how we treat illnesses at home
|January 30, 2013||Posted by Mama under healthy things|
It is nearing midwinter when illness abounds; we know people who have had respiratory illnesses of varying types, and we ourselves have felt it in our own home. While reading a completely unrelated book I was reminded of the popular reliance on professionals to determine one’s future and care for one’s body, which reminded me of a post I wrote a while back about how we do our children’s well-visits at home. (can you tell I have a case of the meandering thoughts?)
In said post I mentioned that at some point I might talk more about how we handle our own illnesses and minor injuries, and seeing as this is the time of year when many people contract some sort of virus, it seemed as good a time as any to share with you how we treat illnesses (viruses included) and how we recognize the difference between illnesses that can (and I believe, for reasons I will soon share, should) be treated at home and those that should be treated by a medical care provider.
Obviously, preventing illness is the ideal. By eating nutrient-dense food, severely limiting foods that hinder your immune system, taking easily digestible vitamins and minerals, exercising, getting sunshine and fresh air, and washing your hands frequently while at the same time not avoiding germs since exposure builds the immune system, you are not likely to get sick very often. I will admit that we do not have as good a diet as we should, but it still stands that avoiding illness is better than trying to recover from it.
However, we do live in a world full of viruses, bacteria, and hazards, and at some point or another everyone gets sick with or injured by something. And that brings me to the point of this post – what do we do when one of us gets sick or hurt?
My first rule has always been that just because illness is abnormal, and probably uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily an emergency or that it requires immediate medical attention or treatment. There is almost always time to assess the situation with a clear mind. This is so important because it is one thing to talk about how to respond to illness when everyone is healthy, but it is another entirely when your two year old has a fever of a 104 or your six month old is projectile vomiting. What then? Do you react quickly or do you stop to think about the situation and assess all the information you have so you can make an informed decision about the appropriate response? As a mother of four little ones, I know how much it hurts to see your children in pain or fighting an unknown illness. Thank God we have not faced anything life-threatening, or serious enough that we drove them to the emergency room, but our kids have fought a variety of illnesses and numerous times I have been so thankful that I took the time to clear my mind, take in as much information about the situation as possible, and respond accordingly.
Your comfort level in addressing illness and injuries with your children is likely to be different than mine. We all have different amounts of experience, resources, and comfort levels handling illness, so I am not suggesting that you do as we do. What I share here is simply our personal experience that you might find useful in considering your own children’s health.
I was thinking back, trying to figure out exactly how I ended up with the philosophy that I have now – what led me to make the decisions I do about our kids health? What brought me to the plan I have for making the decision about treating illness at home versus taking our children to the hospital? If I were to put labels on it, I’d say there were two major things that contributed to my current decision making.
Papa’s and my personal upbringing - in almost every case my mom treated our family’s illnesses at home. The stomach flu, the croup, chicken pox, poison ivy, etc. If there was a way to treat it at home that’s where we stayed. Through those experiences I learned not to be afraid of common illnesses, to be confident treating them at home, and how to learn about caring for our bodies and treating illness. Papa’s family also developed a philosophy of treating illness at home. The E.R. was not the familiar place to us as it apparently has become for many families today.
Being a student midwife and doula, I have had the opportunity to learn an incredible amount about the human body, how it best functions and how to care for it. I have learned how to do a basic health assessment, including taking vital signs and looking for more subtle clues about a person’s state of health. This experience has wiped out much of the fear of the unknown that I could have had when facing common childhood illnesses and injuries. Through this training, and studying of medical texts I have acquired, I have been able to create a line in the sand ~ my personal comfort level of how much I feel comfortable being responsible with.
One of my favorite weekend TV shows to watch is Doc Martin. It’s an old British series, but reruns are shown on PBS. Perhaps you are familiar with it. I enjoy the comedy, but I get a kick out of one of Martin’s pet peeve’s – patients using the internet to research their symptoms. Almost every time a patient does so he or she ends up being a hypochondriac, or simply making a big deal out of some minor consequence of a lifestyle choice. But I get a kick out of it because, while there is the risk of abusing the internet for research on health issues, it has become a significant source of information regarding illness for our family. In addition to the medical books I have, the internet has been invaluable in helping us to care for our children.
I see three potential down sides to using the internet versus hiring a doctor to call when you have a question. Number one, you can end up developing unreasonable fear about an illness that isn’t dangerous and will resolve itself. Two, you could diagnose an illness incorrectly and stay at home when it needs to be treated by a doctor. Three, it can take longer to diagnose an illness than if an experienced doctor examines your child. These potential down sides are partly why I do not rely on the internet alone for our health care decision making, but I have learned to take information from various resources and combine what I learn from assessing my children’s health, researching online and in my books, and speaking to those I know who are experienced in a health care field to determine the best course of action (which may or may not involve an E.R.).
How can you tell the meat from the bones when doing such research? I like to compare opinions and research and see what the general consensus is, and compare what I find to the results of other illnesses I have researched. After doing this a while you begin to see correlations and common danger signs as well as most effective treatments, and you become more confident in acting on such research. This is called informed decision making, and it’s all about taking responsibility for your children’s health instead of relying on a doctor to do it for you. Right up our alley, if you haven’t notice that yet.
I also see positive effects of using this method of informed decision making, including reducing or avoiding exposure to unnecessary drugs and tests that may have dangerous side effects (including vaccines!), it prevents abuse of valuable resources, saves money for both the health care system and ourselves, and it leads to my children’s stronger immune systems. For more information on how overuse of hospitals leads to sickness, please read my review of Hippocrates Shadow.
I would endorse very few medical books, as there many useful ones, and many others have an approach to health I strongly disagree with, but when you refer to several, I feel they offer a well-rounded view from which you can take information and ideas that will be useful. Some of my books I purchased specifically because I know they have benefited others I care about, while others were gifted or bought at used book stores or yard sales, and there are yet others I would like to purchase in the future. It’s a conglomerate for sure, but it works for us. The one book I would absolutely recommend is Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn’s How To Raise a Healthy Child… In Spite of Your Doctor. It will be one I pass down to my kids for sure.
Now for the biggie, where is our line? What illnesses do we feel confident treating at home, and in what cases have we seriously considered going to the hospital? When would we stop considering and go straight to the E.R.? We have yet to take our kids to the hospital, but it may happen in the future. Having a plan helps us to know how to respond to illness without wasting precious time.
Illnesses and injuries we have already confidently treated at home
- Common cold – Usually treated without medications, but lots of fluids, tissues, and rest. Occasionally I’ll give someone Tylenol if they are having trouble sleeping after days of symptoms
- Influenza (fever, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, etc.) – Again usually treated without medications. I have recently added a homemade rehydration formula to our remedy toolkit, which I’ll share here. I do not generally treat a fever unless the child is having trouble sleeping, it rises close to 104, or the illness has persisted for more than two days, as fevers are actually helpful to ending the illness (and are not likely dangerous unless they exceed 106).
- Bronchiolitis or mild pneumonia – In December, Chickie came down with some sort of respiratory illness. Most of her symptoms passed in a week, but Pal, Girlie, Buddy, and Papa all contracted it. Pal and Papa seemed to have it the worst, with Pal developing rapid short breaths that sounded labored, and as if he had fluid in his lungs. I narrowed down the possibilities to these two illnesses, both of which can be treated at home in mild cases, so I watched the symptoms on the correct time lines to reassess for possible need of medical treatment, but they resolved on their own. If I had recognized the symptoms earlier, I would have begun giving him oxgyen baths (2 cups hydrogen peroxide, 1/2 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup sea salt dissolved into a bath of warm water).
- Mild ear infection – these are rare with breastfed babies, which ours are, and I can only think of one time when I thought one of our kids had a mild case, with ear pulling and fussiness that lasted a day or two, and resolved on its own without treatment.
- Roseola – Buddy, Girlie, and Pal each had this childhood illness, characterized by a sudden high fever, followed by a rash that starts on the chest and spreads over the whole body, and disappears on it’s own without treatment.
- Ringworm – A fungal infection on the skin, usually the size of a nickel, in areas that stay moist, especially in warm weather. Girlie had a small patch on her thigh that we kept clean and rinsed with alcohol occasionally, and it disappeared without antibiotics.
- Sprains, mild burns, cuts – Papa and I have treated our own sprains with wrist braces, and first and small second degree burns and cuts treated with good hygiene, honey, and our homemade herbal first aid salve.
- Possible poisoning – Last summer Girlie came running inside yelling that Pal had spilled a bottle of something on himself and she thought he had gotten some in his mouth. I ran outside and found him standing over an empty bottle of engine stop leak fluid. Somehow he had found a partial bottle, tried to open it and managed to spill it all over himself. When I got to him he was spitting on the ground, as if he had gotten some in his mouth but didn’t swallow it. I couldn’t smell any on his breath either, so I gave him a few large doses of charcoal mixed in soy milk and watched him for any signs of strange behavior. The only thing noteworthy was the color of his bowel movements the next morning from the charcoal.
- Insect bites and/or stings with swelling – Last summer, Pal also got stung or bitten a few times. We weren’t able to figure out exactly what it was that bit him on more than one occasion, but it resulted in one eye swollen shut once while he was asleep, and his hand swelling up when stung on the finger. We treated these with a antihistamine, and made sure to keep some on hand, while watching for any symptoms of respiratory distress.
- Poison Ivy – A good portion of our field has poison ivy covering the borders, and spring is heralded by children breaking out in rashes. We are trying to teach our kids how to recognize the plant, but when they don’t take care and end up getting the itches, we treat it with calamine lotion. My mom gave me some sweet fern salve she made, which is known to relieve poison ivy rashes, and I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to try it out this year.
Illnesses and injuries we have seriously considered seeking medical care for
- Head injury – When Girlie was two she fell from a swing from about four feet, and got quite the egg on her head. She did not lose consciousness, so I treated it with a homemade comfrey ice pack and the swelling was gone in about half an hour. She had no symptoms of a concussion, so we stayed home, but there was a period of time in which we were ready to leave if the swelling did not go down very soon or her behavior became abnormal.
- Fever of 105 – While fighting the flu, at about two years old, Girlie woke up from a nap with a fever of 105 (for some reason I remember it possibly being higher, but I doubt it). I know a fever does not become dangerous for a child until 106, but 105 was as high as I was willing to go, so I gave her Tylenol and a cold bath and it dropped to 102 in less than an hour. If it hadn’t, I would have taken her to the E.R.
- Fever of 101-103 lasting four days – On a couple different cases, our kids have had average fevers that simply lasted for days. A fever can last three or four days without harm, but it was reaching that “deadline”, and we started to think about the E.R. while adding NSAIDs to our treatment, and praying a lot, but in each case the fevers dropped within the time frame we gave ourselves.
- Mastitis – Obviously this was not a childhood illness we faced, but while pregnant with Chickie I contracted mastitis, a breast infection, as I was weaning Pal. Thankfully my fever did not go above 101, which is the maximum you should let it go before getting treatment while pregnant, but with advice from my midwife I was able to treat it at home using a combination of OJ with minced garlic, very high doses of vitamins, increased fluid intake, lots of breastfeeding, and the rehydration formula (see below).
- Roseola at 2 months of age – I already mentioned that Buddy, Girlie, and Pal all had roseola, but Girlie had it when she was only two months old. Two months is the minimum age when a fever no longer likely indicates an infection related to their birth, but until I realized her fever (and refusal to nurse) were due to the rash, I did consider taking her to the hospital.
Examples of illnesses and injuries we would seek treatment for without stopping to do our own research
- A fever over 104 that lasts for longer than three days, is accompanied by symptoms not normally associated with the common cold or does not drop with use of an NSAID
- Any illness that is accompanied by listless behavior, more extreme than is normal for a high temperature
- Sore throat that lasts longer than a week without improvement
- Unexplained fever for three or four days, with drowsiness, vomiting, a shrill cry, and possibly a stiff neck, indicating meningitis
- Dehydration due to prolonged illness involving vomiting or diarrhea
- Respiratory illness that results in symptoms indicating low oxygen levels
- Obvious serious accidental injuries, bites by a rabid animal, broken bones, large cuts, or other injuries we could not treat at home
Again, our decision making will likely look different than your own. You have to decide what is right for your children based on your own experience, knowledge, and comfort level, not my own. But if I could leave you with anything it would be this – not all illnesses or injuries are emergencies, and not all illnesses or injuries require medical treatment. If you research common illnesses, and those we are being told we need vaccines for, you will find most are actually mild infections that do not require anything more than extra fluids, rest, and tender loving care, and possibly an over-the-counter treatment for relief of specific symptoms. There is always time to stop and think, assess the situation and consider what is the best thing you can do for your child, which may or may not be to take them to the E.R. And if you do decide to take them to a doctor, it will help your child if you stop to clear your mind, take in as much information about your child’s situation as possible (their behavior, symptoms, likely cause, length of illness, etc.) and make as informed a decision as possible.
The following is one variation of an oral rehydration formula, first given to me by my midwife when I had mastitis. When you are nauseas and prone to vomiting, getting enough fluids into your blood stream is often difficult, and can sometimes lead to dehydration. Dehydration can also be a problem if you have diarrhea and can’t drink enough to make up for the fluid loss. The salt in this formula helps the water to be absorbed into your blood stream more quickly so that even if you throw up, more of the water will have been absorbed into your body than would have been without the salt. The sugar makes the salt water more palatable, and the lemon juice adds vitamin C.
To one liter of purified water (boil then cool, or use bottled water) add:
- 1 level teaspoon of salt
- 8 level teaspoons of sugar
- lemon juice to taste
Mix well, and sip as desired. Add a straw to make it more fun for a sick child.
Featured on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #65