By Janet Levatin, MD, pediatrician
Fall is here and winter is fast approaching, marked by the first case of croup I saw in the office this week, a 4 year old boy who had been sick for a few days with this common wintertime illness. Croup is the name used for an upper respiratory infection accompanied by a barking cough. The medical name for croup is “laryngo-tracheo-bronchitis” because the larynx (voicebox), the trachea (windpipe), and the bronchi (large passageways leading to the lungs) are all involved and inflamed.
The cough of croup is very distinctive, and sounds a lot like a barking seal. Kids with croup often have raspy-sounding breathing (called stridor) and a hoarse voice. Croup is relatively common in children ages 6 months to 3 years, but it can occur in older children too, and even occasionally in adults.
Croup can be caused by several of the viruses commonly in circulation during fall and winter. Like most infections, croup can range from mild to severe. Severe croup is a true medical emergency. If your child is struggling to breathe, he needs an immediate trip to the emergency room. However, for mild to moderate croup, conventional medicine has little to offer. Doctors generally advise “waiting it out” using home care methods such as breathing in warm shower steam and sipping plenty of warm fluids, or maybe a steroid injection. While these measure to treat your child at home are useful, more can be done to encourage healing and give relief.
Homeopathy is a wonderful method for treating croup. If the correct medicine is chosen, croup can resolve very rapidly. As with all homeopathic treatments, the goal is to identify the simillimum, the remedy that most closely matches the patient’s presenting symptoms and mental-emotional state. The power of homeopathy for treating croup became apparent to me years ago when my now-adult son had an acute bout of the croup.
My son was about 2 years old when he woke up in the middle of the night, gasping for air, thrashing about, coughing and gagging so loudly it was really quite frightening, even to me as a pediatrician! I was about to call 911 when I remembered from my homeopathic training that Aconite (Aconitum napellus) is a great treatment for the acute onset of croup. I grabbed the bottle from my homeopathic emergency first aid kit and stuffed a 30X pellet into his mouth while he thrashed about. In literally less than a minute, he calmed down and was breathing much more easily, with just a very slight rasp. I asked him if he was OK, and said yes. I asked him if he needed any more medicine, and remarkably, he said no! A few minutes later he fell back to sleep. The next morning, he woke with a very minor cold that lasted a few days and resolved without further complications. The croupy cough never returned, and he never had croup again. If I had any skepticism about the efficacy of homeopathy for acute croup, it was completely eliminated on that night long ago!
This story is meant to show you the power of homeopathy… not to say that Aconite is the correct remedy for every case of croup. As mentioned above, the goal is to match the medicine not only to the patient’s symptoms, but also to the emotional state he or she is experiencing. Other remedies that can help resolve croup include Spongia tosta, Hepar, Calcarea sulphurica, and Drosera. For example, the little patient mentioned at the beginning of this article had been coughing for a few days and his symptoms had started as a mild cough. His cough and dry-feeling throat were relieved by drinking and eating, characteristics of the remedy he received, Spongia tosta. The treatment helped resolve his symptoms in less than 48 hours.
As the fall and winter progress, remember that there are safe, effective and non-toxic options for conditions conventional doctors treat with antibiotics or steroids, or no treatment at all. Many viral illnesses are short-lived and mild and heal on their own. In these case no treatment can be the best option. If a virus lingers or is bothersome, however (like croup often is), consider homeopathy… safe, effective, non-toxic medicine for people of all ages.