Little 7 year old Teddy was one miserable fellow when his mother brought him to the office on a hot summer afternoon. He had been suffering from pertussis or whooping cough for a number of weeks - and suffering was the operative word. Every hour he would have a very violent and loud fit of coughing. He would literally jump into the air with the force of the cough and, because Teddy felt like he was choking, he would desperately stomp his feet. Then the fit would end in a spasm of vomiting or retching.
If you've ever witnessed a bout of whooping cough, it can be pretty scary. In infants it can be dangerous because they actually can suffocate.
There is no conventional treatment for it, though antibiotics are often prescribed - supposedly to prevent it from developing into a bacterial infection, but probably just as a way to do something.
Teddy found no relief at night either. In fact, his worst fits were in the middle of the night. The only thing that provided some relief was open air and cooler temperatures. The heat of the season had only made things worse. At one point, his mother reported, he was coughing up long sticky strings of mucous but now it was more like huge chunks.
This visit was my first with Teddy. He and his younger brother who also had whooping cough were squeezed into my schedule for the day. With no previous history and little time to explore his overall constitution, it was necessary to prescribe an acute remedy based on presenting symptoms. He was given one dose of Coccus cacti, a well known medicine for cough made from the parasitic insect Cochineal.
The next day, Teddy's mother reported that the fits had stopped during the night and were somewhat less severe during the day. Three days later he was still having fits, but now their nature had change. He was coughing up large amounts of sticky mucous. At that point, I switched the remedy to Kali bichromium - well known for its keynote symptom of profuse, viscous mucous. This had the effect of further reducing the frequency and strength of the fits.
It took some weeks for the cough to fully resolve, but no other prescriptions were needed. With sleep restored (to the entire household), Teddy was able to recuperate. The episodes kept on diminishing in frequency and intensity until they finally disappeared.
Teddy's brother Leo, on the other hand, presented with a different picture of symptoms and a different challenge. Only 3 months old, Leo was young enough to have serious concerns about choking or other complications from the cough. He had contracted it from his brother and while it had been quite mild at first, in the last week the cough started getting worse. It was raspy, sometimes accompanied by a rattle in the chest, or sometimes accompanied by a mucous discharge. Leo would also often gag after the cough.
The cough was worse at night, and like his brother there would be some relief in the open air and cooler temperatures. Not only the heat, but lying down, especially on his back, as well as crying made the cough worse. While there was no fever, Leo would wake at night sweaty and irritable, most commonly at 3 am. His mother also noticed that he twitched at times and that there was some sneezing as well.
Initially, I prescribed a dose of Drosera, another common cough remedy made from the carnivorous Sundew plant. It was curious that the older brother was prescribed an insect remedy and the younger brother one a remedy from a plant that ate insects. Hopefully, that was no a portent for their future relationship - and fortunately it wasn't. Based on his mother's report over the phone the next day, Drosera really didn't do much and because they lived some distance away, I suggested he take a dose of his brother's remedy, the Coccus cacti and come in the day after.
During that visit, his mother noted that there was no dramatic change, but his cough had become more gagging. Based on the nature of the cough,his sweatiness, the fact that heat aggravated the fits, the worsening at 3 am and my observations of the child, I prescribed the remedy Sulphur.
The following day his mother called in to say that the coughing had lessened in intensity and that Leo seemed brighter and more energetic. His mother was greatly relieved that the episodes were no longer threatening and over the next few days, there was a slow steady improvement. As with his brother, he now was on the road to recovery,taking several weeks for the whooping cough to fully recuperate.