Updated: Jul 2, 2022
As cold and flu season arrives, there are a few homeopathic remedies that are crucial to have on-hand. When used properly, these remedies can quickly stop an illness from worsening and, in many cases, completely cure the illness within a short time period. Homeopathic remedies work by stimulating the body to cure the underlying cause of the symptoms, and they do so without side effects.
These five remedies are useful at the beginning of a cold/flu, when the symptoms are still developing. In my experience, many colds and flus can be completely aborted with the use of one of these remedies if given within the first 24 hours of the illness. Once the illness has progressed past the initial stages, these remedies lose their wide applicability. After the first day or two of the illness, success through homeopathic treatment relies upon choosing a remedy that matches the specific signs and symptoms each ill individual, as discussed below in the section titled, "What About After the First 24-48 Hours?"
Five Remedies to Have On-Hand
When choosing which of these five remedies to use for a cold or flu, it is important to match the illness to the remedy based on the characteristics described below.
Aconite (Aconitum napellus) 30c is the remedy to use for an illness that is coming on rapidly with strong symptoms. Often (but not always) this type of illness comes on after exposure to cool winds and/or fright. Sometimes the symptoms will also include fearfulness (such as being scared of death, darkness, animals, etc). When I've had this type of illness, the symptoms seem to become fully developed in just an hour or two, starting from breathing normally to being completely stuffed up and sneezing in that short amount of time. One or occasionally two-to-three doses of Aconite are all that have been required to make the symptoms completely resolve with no further illness. When used in this way, Aconite is very effective if used in the first 24 hours of the illness.
Oscillococcinum (also known as Anas barbariae) 200c is the remedy to use when the illness has flu-like symptoms, such as body aches, fever, or just a general feeling of being “off” and not quite right. This remedy is sold differently than the others; it comes in a white box that has several small tubes of remedy inside. Although the box says to take one full tube as a dose, that is generally much more remedy than is necessary. We can easily get 5-10 doses from just one tube. Oscillococcinum is sold in a higher potency than the others as it is usually sold as a 200c potency (instead of the 30c potency). The rule of thumb with 200c potencies is that they need to be used less frequently than 30c's. I use 200c potencies no more than 2-3 times a day, and if there is no obvious improvement within two doses, I stop using the remedy. Oscillococcinum is for use during the first 48 hours of illness only, after which it loses its efficacy.
Three Remedies for Milder Initial Symptoms
For illnesses that are not coming on so strongly or quickly as the Aconite-type illness, there are three other remedies that may help. This type of cold comes on over a lengthier period of time, starting with perhaps some sniffles or a mild sore throat, and slowly progressing over multiple hours. Most commonly, such illnesses will resolve within 2 to 4 doses of one of the following remedies.
I blogged a few years ago about using Ferrum phos for such illnesses. However, in the meantime I have learned that there are some people who don't seem to have any response to Ferrum phos. If you find that you don't seem to respond well to Ferrum phos, you might have better results with Nux vomica or Arsenicum album instead. It is possible that the characteristic symptoms listed below for Nux vomica and Arsenicum will not yet have developed in the first 24 hours, but nonetheless these remedies may still work well.
Ferrum phos 30c is generally my first-choice remedy for the first 24 hours of a mild illness. This remedy's beneficial action is most effective if used during the first 24 hours of the illness.
Nux vomica 30c can also work well for the initial stages of a cold that is not coming on so strongly or quickly as the Aconite-type illness. The person who will benefit from Nux vomica may exhibit hypersensitivity to noise or lights, irritability, and/or the cold may come on after eating a heavy meal. Unlike Ferrum phos and Aconite, Nux vomica can also be effective beyond the first 24 hours when the illness exhibits the Nux vomica symptoms described here.
Arsenicum album 30c is another remedy to try in the first 24 hours of an illness. Colds that will respond well to Arsenicum may exhibit a tendency to quickly move into the chest/lungs. There may be restlessness and/or anxiety as well. Like Nux vomica, Arsenicum album may also be effective beyond the first 24 hours when the illness exhibits the Arsenicum album symptoms described here.
One of the biggest mistakes that people often make when using homeopathy for acute illnesses is taking remedies too often. Homeopathic remedies should not be used in a mechanical fashion, such as "take this every 4-6 hours for 7 days". With all homeopathic remedies, the least number of doses is always the best plan.
As a general rule, if there is no improvement within 3-4 doses of any particular homeopathic remedy, then the remedy should be stopped as it is not the correct remedy. Anytime there is obvious improvement happening, the best policy is to stop taking the remedy and then watch-and-wait. Taking too much remedy can actually interfere with the curative action of the remedy, or in some cases cause a full relapse. Once the remedy has stimulated the body to cure itself, and the body is showing signs of definite improvement, the remedy should be stopped. No more remedy should be taken unless it is indicated by a regression in symptoms or a plateau (where the symptoms stay the same for several hours).
For more information about proper dosing, see this article.
Antidotes and Handling
Whenever homeopathic remedies are being used, certain substances should be avoided because they can antidote the remedies. The following are best avoided while using homeopathic remedies:
mint (including mint tea and toothpaste)
camphor/menthol (including Vick's VapoRub, Tiger Balm, cough drops, etc)
any substance that causes a change in the nervous system (such as alcohol, recreational drugs, etc)
Additionally, homeopathic medicines should be taken with a neutral mouth (no taste or smell of previous food/drink), which usually means at least 10-20 minutes after eating. No food or drink should be taken within 10-15 minutes after taking each dose of the remedy. Care should be taken handle the remedies properly by:
not touching the remedy with your hands
storing the remedy away from sunlight, strong odors, and heat
not opening the remedy in a room with strong smells (such as herbs, cooking smells, etc)
What About After the first 24-48 hours?
The five remedies listed above often work wonderfully in the first 24-48 hours of illness, but after that time homeopathic remedy selection is not quite so simple. Homeopathy can still work wonderfully after the first 24-48 hours of an illness, but the remedy has to be selected to match the very specific symptoms that have developed.
For instance, some remedies work better for burning heat and high fevers, whereas other remedies work better for low-grade fevers; some remedies work well for illnesses that feel better while lying down, while others work for illnesses where the patient feels best outside. Being able to select the proper remedy at such a time requires a good knowledge-base or at least some very good reference books on-hand. Some of my favorite reference books for relatively quick remedy selection in acute illnesses are:
Homeopathic Medicine at Home by Maesimund Panos and Jane Heimlich
Homeopathic Medicine for Children and Infants by Dana Ullman
The People's Repertory by Luc De Schepper
Common Ailments of Children and Their Homeopathic Management by Santwani (this book is a bit more advanced than the others and assumes more knowledge on the part of the reader, but it is truly an excellent resource)
Have you tried homeopathic remedies for acute illnesses?
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or licensed healthcare professional. I am a homeopathic practitioner whose services are considered complementary and alternative by the state of New Mexico. The uses of homeopathic remedies described herein are provided for educational use only.
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