Some people are eschewing modern medicine in favor of home remedies, but are they safe?

By Kristi Pahr
January 07, 2020
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No one likes going to the doctor. There's never a day when we wake up and say, "You know what would be fun? Let's go get a check-up!" Never. Doesn't happen. But, sometimes it's just plain necessary, no matter how much we may dread it. When we're sick, when we're hurt, we have to just suck it up and go.

And it's the same for our kids. No matter how much they don't want to go, no matter how much we may not want to take them when they're sick or hurt, we go.

Or we don't.

Sometimes we'd rather try to fix whatever the problem is at home and skip the doc for whatever the reason. Whether it's fear or finances, sometimes we're tempted to try home remedies or something our great-great-grandmother used to do. And while some of those old-timey remedies may work, most of them don't and, depending on the situation, might be dangerous.

Illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (1); Adobe Stock (1)

A recent viral tweet described just one such old-timey remedy—using potatoes to "draw out" a fever.

In the now-deleted tweet, a mother shared photos of her son with what appears to be pieces of cubed potato strung around his neck. In the caption the poster described trying something her grandmother used to do, using a potato to treat a fever. The theory holds that as the fever is drawn out, the potato blackens—absorbing the toxins.

But according to Atlanta pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu, co-author of Heading Home With Your Newborn, the myth is just that, a myth. "There is no known medical benefit or plausible mechanism as to how [potatoes] might work," she explains. "That said, cool compresses (such as a damp washcloth on the skin or a lukewarm sponge bath) can bring down body temperature by allowing moisture on the skin to evaporate and cool, so cool potatoes or other cool items could conceivably do the same thing."

The blackening of the potatoes is a normal chemical process—oxidation—caused when starch-rich potatoes are exposed to fresh air.

Dr. Shu says there are a few home remedies that might work to bring down fevers, but potatoes aren't one of them. "Drinking or eating cool foods can cool a child from within," she says. But parents should be careful not to mistake home remedies for professional medical care. "While vegetables have undisputed nutritional value and there is no known medical concern regarding the topical use of potatoes, it's important not to use them in place of any medical care that might be needed." Shu adds that a necklace or string around a child's neck could also be a choking hazard.

The bottom line is don't be surprised if that potato doesn't break your child's fever. They're tasty fried, mashed, and baked but they aren't medicine.

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