All indications are that whooping cough (pertussis) is on the rise in the U.S. this year. Given the general ineffectiveness of conventional medical treatment once a person has contracted the illness, it is incumbent upon the medical profession to consider other options. One such option with a long-standing clinical track record for reducing the duration and severity of symptoms of whooping cough is homeopathy.
Early blame for the increasing incidence of whooping cough had been directed toward the small population of unvaccinated children, but recent data shows that the large majority of cases are contracted by those who have already been vaccinated according to CDC guidelines (1). Correspondingly, the message from medical authorities has recently morphed into one that suggests that additional pertussis boosters beyond what are already required may be necessary because it is believed that the vaccine loses its effectiveness over time (2). Public health authorities are now urging pregnant women, adults, and teens to get vaccinated.
In my medical opinion, this overemphasis upon a preventative vaccination strategy is largely due to conventional medicine's inability to treat whooping cough once it is diagnosed. Physicians understand that antibiotics are likely to have minimal if any effect upon the course of the illness once the cough has set in, and the same applies to cough suppressants. Antibiotic treatment is believed to reduce transmission to others if prescribed at the onset of the illness, but the odds of diagnosing whooping cough at this very early stage are highly unlikely.
Clinical experience indicates that homeopathic medicine is a viable option for pertussis. However, mainstream medicine's general unwillingness to consider any therapy that is not manufactured by PhRMA tends to blind it to potentially new and/or unexplored treatments. And in the case of homeopathy, there is a long-standing undeniable bias that assumes that it is just not possible that it can work because it defies conventional medical beliefs about the nature of illness and how it can be treated.
Over the years, I have successfully treated cases of whooping cough and a variety of other intractable coughs that were not responding to repeated courses of antibiotics. There are thousands of homeopathic practitioners across the globe who can testify to similar results. Unfortunately, the firsthand clinical experiences of unconventional medical practitioners tend to be dismissed by a medical system that has come to rely heavily upon research studies that are often funded and influenced by PhRMA. If this is the case, then to dismiss a treatment for an illness that has no other effective therapy -- primarily because of a lack of research studies published in conventional medical journals that "prove" its effectiveness -- demonstrates an anti-scientific attitude that, in actuality, amounts to a form of inflexible and uninformed prejudice.
A convenient catch-22 has been created by a medical system that refuses to consider the homeopathic option while simultaneously claiming that there are no studies to back up its use. Although there are no specific studies regarding homeopathy and pertussis, there are numerous studies that point to the fact that homeopathy involves significantly more than the placebo effect that it is claimed by naysayers to be (3). The real bottom line here is that this closed-minded attitude, which fails to entertain promising alternative medical options, does a tremendous disservice to suffering patients in need of care.
Whooping cough is a particularly violent, prolonged, and debilitating affliction that is especially hard on infants and children. After an initial phase that looks a lot like the common cold or a mild flu, a characteristically-relentless cough usually develops. The classic whooping sound results from the person's gasping for breath at the end of a rapid succession of coughs. If there is any silver lining to the recent rise in cases, it is that it seems to be affecting adolescents more than any other group, and they seem to be capable of weathering the illness a little more successfully.
There are usually subtle differences between the symptom patterns of persons suffering from whooping cough. Homeopathic treatment is predicated upon choosing the one medicine that most closely matches the symptom profile of the afflicted individual. A close match can bring significant relief and shorten the duration of the cough, which, if untreated, can persist for weeks and, sometimes, months.
Although these homeopathic medicines are FDA regulated and available over the counter, self-treatment for whooping cough is not advisable. Given the seriousness of the condition, it is best to consult a physician or homeopathic professional. Below are brief synopses of the symptom patterns of some commonly-indicated homeopathic medicines for whooping cough. While most cases of whooping cough are characterized by spasmodic, relentless, exhausting coughing attacks, the following descriptions are meant to illustrate how the illness can differ in subtle ways in different people.
These medicines represent just a few of the options available to a homeopathic prescriber (4):
Drosera rotundifolia -- This homeopathic medicine is indicated when the cough is worse immediately upon lying down to bed at night and/or when the cough flares up after midnight. There is tickling and dryness in the throat, which causes spasmodic coughing. Attempts to bring up phlegm end in retching and vomiting. The violence of the cough may produce nosebleeds. Frequent coughing attacks prevent the person from catching his/her breath.
Belladonna -- This medicine is usually indicated in the early stages of the illness or when fever is present, especially if the fever begins around 3 p.m. There is pressure in the head, and the face is hot and red while the hands and feet are cool. The head feels like it will burst from coughing. A dry, tickling, spasmodic cough emanates from the larynx.
Coccus cacti -- The defining characteristic that indicates the need for this medicine is the production of large amounts of clear, thick, ropey mucus. Paroxysms of choking cough result in vomiting of long strings of mucus that hang from the mouth and nose. Drinking cold water may bring temporary relief from tickling in the larynx and the coughing spells. The spells may become more aggravated early in the morning and/or around 11-11:30 p.m.
Ipecacuanha -- The person who needs Ipecac often experiences persistent nausea that may not be relieved by the vomiting that follows after the cough. Due to the nausea, the person is often lacking in thirst and will not want to drink fluids. The child will stiffen and become rigid with the cough.
Antimonium tartaricum -- The clue that leads to the prescription of this medicine is the sound of the loud, rattling, mucus-filled chest while coughing. In spite of this, the person struggles unsuccessfully to bring the mucus up from the chest, thus producing little expectoration. One gets the impression that the person will drown in his/her own fluids. The person is usually cross, irritable, and weak from efforts to raise the phlegm.
Cuprum metallicum -- This medicine is indicated when we see cramps, muscular spasms, clenched fists, and/or convulsions associated with the whooping cough. Violent paroxysms of severe cough lead to suffocation with the lips and face turning blue. As with Coccus cacti, cold drinks of water may bring temporary relief from the coughing attacks. Coughing spasms may wake the person around 3 a.m.
In an ideal medical world, the most effective protocol for whooping cough would include a proper exam and evaluation, initiation of antibiotic therapy to prevent transmission if caught in the earliest stages of the infection, adequate rest and hydration, and complementary homeopathic treatment throughout the course of the illness. It is incumbent upon the medical profession to become educated about use of this valuable therapy especially in cases of acute whooping cough -- precisely because there is no real viable alternative.
References and Resources:
1. Vaccinated kids account for 90 percent of child whooping cough cases in Vermont, Andrew Stein, VTDigger.org, Oct 8, 2012
2. Whooping cough: teens and pregnant women could get booster amid huge outbreak, The Telegraph, Oct 26, 2012
3. Good medicine: Homeopathy, Christopher M Johnson, ND, BMJ.com, Oct 6, 2012
4. Roger Morrison, MD, Desktop Companion to Physical Pathology. Hahnemann Clinic Publishing, Nevada City, CA 1998. pp.126-131
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Larry Malerba, D.O., DHt, is a physician, educator, and author whose mission is to build bridges between holistic healing, conventional medicine, and spirituality. He is the author of Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. He is board certified in Homeotherapeutics and is Clinical Assistant Professor at New York Medical College and past president of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York. Dr. Malerba has a private practice in upstate New York.