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Myth or Science? The Evolution of Home Health Care.

As BJC HealthCare celebrates 30 years as a system, we’re looking back at popular home health care remedies and how they’ve evolved over the years with the help of science and innovation.

The health care industry has made incredible strides over the past 30 years. Scientific and technological progress have significantly impacted the health care we receive in hospitals. It’s also changed how we treat minor illnesses and injuries in the comfort of our homes. From simple remedies for cuts and scrapes to addressing a range of health conditions for children, new information and innovations have changed the way we approach common questions.

How Science Shaped Parenting Remedies

Understanding the difference between anecdotal and evidence-based medicine is important when considering home remedies, says Dr. Niraj Shah, a BJC Medical Group family physician at Memorial Hospital Belleville. “There’s a belief that if someone has a certain experience, then it will be true for everyone. But research has shown that’s not true.”

For example, the list of parenting dos and don’ts for new babies has undergone an extreme makeover. “The industry has changed so much, and so have the remedies,” says Nancy Russo, a certified childbirth educator at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.

Some of the old myths — like rubbing brandy or whiskey on baby gums for teething or blowing cigarette smoke in the ear to combat ear infections — have been easily dismissed as science and common sense advanced. Other data-based remedies also have evolved as science advances and research continues.

The remedies that have changed over the years include:

  • Then: Putting cereal in baby bottles to fill up and help infants sleep. Now: Pediatricians recommend not introducing solid foods or cereals until 4 to 6 months.

  • Then: Thinking babies needed water in between daily feedings. 
    Now: Science has shown giving babies water can cause water intoxication, which can make them feel too full for their regular feedings and also upset their electrolyte system.

  • Then: Giving babies honey for a cough. 
    Now: It’s recognized that honey should not be introduced until after a baby’s first birthday because it can cause botulism. This includes all foods and baked goods containing honey.

  • Then: Putting toothpaste on baby acne. 
    Now: Doctors don’t recommend this, as regular toothpaste contains chemicals that can be harmful.

  • Then: Giving babies a bath every day. 
    Now: A mild baby soap once a week is all that’s recommended. Sponge baths are required until the umbilical cord and circumcision is healed, then a baby may be submerged in water.

  • Then: Using mercury thermometers. 
    Now: It is best to use digital thermometers to check temperatures. It is not recommended to use mercury thermometers; the thin glass with silvery metal can break and release toxic levels of mercury fumes.

  • Then: Giving babies cow’s milk as an important source of calcium.  
    Now: Whole dairy milk isn’t the only source of calcium for growing kids, and it’s not recommended for the first year of a child’s life. Most often, breastfeeding is the optimal nutrition for babies.

  • Then: Using baby powder. 
    Now: Research shows baby powder — which often contains cornstarch — can be detrimental to the lungs.

Russo says the most surprising change for the grandparents she teaches was the move to put babies to sleep on their backs. “We used to think they’d aspirate if they were on backs and spit up, but the science has proven just the opposite,” Russo says.

In 1994, based on its research, the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) recommended babies be placed on their backs to sleep because the position is associated with the lowest SIDS risk. It also recommended using firm sleep surfaces and avoiding the use of soft bedding in cribs like blankets, pillows, bumper pads or stuffed animals; only a tight-fitted crib sheet is necessary.

Giving tummy time with adult supervision while they practice lifting their heads helps babies strengthen their muscles, Russo adds.

Lifestyle and Nutrition Are Key

While many remedies for children have changed, other things like the traditional first-aid kit have undergone transformations. Basic adhesive bandages and hydrogen peroxide have now been complemented with a host of advanced first-aid solutions. Today, we have access to a wide range of antibacterial ointments that not only cleanse wounds but also promote rapid healing by creating a protective barrier against infections.

Still, Dr. Shah says that in addition to conventional methods for treating minor illness, lifestyle and nutrition are key ways to improve health. It’s something that can be incorporated into every home, and an element that was missing from a lot of home health protocols.

“Diet, sleep, stress and physical activities play a significant role in our health and wellness,” he says. “Our bodies have a tremendous capacity to heal as long as there are no major problems like diabetes or other chronic illness.”

Looking for a family medicine physician or pediatrician? Search providers near you accepting new patients.

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