Because my son’s doctor doesn’t seem to have all the answers sometimes, especially in regards to ear infections, I am considering going to a homeopathic doctor as a supplement to our regular M.D. Do you consider this worthwhile? What is your experience with homeopathic medicine? It seems that it is becoming a popular and viable alternative to conventional medicine as people are becoming disenchanted with the health industry as a whole.
Samantha Beattie – Erwinna, Pennsylvania
Dr. Greene’s Answer:
Homeopathy has a rich and controversial history. It began in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, at a time when medical doctors relied primarily on bloodletting, intestinal purging, induced vomiting, and blistering of the skin to treat their patients’ maladies. A brilliant physician named Samuel Hahnemann, M.D. was dissatisfied with the status quo. He was bothered both that current treatments were harsh and dangerous and that they failed to produce good results.
Hahnemann began to recommend exercise, good diet, and fresh air to his patients. He believed that healing came from God and Nature, and that the physician’s role was only to gently encourage this natural process.
Over time, he became increasingly disturbed by the lack of experimental basis for popular conventional therapies. He believed that each medicine should be tested, to see what it really did, before it was used as a treatment.
He set out to prove the effects of the common remedies of his day. The first experiment was with Peruvian bark (a known source of quinine), known to treat malaria and its raging fevers. When he took Peruvian bark while well, it produced a fever with chills, a syndrome similar to malaria. This, and subsequent experiments, gave rise to his Law of Similars — that remedies which produce specific symptoms in well persons are effective in treating ill persons with the same symptoms. This is where the name homeopathy (“like the disease”) comes from.
Hahnemann’s treatments tended to produce an initial worsening of symptoms, often followed by a cure. To make the process more agreeable, he decided to dilute the substances he was using. The surprising result was that the remedies became even more potent. This led to the second law of homeopathy, the Law of Infinitesimals: the smaller the dose of a medicine, the more effective it is in stimulating the body to heal itself.
Over the last two centuries the respect accorded homeopathy has varied widely. Currently, there is a resurgence of its popularity. I greatly admire the gentleness, the reliance on the body’s own healing mechanisms, and the bent toward prevention that are central to homeopathy.
I like your idea of seeing a homeopathic doctor as a supplement to your “regular physician”. Conventional pediatricians are trained to recognize an amazing array of uncommon childhood illnesses. We are also trained in the complexities of normal childhood development. We are experts in many areas — but in others we are still novices.
Homeopathy began with a desire to prove the effects of medicines by careful experimentation. This rich heritage has much to teach other disciplines.
For ear infections, Dana Ullman MPH author of Homeopathic Family Medicine recommends the following:
- Belladonna: This remedy is useful for earaches that start suddenly, with intense throbbing or shooting ear pain, and has a bright red outer ear or ear canal, accompanied by a high fever. The pains are commonly worse on the right side and may extend to the throat. The child may concurrently have a headache, and all of the above symptoms tend to be worse by motion and at night and may be relieved by sitting semi-erect and with warm applications. These children are sensitive to light, noise, or being jarred. This remedy is often indicated in children with a high fever, a flushed and hot face, glassy eyes with dilated pupils, and cold feet and hands. The child is usually not thirsty, except for lemonade. Children who need this remedy tend to be delirious during sleep and have nightmares, usually of animals, which cause them to cry out during sleep. This remedy is not commonly given after the third day of an ear infection.
- Pulsatilla: This medicine is usually determined more by the way the child is acting than the specific pain s/he experiences. It is useful when the child becomes whiny and extremely clingy to a parent, wants to be hugged, cuddled, and even rocked. The child needs and craves attention and sympathy. The ear pain tends to be worse at night, in a warm room, and by exposure to heat, and the child usually has little or no thirst. The child who needs this remedy tends to have a changeable mood, happy and play in one minute and crying and sad the next. In advanced cases, there may a thick yellow or green discharge from the ear or nose. The ear pains may be slightly reduced with cold applications. Often, the ear infection develops after experiencing a common cold.
- Aconitum: This remedy is typically given during the first 48 hours of an ear infection if there is a rapid onset of pain, if the problem began after exposure to cold, and if the child has a noticeable increase in thirst. Typically, a fever accompanies the ear infection, as well as a dry cough and a congested nose. The child may be restless, anxious, and in some cases frantic.
- Chamomilla: When the child with an earache becomes hyperirritable, extremely fussy, aggravated by touch, by bending or stooping over, and by cold air (especially cold drafts), and is temporarily relieved by being cradled and rocked, consider this remedy. The child may demand something but then push it away when it is offered. The child is extremely impatient and cannot be consoled. This remedy is also useful for infants with an earache who are concurrently teething or in children after they have been chilled. One cheek may be red and hot while the other is cold and pale, suggesting that the infant may be teething at the same time that ear pain is occurring.
See your physician if your child’s illness seems severe. In addition, if the ear infection isn’t improving within 48 to 72 hours or continues to worsen while being treated, consult your physician.
Antibiotics have been proven to be of benefit in the treatment of some ear infections. However, these medicines are clearly overused. Oftentimes they are not necessary – even harmful.
Using good pain relief and gentle remedies is my preference for treating ear infections, where appropriate. Physicians sometimes call this watchful waiting. The ‘watchful’ part is very important. Ear infections can spread. They can be a source of bacterial meningitis in young children, even though this is very rare. Sometimes prompt, vigorous medical treatment is of great value.
Still, when a bone breaks a physician may expertly apply a cast, but it is the child’s body that re-knits the bone. Even when surgery is needed, and a metal pin is inserted, it’s to support the body’s own mechanisms — which even re-knit the surgical incision.
Sometimes big interventions are necessary, but I agree with Hahnemann that we want to support the body’s healing processes with the gentlest measures that really get the job done.