you are a regular reader, which I hope you are :) that I trot out Aconite a lot. It's such an indispensable remedy for acute situations and children, that I can't emphasize it enough. And, it's important for those using homeopathy in the home to start to see the same remedy in multiple situations to get a feel for the full-range of a remedy, rather than associating with just one condition. Because, if they symptom fits, use the remedy. It doesn't matter if you read about it in a post about Halloween, or croup.

There are a lot of remedies to address fear, and all of its nuance- of what? when? since when?  
Aconite will serve greatly for a child gets gets a quick fright or shock on Halloween- touring a haunted house with all the requisite surprises, seeing a particularly scary costume, or being out after dark.  A nightmare on Halloween evening, or begging you not to leave them in the dark after seemingly having fun all night? Definitely try a dose of Aconite. 

Remember that Aconite is for the most part a remedy for very acute, in-the-moment situations and persistent nightmares, fear, and anxiety can be treated with a range of remedies.

Phospohros is a great remedy for sensitive, open children who take everything in. They might be ghosts and spirits and a general fear of the dark. They are impressionable because of their openness. I imagine a young child with wide open eyes talking about a ghost story someone told her, or that the closet down the hall is definitely haunted.
fearful in a general way of what's around the corner? what is that noise? talk about

A child who needs Phosphoros may just seem overwhelmed by all that surrounds her on Halloween, and wants company and is a little bit weepy. Instead of the irritability and grouchiness of Nux Vomica there's a restlessness, a weariness... as if their "light" has been dimmed. They might seem "off" or low spirited after all the festivities and stimulation of Halloween.

As a contrast, I also think of phosphoros for the spaciness after flying and traveling, feeling drained after being at a party (especially one where you've been socializing non-stop), or fear and fright from thunderstorms.

Both the night before, and the night of Halloween can be marked by excitability and sleeplessness!

Coffea is, of course, coffee, and so you can imagine the kind of sleeplessness it treats nicely: restlessness, wide awake, lots of ideas, a desire to talk and play and be up and about. The kids want to stay up counting and sorting the candy, lying in bed going over the details of the evening.

A single dose of Coffea 30c may be enough to do it,  but I will often give (or take, for those nights when I'm the one tossing and turning!) two doses about 15 minutes apart.

For dosing in general, give two doses within an hour and wait and watch. As symptoms improve, hold back and only re-dose if needed. If there's no improvement after three doses, then consider another remedy or consult a practitioner if you feel it's necessary.


Of course, these are just four of the thousands of remedies that can meet the individual symptoms we experience in our own unique way. Homeopathic remedies gently support the body and can help make events like Halloween easier on the system for those who are susceptible to the energy of the evening.

Stay safe, have fun, and Happy Halloween!

(See you next week for a post you won't want to miss... coming on the heels of This American Life's amazing show on Tylenol: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/505/use-only-as-directed  I will be writing about treating a fever *naturally* and for all ages, with safe, non-toxic, recall free homeopathic remedies!)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Croup, no more! Three Essential Homeopathic Remedies

I might start sounding like a broken record about how much I love the three remedies I am going to share. Probably because when I found these three remedies to ease my son's croupy cough, they were the stones that paved the road of homeopathy love :)  Seriously, I had dithered around in some homeopathic remedies, and we saw a homeopath, but when I figured out this little trio for LC's bouts of barking coughs it was like striking gold.

I didn't even know what croup was before I had children, and not all children are susceptible to it. But those that are, tend to get it more than once. It is easy to recognize- a harsh, barking cough that sounds like a seal barking. It's a viral infection, and the inflammation causes a swelling of the throat which narrows the air passage. Croup can impede breathing, but except in severe cases it isn't an emergency.
(It is important to be aware of epiglottitis, a life threatening bacterial infection that causes the epiglottis to swell. If the child is having difficulty breathing with shallow, rapid breath with stridor (wheezing), and drooling, it may be an emergency situation. It's rare, but it's good to know the signs.)

Croup tends to attack at night, and that will be your first sign for this initial remedy.

Aconitum napellus 
I write about aconite a lot, because it is so essential especially for young children.  The mental/emotional indications for aconite are fright and shock. But physically, when you hear that dry, barking seal cough out of nowhere in the middle of the night, after midnight, aconite should be the first remedy you think of. There may be a high, dry fever, but fevers aren't common with croup. Just the presence of the cough is enough to indicate giving the remedy.

Aconite is pre-gunk and post- wind.
Pre-gunk is no goopy yellow snot, or congestion in the chest. There may be a clear, thin runny nose, but anything beyond that likely indicates a different remedy.  Remember that this remedy is for quick, acute conditions that come on fast. Conditions that have a chance to settle in pass out of that category pretty quick.

Post-wind means that you will often hear this cough come on after being outside, in a cold, dry wind. Out hiking, playing in the yard into dusk, sledding on breezy winter days. When you hear the cough later that night, it's probably not viral croup you're dealing with, but the result of that wind drying out air passages. Aconite often makes quick work of those situations.

Other indications for aconite include that first, tightening of the throat that indicates you might be coming down with something. Again, no swollen glands, no gunk- just that hint of pain and difficulty swallowing. Children will often present with one bright red cheek, while the other remains pale.

Spongia tosta
As its name indicates, spongia tosta is made from dry, toasted sea sponge. From an iodine-rich environment, spongia is indicated for conditions of the thyroid, glands, and respiratory system. As its name implies ('tosta') you think of spongia when the cough is dry- both for croup but also allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions.

Homeopathic remedies are often time-sensitive.  The time stamps come from provings (the process of discovering a new remedy) and cured cases. The way I use time-windows is that when that particular condition and time are marked in a case, I use them in guiding my choice. But if not, I don't throw out the remedy if the other symptoms agree. In this case, spongia is indicated for a dry, barking, croupy cough before midnight. If you can remember in the middle of the night, that spongia is before midnight and aconite is after, then use them accordingly. But you won't mess anything up by using the the other way around, you just might not see the kind of drastic improvement I would expect when the remedy is spot-on.

Other symptoms indicating spongia: 
- nose may either run freely, or alternate stuffed up/running
- a sense of fear and anxiety with the cough and breathing
- the cough is better lying flat, and after a warm drinks, or eating, which palliate the dry throat
- glands may be swollen. Patient may be quite thirsty and hungry.
- sore, painful chest
- worse sleeping/waking from sleep.

In general, spongia follows aconite as it is a more advanced condition. If you miss the aconite window, go straight to spongia if the conditions agree.

Homeopathy speeds up time. It's true. Most of us want our lives to slow down, but not when it comes to being sick. The sooner it's over, the better. So let's say you have a child that gets croup. Without appropriate remedies, he/she may be a week to two weeks dealing with the acute and secondary phases. With remedies? I've had cases resolve from overnight (getting that aconite in) to three or four days. Depending on the strength of the vital force, the depth of the illness, and the accuracy of the remedy, there's a continuum of having the symptoms knocked right out, to still running the course of the illness but in less time.

This brings us to our last remedy.

Antimonium tartaricum

This remedy is not for dry coughs, but the total opposite- wet, wet, goopy ones.
One of the jobs of the immune system is to isolate and dispose of pathogens. It happens in stool, sweat, urine, mucous, and pus. Mucous helps to trap pathogens and foreign substances from entering the body, and when there's an immune response, the production increases.

I observed my son shift from that dry, barking cough to a wet, wet cough after using spongia. Why? The remedy helped to move the cough from a dry, inflammatory cough to a productive one, enabling resolution. I still give a remedy, because although it's wet and productive, I want to assist the body in resolving the illness and there is still an infection present. Most parents feel better when they hear that productive cough, and the child has turned the corner at that point- the energy and appetite are back, etc... it's just that darned cough!

There are lots of remedies for loose, productive coughs. But I have found that antimonium tart really follows these croup remedies well.

Antimonium tart is often indicated for advanced respiratory conditions, and a weakened state. But with children, you may not find such weakness, especially if you have treated the dry cough homeopathically.  When the most characteristic symptom of the cough is very loose, rattling, and wet sounding then I move right in with the ant. tart.  The child might have to swallow the mucous and end up complaining of an upset tummy. The cough is ameliorated by sitting upright, rather than lying and the mucous tends to be thick yellow, or white. They may be irritable and grumpy.

Certainly, you can use antimonium tart anytime you encounter a cough that meets this description.

By presenting these three remedies, I hope to impart the concept of a progression of illness. Parents often have questions about why the sore throat was relieved, but now there's a cough. Or, the cough at night is better, but there is still coughing during the day, etc... It is very common to use 2-3 remedies to support the body in moving through whatever is ailing it- again, homeopathy speeds up time. A two-week illness turns into one week. One week shortens to a couple of days. There is always variation depending on the strength of the person/illness and accuracy of prescribing. The important take-home is  that just because you didn't hit a home-run, doesn't mean you don't round the bases :)