Case Histories

RECURRENT TONSILLITIS

Chinese medicine works very well as a safe and effective treatment for acute tonsillitis, offering an alternative to antibiotics. It is also well-poised to treat cases of re-occurring infection by strengthening the child’s constitution and building the immune system. This, of course applies equally to recurrent infection in adults.

Children in particular have an immature immune system, and many suffer from recurrent illnesses. Infections such as tonsillitis, which so often presents with a high fever causing further discomfort for the child and anxiety for the mother, need to be treated promptly.

I first saw “Billie” when he was 14 months old and his mother brought him to see me because he was suffering from a gastro upset. He had had foul green diarrhoea two days earlier and not passed a stool since. Meanwhile he had been vomiting once to two times a day. I used one acupuncture point on the leg, using a very fine needle and leaving it in only a few seconds before removing it. (This point stimulates the digestive system and has been shown in recent research to increase activity of white blood cells needed to fight infection.) I also prescribed 2 days of herbs. He took one dose that evening and another the next morning, and recovered after taking those 2 doses. In October of the following year, when he was 2 years and 2 months old, his mother brought him to me again, telling me he had suffered 6 or 7 episodes of tonsillitis that year, with repeated courses of antibiotics – most often 2 courses each time. He had come down with tonsillitis again the previous day, and had again been prescribed antibiotics Her confidence in antibiotics as the best way to care for her son had waned, and she wanted to pursue a more preventative course of action.

Chinese medicine has wonderfully effective herbs and formulas to treat various infections and fevers, including tonsillitis, and rather than depress the immune system as antibiotics tend to do, it supports and builds the immune system once the infection has passed. In this way, episodes of recurrent infection gradually occur less often and with milder symptoms, until the time when the immune system has recovered and there is no further recurrence. Over the next 4-5 months, whenever Billie had an tonsillitis, herbs were prescribed to treat the infection and fever; then other herbs were prescribed to build the immune system. The interval between episodes gradually increased, and the severity of the tonsillitis and its symptoms decreased. I saw Billie, his sister and his parents several times over the next several years, and there was no recurrence.


CHRONIC ASTHMA

Asthma is a debilitating illness which is chronic in nature, manifesting with acute symptoms in response to a trigger such as cold air, pollens, dust, etc. Severe breathing difficulty can mean insufficient oxygen is being taken into the lungs for perfusion to the blood, and the gasping for air, anxiety and chest tightening tend to exacerbate the problem and urgent hospitalisation is often needed. In recent decades a significant number of children is affected.

To manage an acute attack, self-administered inhalers such as salbutomol (Ventolin, Respolin), terbutaline (Bricanyl) are used. These are beta 2 sympathomimetic agonists which act by opening the bronchial airways and reversing the narrowing which causes the breathing difficulty. Where symptoms are severe and persistent, preventers are prescribed to take on a daily basis. These are for the most part corticosteroid-based medications such as fluticasone (Flixotide, Seretide) or prednisolone (another corticosteroid which can cause growth retardation in children if taken long-term).

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine result in milder attacks, at greater intervals, and often succeed in totally resolving the disease.

#1 “Harry” was a young 8 year-old boy, who did not suffer severe attacks, but nevertheless used his puffer 5-6 times a day. He had weekly acupuncture treatments for about a month, followed by 3 follow-ups in the next 2 months. When I saw him again some months later, he and her father reported that he now rarely used the puffer – saying that he used it only once every month or so. His condition continued to improve and a year after that he reported that he no longer used the puffer at all.

#2 “Jill” was a frail 5 year-old girl who had been plagued by illness and repeated courses of antibiotics. She had been hospitalised with pneumonia at the age of 2, succumbed to recurrent chest infections, always starting with a cough, and suffered an asthma-like wheeze whenever she had a cold. She had been prescribed 6 courses of antibiotics in the previous 12 months, with the last few courses causing abdominal pain and bloating. When I saw her, she had still not fully recovered from the last chest infection some 10 weeks earlier. She was thin and pale, with dark circles under her eyes, and had a persistent wet cough which was worse at night and in the mornings. I prescribed some herbs for the acute condition, to be followed by another formula to build her strength and immune system.

I saw her again five months later. She had had another chest infection a month before and had been given 3 courses of antibiotics. He had some hayfever symptoms, so I prescribed an appropriate formula to be followed by some tonic herbs for maintenance.

Seven months later I saw him again. He had a high fever which burnt out and left him shivering, the night before, leaving him with a mildly raised temperature when I saw him at the consultation. Given that his condition could develop into asthma or bronchitis as had happened so many times before, a formula was prescribed to prevent that complication. The acute aspect of the condition resolved without antibiotics, and his face was no longer as pale, and there were no dark rings under the eyes. However, a month later, he had a runny nose and a mild fever, and more herbs were prescribed for 5 days, along with antibiotics. The infection did not resolve and he was given a second course of antibiotics as well as Chinese herbs. There was no further infection in the next six months. He is still under my care and takes maintenance herbs fairly regularly. His parents are pleased that he is stronger and not falling ill as often. It is summer as I write this, and so we now hope there will be no more illness until the challenges of next winter.

The outcomes in this case were slower than the first because there was a bigger battle to fight. However, the gradual improvement could easily be seen, and the prognosis is excellent. It was important that the Chinese herbs be given as soon as she fell ill, and that the maintenance (tonic) herbs be taken regularly while he was well. Because they could see the marked improvement, the parents’ confidence in Chinese medicine has gradually increased, and their reliance on antibiotics has correspondingly decreased. This is an ongoing story which will no doubt have a happy ending.


CHRONIC ECZEMA

Eczema is a chronic inflammatory disease of the skin, which is often exacerbated by heat, or grasses, pollens, and other allergens. It is a red pimply rash which is itchy and painful. When it is particularly stubborn and severe, the rash forms a thickened raised patch with the appearance of red suede leather which is known as lichenification.

“Mollie” was 5 years old, had suffered from eczema from the age of 3, and had 5 asthma attacks in the past 18 months, and wheezed occasionally when she was exposed to cold wind. There was a milder eczema rash on her upper eyelid crease, and under her throat, and severe reddening and thickening of the skin on the inside of her calves and ankles, which bore scratch marks, and was a dull dark red.

She was a little anxious in anticipation of the acupuncture, but I used only 2 needles, and she was fine when it actually came to inserting them. I dispensed 7 days of herbs. The next week, the lesions were not as dark and lifeless, but were fresher and less itchy. The rash on the eyes was less noticeable, and the rash on the chest had paled into insignificance. After another week of herbs, the rash was less inflamed. Two weeks later, there was a marked improvement – very little thickened skin – only a few spots, and not many scratch marks. Her stool which had previously been dry was also now normal.

Six weeks into treatment, the skin had cleared until the morning of the visit. It was October, and she had walked near a grassy paddock, causing a flare-up, with the skin on the calves broken and weepy. However, the area affected was smaller and the lesion was less inflamed than when she had first come to see me. Two weeks later, the skin on her throat and eyes were perfectly clear, and the skin on her calves had sparse lesions which were only slightly pink, not red.

Over the next few months, there was constant improvement with occasional mild flare-ups. The appearance of the skin improved dramatically, but there were still occasional periods of itchiness. Usually when she caught a cold the lesions would get worse, but the next time she caught a cold there was no skin reaction. Unfortunately, she was still sensitive to certain allergens, so she continued taking herbs from time to time as needed to manage those acute flare-ups.