At one time or another, someone is going to advise you to try their home remedy.
Most home cures are relatively harmless – who hasn’t mixed an elixir of honey, lemon and some other secret ingredient hoping to ease the aches and pains of flu? While hot toddies and copper bangles can be comforting and safe, some home remedies are downright dangerous.
Burns and paraffin ingestion
According to GP Dr Bets Breedt, Health24's CyberDoc, the most common dangerous home remedies she has encountered are:
- putting butter or oil on a burn. It is bad for the burn, as it actually keeps the heat in. The correct treatment is to cool the burn with cool water, afterwards covering it with antiseptic cream and a dry dressing.
- forcing a child who has ingested paraffin (kerosene) to vomit. Paraffin is toxic, but vomiting takes it into the lungs, where it does more damage than in the stomach - it can lead to a form of pneumonia (chemical pneumonitis) that is very dangerous. You should not give the child milk, charcoal or a laxative like liquid paraffin; instead give the child water to drink. The child should be admitted to hospital for up to 24 hours for observation and X-rays. Paraffin is the most common cause of acute childhood unintentional poisoning among South African black children. The estimated incidence of paraffin ingestion is in the region of 80 000 cases per annum, and hospital fatality rates are between 0.72% and 2.1%.
Dodgy dental remedies
Health24's dental expert, Dr Imraan Hoosen, warns:
- The practice of rubbing Grandpa Headache Powder onto the gum area to alleviate toothache is dangerous - gums become chemically burned. Rather take pain medication the usual way, and get to the dentist.
- A second problem frequently encountered is when patients with dentures that are broken use superglue to try and repair them at home. This is extremely dangerous as the glue is toxic. The solution is to have them professionally repaired.
Bad for baby
Paediatrician Professor Eugene Weinberg said that one home remedy being used inappropriately is when babies with gastro-enteritis are taken off their usual feeds and are put on rooibos tea, often for very long periods. The tea, while not harmful in itself, does not contain the essential electrolytes (especially potassium) and other nutrients required by an infant with severe diarrhea.
Do not try this at home
Dr Anrich Burger, GP and Health24's Handicap Expert, volunteered the following examples as the worst home remedies he has encountered:
- Putting cow dung on infected or bloody umbilical cords of infants to stop the bleeding or to stem infections. Cow dung is filled with bacteria and in some instances causes a severe infection.
- Using the urine of babies to wipe their eyes in order to treat eye infections. This practice does not help and may simply make the infections worse.
Dr Ingrid van Heerden, Health24's DietDoc, said the very worst 'treatment' she’d ever heard of, was from a reader on the DietDoc Message Board who announced that she wanted to get infected with tapeworm to lose weight. She was so disturbed by this idea that she wrote a feature on the subject, titled "Refuting dietary myths". Don't even think of using worms to lose weight.
According to Dr van Heerden, another idea that has little effect, but is very popular, is the use of apple cider vinegar to promote weight loss. This home remedy does the rounds every few years and nowadays certain slimming products advertise that they contain apple cider vinegar. There is no scientific basis linking the ingestion of acetic acid to weight loss. In addition, vinegar and lemon juice can also cause tooth enamel to erode over time, so whenever you've had these substances in your mouth, rinse it or brush your teeth straight afterwards.
Dangerous cures for head lice
There are many folklores about getting rid of head lice – people rub petrol or kerosene onto their children's scalps, or use pesticides straight from their garden store. Other 'remedies' involve coating the head in Vaseline, olive oil or salt water. Not only are these ‘cures’ ineffective, but they can be harmful. Safe and effective preparations can be purchased from pharmacies or prescribed by your GP.
Potentially harmful aphrodisiac myths
Sexologist Dr Elna McIntosh says that some substances thought of as aphrodisiacs (such as Spanish Fly) can be harmful. It's important to remember that, because aphrodisiacs, like all herbal supplements, are not regulated, it is difficult to know exactly what you're getting when you pick up a bottle of "liquid love/lust" from your local sex shop.
If you do decide to give store-bought aphrodisiacs a try, make sure you know enough about all the ingredients and what their harmful effects may be.
Remember, when using herbal remedies, that they are medicines. Read the instructions carefully and adhere to dosage requirements. If you are using prescription medication, check with your doctor before taking additional herbal preparations as some can counteract the effects of prescription medication.