Are Home Remedies Safe? A Doctor Weighs In
“Tummy ache? Give him some tulsi ka ras or peppermint! It will settle down in no time.”
Households are full of remedies that have been passed down the generations. But are home remedies safe? And are home remedies for kids as effective as we’d like to believe?
We talked to Dr. Ramesh Nair, a general practitioner in Mumbai, who says he advises home remedies only as a temporary aid, if the ill or injured person cannot be seen by a doctor immediately. For example, he says, “If I get a call in the middle of the night, and a child is suffering from fever, I advise sponging to bring down the temperature until the next morning, when they can see a doctor.” He advises caution in any cases involving infants, however, since its more difficult determine their ailments without professional medical examination.
Here’s Dr. Nair’s advice on which home remedies to use and pass down to your kids, and which ones to leave to history:
Helpful Home Remedies
Honey and ginger for a sore throat: Ginger is an analgesic, which means it is effective in relieving the pain, Dr. Nair says. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Honey has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which means it can be helpful in fighting whatever germs are causing the sore throat. Plus, its consistency is soothing. (Remember that honey should not be given to infants under one year old.)
Salt water gargles for a sore throat: The salt draws the moisture out of bacteria, leaving germs to dry up and die, while the water washes away the mucous and germs lining the throat. Dr. Nair says he prescribes this home remedy for sore throat to patients often.
Ajwain (carrom seeds) for constipation or fever: Ajwain is a digestive, meaning it aids in the digestion of food, so it can be helpful against constipation. It is also an antipyretic; it increases perspiration, which cools the body, so it can be used to manage fevers as well.
N0-Harm (But No Help) Remedies
Garlic on the chest for congestion: This won’t be effective, Dr. Nair says, but since nothing is being ingested, there is little risk in it.
Harmful Home Remedies
Castor oil for constipation: This remedy has been around for years, but it is actually not good for the body, Dr. Nair says. Castor oil is an irritant, and while it may ease constipation, it does so by irritating the stomach and bowels, causing more harm than help. It should be avoided.
Toothpaste/oil/butter on burns: Applying toothpaste, oil or butter on a burn actually traps the heat in the skin, making the burn worse than it would be with no treatment. Plus, it can be absorbed by the skin and potentially cause infection. Cold water is the best way to treat a burn until receiving proper medical attention.
Oil in the ear for earaches: Dr. Nair says he sees many patients who use this unsafe remedy (some of them even putting oil in the nose to ease nose pain/sinus headaches). But the oil, while it may provide temporary relief, can hamper a proper diagnosis. And if the person has a perforated eardrum, it can cause complications.
Ultimately, Dr. Nair says, only use doctor-approved home remedies or remedies with an external application only. In all other cases, play it safe and seek medical attention as soon as possible.