This fact box will help you to weigh the benefits and harms of homeopathic remedies for acute respiratory tract infections in children. The information and numbers are based on the best scientific evidence currently available.
This fact box was developed by the Harding Center for Risk Literacy.
Acute respiratory tract infections are infections of the upper or lower respiratory tract. They are often caused by viruses. Symptoms may include runny nose, cough, pain (such as headache, earache, sore throat, or aching limbs), fever, and feeling generally unwell.
Children have on average an acute respiratory infection three to six times a year .
Homeopathic remedies are produced by repeatedly diluting a substance (such as herbs or trace elements) in a solution, which is vigorously shaken before each further dilution. It is assumed that this process (potentization) transfers information contained in the diluted substance to the solution .
Homeopathic remedies are used as an alternative to conventional treatment (e.g. antibiotics) of respiratory infections. They are available over the counter in pharmacies, either on the recommendation of a homeopath or by individual choice .
One alternative is to first wait for the symptoms to reside. Depending on the symptoms, medications to reduce pain or fever or to ease swelling or loosen phlegm may be used .
Antibiotics are among the most important drugs for treating infectious diseases. However, the use of antibiotics in acute respiratory tract infections is controversial because antibiotics are effective only if the disease is caused by bacteria .
In the case of an acute respiratory tract infection, a regular physical examination (e.g. of the lungs with a stethescope and of the mucous membranes) cannot determine whether the infection is caused by a virus or by bacteria. Only a lab test of secretions (e.g., phlegm sample, nasal or throat swab) can provide information on whether the respiratory tract infection is bacterial. Following this, it may be considered whether an antibiotic should be used or not.
It is also important to know that antibiotics may have a negative effect on naturally occurring bacteria such as those in the intestines and may cause diarrhea and nausea. Allergic reactions may also occur .
The fact box shows the benefits and harms of homeopathic remedies compared to placebo or standard treatment in the treatment of acute respiratory infections in children.
The table may be read as follows:
About 70 out of every 100 children recovered within 10 to 14 days from the acute respiratory tract infection, regardless of whether they received individual homeopathic remedies or a placebo or standard treatment.
The numbers in the fact box are rounded. The data were reported in two studies with about 160 children .
Children received homeopathic remedies that were customized to their symptoms and the severity of the respiratory tract infection by a homeopath. Several remedies were prescribed in the studies. The most common ones were:
- Pulsatilla nigricans
- Mercurius solubilis
- Calcium carbonicum.
The results of both studies diverge. In one study, more children with homeopathy recovered from the acute respiratory infection, and in the other study more children with standard care.
Overall, the evidence is of very low quality. One of the included studies has a high risk of bias.
In addition, very few children were examined in the studies, which has an impact on the validity of the results. Further researched based on high-quality studies is necessary.
- June 2018 (development)
Information within the fact box was obtained from the following sources:
 Hawke K, van Driel ML, Buffington BJ, et al. Homeopathic medicinal products for preventing and treating acute respiratory tract infections in children. Cochrane Database Sys Rev 2018;4. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005974.