As the mother of four children under the age of 10, and a busy holistic health care practice, sick children are not a reality I have the time to deal with or desire to promote. Of course, nobody wants to promote illness in their children. Yet, childhood illness has an important place in the development of a healthy immune system.
In fact, avoiding illness or the symptoms of illness, by heavily vaccinating, washing with antibacterial soaps, and regular use of antibiotics, steroids, NSAIDS, acetaminophen, and other pharmaceuticals that mask symptoms may have a problematic affects on our children’s long-term health.
A strong healthy immune system-with good nutrition, adequate rest and activity, good hygiene practices, and lots of love and healthy physical contact- is the best defense against illness.
There is a time and place for pharmaceuticals, including vaccinations. I invite everyone to make informed choices about the substances she or he puts on and into her or his body and her or his children’s bodies. Integrative healthcare is healthy health care.
My life is busy. I certainly don’t have time for my kids to be out of school, and I don’t want to make them miserable intentionally. However, when I heard that one of my friend’s children had chickenpox, we packed all four of our children over and let them play together. They hugged and played alongside each other. They also played bingo, and everyone blew on a shared whistle or harmonica every time they had a match. The older kids knew we were trying to expose them to chickenpox. They saw their friend who was itchy and pock-marked and uncomfortable. They empathized with him and wondered how they would feel when they had chickenpox.
Exactly two weeks after exposure, all three big kids had full-fledged chickenpox outbreaks.
Havivah, my 9-year-old, really wanted to get chickenpox in order to have complete immunity and hopefully less of a chance to developing shingles. Once she got them, she was uncomfortable and whiny for the first three days and then she was fine. Her symptoms started out looking like a stomach bug; she was head-achy and nauseous and did vomit. She had one spot by her eye that I did not suspect to be chickenpox until two days later when the pox popped out all over her body.
My 4- and 5- year-old sons fared well too. They were lethargic and itchy and whiny for the first three days, but we had natural comfort tools that kept it more than bearable for all of us.
Regular soaking baths (oatmeal, raw apple cider vinegar or baking soda), calendula salve, homeopathic remedies, immune supporting herbs, and good nutrition allowed my family to sail through the pox. We had some great family cuddle time and played with lots of friends who hoped to share this very manageable childhood illness.
As with many life challenges there were many tools we used that supported us through this minor illness.
First we trimmed everyone’s nails to limit damage that scratching may cause. Then we sought out tools to limit the itching and discomfort naturally.
I consulted with my midwife Cathy Weston (www.birthjourneymidwife.com/), our in-house Naturopathic Physician, Laura Flanagan, N.D. (spokanenaturopathic.com), and Monica German, M.D. (www.medicine-naturally.com).
Both Cathy Weston and Dr. German recommended homeopathic remedies for the symptoms (www.homeopathic.org). These remedies included: Rhus toxicodendron for the itchy lesions, Chamomilla for fussiness, especially if one cheek is redder than the other, Belladonna for fever and irritability.
Dr. Flanagan recommends “Increas(ing) Vitamin A and Elderberry. Vitamin E is good topically to decrease scarring and help skin healing – once they get to the scab stage… Oatmeal baths are a staple too…[Dr. Flanagan] recommends that the oatmeal goes into a old nylon stocking or thin sock. Let the water run over the sock, squeeze it a few times to get the stuff out and then use the sock to rub over your kiddos’ bodies if they feel itchy.”
The following are Dr. German’s recommendations for managing viral infections:
• Increase the dose of Vitamin D3 for the first three days to ‘boost’ the immune system. The daily winter dose is usually 1000-2000 IU per day, but it depends on your child’s age and his or her Vitamin D status.
• Other immune boosters that I like to use are Probiotics, Omega 3’s and Elderberry syrup .
• Other herbs that have been used as immuno-stimulants in adults are olive leaf, Astragalus and Lysine. (Lysine has been shown to help with the herpes virus, which is, as mentioned above, related to the chickenpox virus.)
Adequate water intake is very important. This is in addition to any smoothies or fresh juices that are consumed. The daily target of water intake (in fluid ounces) can be calculated by dividing your child’s weight by two. (For example, the goal for a 30 lb. child would be 15 oz). This amount needs to be increased if fever is present.
• A diet rich in whole foods, with plenty of vegetables and fruits in a variety of colors. This “rainbow diet” has been shown to provide the phytonutrients needed to strengthen the immune system.
• Juices rich in vitamin A and C, such as fresh carrot juice or fresh-squeezed lemon juice with water and honey.
• Chicken soup (chicken should be organic or at least antibiotic- and hormone-free).
• Vegetable broth with shiitake mushrooms.
• Smoothies with kale, cabbage, beet, broccoli.
• Acerola cherries.
• For painful mouth and throat ulcers, a soft diet should be used. Infants should receive fluids by cup, spoon, or syringe rather than bottle because the nipple can cause increased pain.
• Limit sugar and processed foods. No corn syrup. No sodas. Limit dairy, especially if mouth sores are present. Fermented dairy is OK (yogurt or kefir).
• Hydrotherapy and “warming socks”.
• Do not treat a mild fever with medications if it is below 101.5 and your child is feeling relatively OK. Studies have shown that children do better overall when some fever is allowed to continue during this illness. If medication is necessary because your child is bothered by the fever or the fever is high, then use acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol).
• Never use aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
• Ibuprofen is also not recommended because it might increase the risk of severe streptococcal skin infections.
• How do you know your child is well hydrated when fever is present? He or she should be voiding at least five times per day and the urine should not be too dark in color.
Topical remedies that you can use to soothe the rash:
• Calendula cream.
• Cool/lukewarm baths in which you can add two ounces (60 ml) of baking soda per tub.
• Calamine lotion: Apply lotion to the chickenpox that itch the most or massage them with an ice cube for 10 minutes. • Other options: tea tree oil, oatmeal baths, aloe vera gel.
Chickenpox is typically a benign, self-limited disease, but serious complications can arise, including shingles and secondary bacterial infections (most often with strep or staph bacteria) like impetigo or cellulitis. The risk of complications is highest in people with compromised immune systems, newborns, and adults. Although rare, serious complications in children include pneumonia, deep tissue infection, joint infections, and encephalitis.
We are grateful that we had tools to weather this childhood illness and now I can count on the immunity my children have against chickenpox.