Illness just a speedbump for this active teen
by Amy Rothenberg, ND
When a patient called me early last summer to bemoan the fact that her college-bound daughter Jackie, a successful student-athlete, had “picked up mono and was going down fast,” I was eager to see the girl. In my experience, treating kids and teens suffering with mono is gratifying all the way around. Using homeopathy and natural medicine, we can decrease discomfort, speed healing, and help them come out the other end of the illness feeling revitalized. We can also prevent the troubling long-term after-effects that some mono sufferers develop, such as chronic fatigue.
The kissing disease
Mononucleosis is often spread by saliva and close contact with those who have it, hence its moniker, “the kissing disease.” Although most common in teenagers, the illness can be found in people of any age. Mono is usually associated with the Epstein-Barr virus but may be caused by other viruses like the Cytomegalovirus.
Symptoms include fever, sore throat, headache, swollen lymph glands, sore achy muscles, swollen spleen, and the twin telltale signs of extreme fatigue and a general feeling of being sick. Some sufferers will also have a cough, chest pain, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, and/or sensitivity to light. The fact that mono can manifest so differently in different people makes homeopathy a perfect therapeutic choice, because homeopaths tailor their prescription to the individual’s experience of an illness.
Jackie had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to working that summer before going away to college. Normally very active, Jackie played baseball in the springtime, soccer in the fall, and enjoyed all manner of physical activity in between. But about a week before her mono diagnosis, Jackie had seemed somewhat sluggish and had slept a lot. At the time, her parents didn’t think much of it. They chalked it up to cumulative exhaustion from her senior year of high school, with all its academic, social, and athletic demands. Then one morning she came down to breakfast and announced, “My throat is killing me. I can’t swallow. Maybe you should take me to the doctor!” Jackie’s father, a nurse, thought she was being overly dramatic, but by the next day, he changed his mind; she was looking much sicker and she really could not eat or drink.
Jackie’s pediatrician thought it might be mono because of her swollen glands, the extent of her sore throat, and the degree of fatigue. Blood work confirmed the diagnosis, and Jackie was sent home with very basic advice: rest, keep hydrated, and don’t engage in contact sports. The latter was not really an issue because Jackie could barely get off the couch! But doctors routinely tell mono patients to avoid any contact sports or vigorous activities so they do not risk rupturing their spleens, which are often enlarged.
A different game plan
Coming up empty-handed from the family’s visit to their conventional doctor, Jackie’s mom had a hunch that their naturopathic doctor might be just the person to help, so at this point they brought her to me. On seeing Jackie, I knew she must be rather ill. Constitutionally, she had been treated several years before with the remedy Sulphur for issues related to chronic acne, lose stools, and frequent colds. Usually exuberant and friendly, this tall and thin 18-year-old now seemed despondent and unusually quiet. She was pale, weak, and in terrific pain with an exquisitely sore throat. When I looked in her mouth, I saw a tremendous amount of saliva throughout. There was a white discharge of pus on the tonsils and a pretty bad smell to her entire oral cavity. She had golf-ball-sized swollen glands on both sides along her jaw line, that were tender to the touch. She had a low-grade fever and went from feeling quite warm to very chilly; she was slightly nauseous and just wanted to sleep.
With mono we often find that such acute symptoms last for 8–12 days; gland and spleen swelling may remain for a month or so. For many, the fatigue will start to dissipate after 2 weeks; for some it hangs on for several months. A further subset develops chronic mono: they just do not seem able to rid themselves of the active virus. (Some of these patients wind up at the homeopath’s door, and we do well in treating them, even years after their original diagnosis.)
Natural medicine relief
My first goal for Jackie was to help her get some relief from her sore throat. The excessive salivation, the purulent discharge, the offensive smell, as well as the inability to regulate body temperature led me to prescribe the homeopathic remedy Mercurius 30c. I asked her to take it twice a day for two days and to call me on the third day.
I also suggested Vitamin C and the botanical medicine astragalus, both known for their antiviral effects, along with a probiotic, because we know that the gut is an important part of the immune system, and if we support proper GI function, it can help raise immunity. I recommended zinc throat lozenges, too, because zinc kills germs on contact and helps to enhance immune function through the blood. I recommended slippery elm lozenges as another botanical medicine that can soothe a painful throat.* Finally, I advised Jackie to take a daily 5-10 minute, hot-to-tolerance foot bath. This draws congestion and inflammation away from the throat and helps to stimulate the immune system. It can also be quite relaxing, which is particularly helpful for those with mono, as sometimes in spite of their tremendous fatigue, they have difficulty falling asleep.
When we spoke two days later, Jackie’s mom reported that Jackie’s throat was much better; Jackie seemed a bit perkier and was eating more typically because her throat wasn’t killing her any longer. Jackie said that she had very little mucus or saliva in her mouth and throat anymore; it now felt dry, and when it hurt, the pain was more “stabbing” in nature. She had developed a dry hacking cough that was worse if she moved around. Jackie was also irritable and somewhat constipated. These symptoms no longer fit the indications for Mercurius; they clearly fit the indications for the homeopathic remedy Bryonia, so at this point I recommended that Jackie take Bryonia 30c. With intense acute illnesses, patients will often go through a number of phases of the illness and correspondingly, will need a number of well-indicated remedies. We should not be afraid to change remedies as an acute illness moves through various phases, especially if we see shifts in their physical general symptoms or their temperament.
Jackie did well on the Bryonia for three days, needing a dose 2–3 times a day, whenever her cough would get worse. I saw her at the one-week mark, and she was feeling pretty well, though still tired. I did not give a homeopathic remedy but encouraged the family to keep up with the Vitamin C, the astragalus, probiotics, zinc lozenges, and hot foot baths.
Time for a constitutional
When I next saw Jackie, it was about a month after her diagnosis of mono, and she was getting ready to leave for a short summer road trip with friends. She was back to her chipper, more communicative self—but she said her energy was still a little lower than normal. She asked me whether she needed a dose of her constitutional remedy again, as she thought that might help her make a complete return to health and be ready for college and soccer in the fall. I concurred entirely, and we repeated the Sulphur 200c, which was still a good match with regard to her temperament (outgoing, full of ideas, confident, friendly), the few chronic issues she had (premenstrual acne and some tendency for loose stools), and her physical general symptoms (warm-blooded, preferring highly seasoned foods, thirsty for cold water).
Jackie made a smooth transition to college, never really looking back. I find that when patients can weather an acute illness without the use of strong allopathic medicines, they often come out the other side feeling rather revitalized, as if they have fought some small battle and emerged triumphant. In Jackie’s case, there really were no conventional medicines to consider beyond things to reduce fever or suppress the cough. I believe that getting through acute illness is one way the immune system is stimulated into action and that although being in the midst of an illness can be unpleasant, acute illness can indeed be a useful thing for a person, helping them to fight off other illnesses down the road. Jackie herself considered the mono a kind of punctuation to her summer—one big pause, after which she regrouped, with the help of natural medicine, and was then able to go on and enjoy the rest of her summer before emerging into a very promising fall.
*I prefer Zand zinc lozenges (since they don’t have much sugar) and Thayer’s slippery elm lozenges.
Thank you to the National Center for Homeopathy for their permission for us to re-print this article from their Summer 2010 issue of Homepathy Today. For more information about membership to the NCH or subscribing to their publication, you can contact them at:
National Center for Homeopathy
101 S Whiting Street, Suite 315
Alexandria, VA 22304