Updated 31 July 2014

12 dangerous home remedies

Most home cures are relatively harmless, but some remedies can be downright dangerous.


Home remedies are not only affordable, they're instantly available too, and though Most home cures are relatively harmless, be sure that your favourite combinations aren't on the list of dangerous home remedies.

Read: 6 dangers in your home

Dangerous cures for head lice

There are also many folk remedies for getting rid of head lice. People rub petrol or kerosene on their children's scalps, or use pesticides straight from their garden store. Other 'cures' involve coating the head with Vaseline, olive oil or salt water. Not only are these remedies ineffective, but they can be harmful. Safe and effective preparations can be purchased from pharmacies or prescribed by your GP.

Burns and paraffin ingestion

According to GP, Dr Bets Breedt, two of the most common dangerous home remedies she has encountered are:

  • Putting butter or oil on a burn. It is bad for the burn, as it actually keeps the heat in. The correct treatment is to cool the burn with cool water, afterwards covering it with antiseptic cream and a dry dressing.
  • Forcing a child who has ingested paraffin (kerosene) to vomit. Paraffin is toxic, but vomiting takes it into the lungs, where it does more damage than in the stomach – it can lead to a form of pneumonia (chemical pneumonitis) that is very dangerous. You should not give the child milk, charcoal or a laxative like liquid paraffin, instead give the child water to drink. The child should be admitted to hospital for X-rays and up to 24 hours' observation. Paraffin is the most common cause of acute unintentional poisoning among South African black children. The estimated incidence of paraffin ingestion is in the region of 80 000 cases per annum, and hospital fatality rates are between 0.72% and 2.1%.

Dodgy dental remedies

Health24's dental expert, Dr Imraan Hoosen, warns:

  • The practice of rubbing Grandpa Headache Powder onto the gum area to alleviate toothache is dangerous – gums become chemically burned. Rather take pain medication the usual way, and get yourself to a dentist.
  • A second frequently encountered problem is when patients with broken dentures use superglue to try and repair them at home. This is extremely dangerous, as the glue is toxic. The only solution is to have them professionally repaired.

Bad for baby

Paediatrician Professor Eugene Weinberg says that one inappropriately used home remedy is when babies with gastro-enteritis are taken off their usual food and put on rooibos tea, often for extended periods. The tea, while not harmful in itself, does not contain the essential electrolytes (especially potassium) and other nutrients required by an infant with severe diarrhoea.

Do not try this at home

Dr Anrich Burger, GP and Health24's Handicap Expert, volunteered the following examples as the worst home remedies he has ever encountered:

  • Putting cow dung on infected or bloody umbilical cords of infants to stop the bleeding or to stem infections. Cow dung is filled with bacteria, and in some instances may cause severe infection.
  • Using the urine of babies to wipe their eyes in order to treat eye infections. This practice is not effective and may simply make the infection worse.

Dr Ingrid van Heerden, Health24's DietDoc, reports that the very worst 'treatment' she’d ever heard of, was from a reader on the DietDoc Message Board who announced that she wanted to get infected with tapeworm in order to lose weight. She was so disturbed by this idea that she wrote a feature on the subject, titled "Refuting dietary myths". Don't ever use worms to try and lose weight!

According to Dr van Heerden, another very popular, but useless remedy is the use of apple cider vinegar to promote weight loss. This home remedy does the rounds with monotonous regularity, and nowadays some slimming products advertise that they contain apple cider vinegar. There is no scientific basis linking the ingestion of acetic acid to weight loss. In addition, vinegar and lemon juice can cause tooth enamel to erode over time, so whenever you've ingested these substances, rinse your mouth or brush your teeth straight afterwards.

Potentially harmful 'aphrodisiacs'

Sexologist Dr Elna McIntosh says that some substances thought of as aphrodisiacs (such as Spanish Fly) can be harmful. It's important to remember that, because aphrodisiacs, like all herbal supplements, are not regulated, it is difficult to know exactly what you're letting yourself in for when you pick up a bottle of "liquid love/lust" from your local sex shop.

If you do decide to give store-bought aphrodisiacs a try, make sure you know enough about all the ingredients and what their harmful effects may be.

Herbal remedies
Remember, when using herbal remedies, that they are medicines. Read the instructions carefully and adhere to dosage instructions. If you are using prescription medication, check with your doctor before taking additional herbal preparations, as some can counteract the effects of prescription medication.

Read more:
Is your home a death trap?
Enviro dangers at homeEveryday poisons in your home

(Images: iStock)


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