From Baptist Health South Florida
5 min. read
There are probably as many home remedies as there are ailments that need treating.
Some home remedies have lingered for generations and are relatively harmless. Chicken soup to alleviate cold symptoms is one that’s been around for centuries.
Others have caught on that are actually a good idea: For example, a cold or hot compress for a sore muscle; or having a child sit in a steamy bathroom for a few minutes to relieve congestion from a cold.
These helpful and harmless practices are in sharp contrast to other household treatments that can be outright dangerous.
“There is no substitute for common sense or seeing your doctor,” said Manuel Torres, M.D., a family practice physician with Baptist Health Medical Group. “There’s no reason to take a chance with wounds or ailments that may require a simple and painless treatment. With many home remedies, a person can make things much worse.”
Some widely-accepted home remedies, for example, can actually harm children. Rubbing alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol, is used by many parents to sooth their feverish children. They rub it on their skin or add a little to a sponge bath. But doing so can cause serious harm because Isopropyl alcohol is quickly absorbed through the skin.
“Alcohol baths for fever do not affect the internal core temperature and can lead to toxic effects from skin absorption and inhalation of vapors,” said Joseph Scott, M.D., medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at West Kendall Baptist Hospital.
Like this remedy, here are five more of the worst home remedies. There may be many others that could be even worse, but they may not be as common or popular as these five.
Hydrogen Peroxide to Treat Wounds
This may be the most widely-accepted home remedy for cleaning or continuously treating a small wound. Hydrogen peroxide is a staple in medicine cabinets everywhere. It is a good first-aid for small cuts and scrapes. But does hydrogen peroxide effectively reduce bacteria that can turn minor wounds into a serious threat to your health? The answer is no, says Dr. Scott or Dr. Torres.
Hydrogen peroxide could actually do more harm than good. In fact, no antiseptic should be used to treat wounds. While chemical agents, such as those found in hydrogen peroxide, can kill some bacteria, they do more damage to healthy cells that are attempting to heal the wound. You’re recommended course of action is to carefully clean the wound with clear water.
If dirt or debris remains in the wound after washing, use tweezers cleaned with alcohol to remove the particles. To clean the area around the wound, use soap and a clean washcloth. After you clean the wound, apply a thin layer of an over-the-counter antibiotic cream or ointment to help keep the surface moist. These products don’t make the wound heal faster, but they can discourage infection.
Obviously, wounds that don’t heal or worsen in appearance after 24 hours should be seen by a doctor.
This home therapy for “cleansing” or “detoxing” the colon of impurities, and supposedly alleviating a host of chronic conditions, has been widely promoted for years. But the risks from performing this procedure outweigh any benefit. The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore has even issued a health alert that advises consumers to avoid it altogether. A colonic involves inserting a rubber tube through the rectum and into the colon, sometimes as far as 30 inches. Up to 20 gallons of warm or cool water — possibly supplemented with soap, herbs, coffee, enzymes, minerals or other substances — is then pumped into the rectum and allowed to sit for a few seconds to a few minutes.
• The bowel wall can be perforated
• You can have an allergic reaction
• You can develop an imbalance in electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium
• You can be infected with bacteria and viruses if the equipment is not properly sterilized.
Ear Candling or “Ear Coning”
This home remedy supposedly rids the ear canal of excessive ear wax and other impurities. But this technique is as dangerous as it sounds. It involves placing a lit and hollow cone-shaped candle into the ear canal. The flame creates a suction that draws the earwax into the hollow candle, and is promoted as a treatment for sinus infections and as a way to improve hearing. In fact, ear candling can actually push earwax deeper into the ear canal. Even worse, it can puncture the eardrum and leave deposits of candle wax in the ear canal. The procedure can also cause burns to the face, hair, scalp, ear canal, eardrum and middle ear. If you develop an earwax blockage, avoid ear candling. Consult your doctor, who can remove buildup of ear wax simply and safely.
Butter or Toothpaste on Skin Burns
If you burn your skin, treating it with butter is considered a quick home remedy. But spreading butter on a wound is unsafe, primarily because butter melts from the body heat and creates a risk of infection. Toothpaste on burns is also considered a common remedy, but it also offers little benefit and some risk. Both could be more painful than the recommended first-aid of immediately placing the affected skin under cool, running water for several minutes. For mild to moderate first-degree burns, doctors also recommend over-the-counter antibiotic burn ointment. Gently apply the ointment and keep the area clean and covered for protection. If a burn is larger than three inches in diameter, and there is persistent pain and increasing redness around the wound, Dr. Scott recommends a trip to the urgent care center or hospital ER.
Steak on a Black Eye
How many times have you seen this remedy played out in a movie or TV show?
It may be helpful in fictional dramas, but the practice is not a good idea for a black eye or for treating any injury, particularly open wounds. The biggest danger is infection. A steak that is raw is potentially teeming with hostile bacteria. The idea is that the steak is frozen and the cold keeps down the swelling. The intention is all good, but a clean ice pack or ice wrapped in a clean towel is the way to go. Even a bag of frozen vegetables is a better option. And, Dr. Scott says, if you have a black eye, be sure to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any vision problems.
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