By Dr Harsh Sharma, DHMS, BHMS
Published May 15, 2016, Last updated October 21, 2016
Almost every child suffers from diarrhoea every now and then. In most cases, parents tend to take this as a harmless thing and don’t bother much about it whereas the fact is that diarrhoea is one of the biggest killers. In fact, it comes second when it comes to fatalities in children. More than 15 lakh children lose their lives to diarrhoea only.
What is diarrhoea
Simply speaking diarrhoea is the presence of watery stools or frequent stools which may not be watery. This condition may be acute which means it is short lived or has just started. In most of such cases, it is caused by an infection. The infectious agents may be bacteria or viruses or parasites like worms. Diarrhoea that lasts for weeks or even longer is called chronic diarrhoea. Chronic diarrhoea may be due to many reasons which are beyond the scope of this article. Here we are going to deal with the acute diarrhoea only.
Causes of acute diarrhoea
Most common cause of acute diarrhoea is infection. The infection may be due to various reasons. It can be due to presence of some bacteria or virus or parasite. These infectious agents are present in water or the food we consume. In fact water borne spread of diarrhoea is much more common. Therefore we need to make sure that we drink clean water. When we say clean water, it does not mean that the water is clean to look at just with the naked eye. Most of the times, the water is clean if we look with our naked eyes. This does not in any way mean that it is free from infectious agents like bacteria and viruses. Clean water means that it is free from bacteria and viruses.
Another common source of infection is the food stuff that has been exposed to flies or has been left uncovered. It is a usual sight in many places and markets that eatables are dsiplayed in the open without even covering them. This is an open invitation to mosquitoes, flies, viruses and bacteria to inhabit these eatables and infect them. Any person subsequently eating these things is almost sure to catch an infection as these micro-organisms multiply at an alarming rate in the hot weather. These micro-organisms are invisible to you with your naked eye but this does not mean that they are not present. Under these circumstances, it is best to eat fruits and vegetables immediately after cutting them.
Swimming pools are another common source of infection as it is natural for water to enter one’s mouth while swimming. With so many people taking bath in the same water, it cannot be completely safe. If there is slight laxity in cleaning and sterilisation of the pool, it can cause infection to spread at a virulent pace. Taking a bath with soap before entering the pool and after coming out of the pool is the least one can do to save oneself and others also from these infections.
Most fertile weather for the bacteria and viruses that cause diarrhoea is the summer weather. Every summers, hundreds and hundreds of cases are reported to doctors, clinics, private hospitals and even big government hospitals. Much more is the number that goes unreported and it is precisely this category which has the highest chance of mortality from this seemingly innocuous disease.
If we want to save our kids from this potential killer, we must be aware about all aspects of diarrhoea- be its causes, ways of prevention, the treatment, the means of management and also the tell tale signs of danger. Foremost, it is important to understand that the infectious organisms like the bacteria and viruses proliferate much easily in the hot weather as the temperature is quite conducive for them. As such, a large number of these are present everywhere, whether we know about their presence or not. Therefore a slight carelessness on our part can expose us to these deadly organisms any time. Water is the most common vehicle for the spread of these bacteria and viruses. A slight indiscretion while drinking from a source which is not completely safe can cause an infection. Therefore, it is always advisable to carry a water bottle from home and make sure that the bottle is absolutely clean and the water is also either filtered or boiled.
Dehydration and its signs
The most important thing to understand is that it is not diarrhoea per se that causes the threat to life but it is dehydration or loss of water and electrolytes which is the biggest threat. It is necessary to identify the signs and symptoms of dehydration. In case of dehydration, the skin becomes shrivelled and dry, there is increased thirst and the mouth remains dry. Output of urine decreases and the colour of urine becomes dark yellow. The eyes become sunken and are dark all around. It is pertinent to mention here that one should not wait for dehydration to set in and rather increase the intake of water and electrolytes as soon as the diarrhoea sets it. The best way to manage dehydration is to avoid it and not let it happen.
Intake of water and liquids should be good. It is necessary to understand that a lot of electrolytes are also lost in a stool and they need to be replenished. Taking ORS is the best option as it available everywhere, does not cost much and has all the required electrolytes and in right measure.
One can add a spoon of sugar and a quarter spoon of salt to a glass of water in case ORS is not available.
Tea and coffee act as diuretics and lead to loss of water, therefore they should be avoided.
Role of Homoeopathy in treating diarrhoea
The first and foremost thing to remember here is that treatment should be started without any delay. There is no time to waste as the child may not get better on his own. A common misconception that I have always struggled to eradicate from the minds of the patients is that since this is an acute disease, Homeopathy may not be suitable for treating it. The fact is that Homeopathic medicines work very fast and cure the diarrhoea promptly. In fact, most of the time homeopathy works faster than any other system of medicine in treating diarrhoea. An added benefit is that it will not cause constipation later on, which happens most of the time with allopathic medicines for diarrhoea.
I have found homoeopathic medicines like Pulsatilla, Antim Crudum, Bryonia, Aloes, Podophyllum, Arsenic, Zingiber and Veratrum Album to be very effective. These medicines are just some of the frequently used homeopathic medicines for diarrhoea. Taking the symptoms of the patient and the cause of the diarrhoea is important here.