As medical costs grow and the economy shrinks, more people are choosing to bypass the doctor to treat themselves. But is that a viable option?
For more than a hundred years, patients from around the world have traveled to The Mayo Clinic for treatment. Now, for the first time, the famous facility is handing out "do-it-yourself" tips in its latest book, The Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies.
"If someone has to come to the doctor, it's going to cost $50 or a $100," Dr. Philip Hagen, the brains behind the new resource, said. "If they have to go to the emergency room, it may cost a lot more than that: $200, $300, $500. And that's a lot for anyone to pay."
Hagen asked his fellow Mayo physicians to list the most common things that their patients could take care of themselves. Topping the list are allergies and their causes, from seasonal pollens outside to irritants inside the house, like dust, pets and mold.
"Try to figure out what you're reacting to," Hagen advised. "And often people can do that based on the time of year or the fact that they've got a pet. The second thing is to try to avoid the things that set off those allergies."
For example, here's how to fight dust allergens:
- Put a casing on your pillow and mattress.
- Wash your sheets in warm or hot water once a week.
- Vacuum every day if possible.
- Change your air filters monthly.
- Another age-old treatment: use a Neti pot for rinsing your sinuses with warm salt water.
"I like the movement of going back and looking at the wisdom of the ages and then applying a little science and a little testing to it to know whether it's safe for people to use," Hagen said.
If you have a cold or the flu, you can usually treat it yourself, which over time saves lots of trips to the doctor, considering preschoolers catch an average of eight colds a year and everyone else, about three. Since there's no cure, the best medicine is to make yourself as comfortable as possible until it runs its course.
But the Mayo doctors say don't waste your money on over-the-counter cold preparations. For one thing, they should never be given to children under two years old. Even older kids should stay away from decongestants, aspirin, and cough syrup.
For anyone older than two years old, you can soothe a cough the natural way:
- Mix two teaspoons of honey into a cup of warm water, tea, or lemon juice. Research shows a little honey at bedtime reduces nighttime coughing and improves sleep.
- A humidifier is a cheap and safe way to ease coughing as well as congestion and sore throats. Just make sure to clean it to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.
- Gargling with warm salt water several times a day will help a sore throat.
- And believe it or not, chicken soup can make a difference. It's a proven anti-inflammatory, reduces mucus in the respiratory tract, and relieves congestion.
You can possibly shorten the duration of a cold or flu by taking high doses of vitamin C, zinc lozenges, or the herbs echinacea and andrographis.
Fevers, on the other hand, can be tricky. Doctors say temperatures under 101 degrees should generally not be treated with medicine because low-grade fevers actually help the body eliminate a virus. However, there are some exceptions.
Hagen outlined the general rules regarding fevers.
"If your child has a fever of 104, we think that is a time that you do need to go to the doctor," he said. "If you're an adult and it's under 101, we're comfortable with you watching it. If it's over 101, we're comfortable with you treating it with acetamenaphine at home. But if it stays at 101 or keeps coming back for a couple of days, then you do need to see a doctor and try to figure it out."
Pain Relief and Insomnia
No matter what time of year it is, millions of Americans need a little pain relief, or a good night's sleep.
Doctors say chili pepper seed, when used as a rub, is the most effective way to east aching joints. For insomnia, try lavender fragrance, and drink milk.
"There's an amino acid in milk called tryptophan that makes people sleepy," Hagen explained. "So we can do things like our grandparents would tell us, have a glass of milk before you go to bed."
Take it from the experts. With a little know-how, home remedies can save you time and money.
*Original broadcast October 27, 2010.