Alternatives to Calpol – Patty Hemingway suggests that Calpol may do more harm than good, especially to allergic children, and that homeopathy offers safe and effective alternative remedies.


There are few parents who have never given their child Calpol,  a Paracetamol syrup recommended by doctors as a treatment for babies and young children, and prescribed for everything from fever to insomnia.  However, recent research has shown that Paracetamol is not quite a panacea for all ills, and may even increase susceptibility to disease. (See Pat Thomas' article in the Ecologist last year; see below for a list of the other ingredients in Calpol apart from paracetomol!))

Researchers are looking anew at the standby of the family medicine cabinet, and asking whether there are any side-effects associated with taking Paracetamol.  The Amercian Journal of Medicine reported earlier this year, that adults taking Paracetamol at least twice a week were shown to have an increased risk of mild to severe deafness before age 50 (Am Journal of Medicine, March 2010).

In the UK, research has focused on the increased risk of allergy and asthma.  The Lancet reported in 2008 (Lancet 20.9.2008, Issue 372) on studies that showed that, “Paracetamol use both in the first year of life and in older children was associated with an increased risk of symptoms of rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema”.  So it seems that it may not be a good idea to give Paracetamol to children with allergies, or those with a family history of allergies.  The researchers noted that the universal rise in childhood asthma may be related to increasing use of Paracetamol, since it has replaced aspirin as the drug of choice for childhood illnesses, on grounds of safety.

In October 2009 the Lancet reported on another study which revealed that giving your child an analgesic to prevent fever, following vaccination, could actually make things worse.  The reason for this may be because Paracetamol suppresses a fever thereby reducing the immune system’s normal response.  A correct immune response usually involves a raised temperature, or inflammatory reaction.  This reaction to vaccination is the body’s attempt to produce antibodies to deal with the threat introduced by the vaccine, and if it cannot do this, then the vaccine is as good as useless.   And there’s more, because a lowered immune response leaves the child more vulnerable to other opportunistic infections, so the child suffers an endless series of colds, and infections, which the immune system just cannot deal with.

As far back as 2002, a study from the Dept of Paediatrics, at Cross River State University, Nigeria concluded that “Trial evidence that Paracetamol has a superior antipyretic (anti-fever) effect than placebo is inconclusive.  There is limited evidence that there is no difference between the antipyretic effect of Paracetamol and physical methods.”  So, in other words, most fevers can be effectively controlled with tepid sponging, and without the need for medication.

Before I began to look into the claims made for Calpol, I already knew that the overly sweet, sticky concoction had been responsible for making one of my children hyper-active until the sugars and E numbers left his system; and putting him in a stupor when we switched to “sugar-free”,  due to his intolerance of the artificial sweetener  and colorants it contains.  When I tried to find an alternative free of E numbers, sugars or sweeteners I was met with a blank by pharmacies and their suppliers.  After my son’s one and only experience of Calpol, during a particularly severe ear infection, I heard of other households where children were so addicted to the stuff thatfive and six-year-olds had been found breaking into the medicine cupboard to get their fix.  Thank goodness I could turn to homeopathy when my children needed pain relief, sedation, or treatment for infections, and help to recover from illness.

No one likes to see their child in pain, so I am not advocating the wait and see approach in all cases  – although all acute illnesses are self-limiting, and will clear up without intervention once the infection has run its course, and stimulated the necessary immune response.   Some paediatricians will advise that good care and nursing is all that is needed, but what about the pain?  Some pains, such as ear-ache can be excruciating, so it is a good idea to know how to treat these safely with homeopathic remedies.

Selecting Homeopathic Remedies
Finding the correct remedy for an acute illness involves collecting up the patient’s individual symptoms  (not every sore throat or ear-infection is the same) and then finding the remedy picture which comes closest to matching the symptom picture.   For example, a child with an ear infection needing Pulsatilla may be thirstless and clingy with a mild fever, but one needing Belladonna could be thirsty for lemonade, with red cheeks and a higher fever, even to the point of being delirious.

Don’t worry if you don’t get the right remedy the first time, as the remedies sold in kits for self-prescribing come in medium potencies of 30C, which means that you can safely repeat the remedies, and you can switch to a different remedy if the first remedy you give seems to have no effect.  The kits also come with a handy instruction booklet which simplifies the process.

Homeopathic Remedies for Pain

We all know that pains can feel different depending on what is causing the pain, its location and who is feeling it.  Whenever my daughter told me she had a “headache in her legs” I knew this meant she had “growing pains”, and the remedy was invariably Chamomilla in her case.  This may be because Chamomilla serves so well when the person in pain feels angry and irritable, or that the pain is more than they can bear, and my daughter certainly suffered with her growing pains.  So when selecting a remedy it is important to match the remedy to the symptoms, and temperament of the patient.

Most people have heard of Arnica for bruising, and many have witnessed how quickly it can relieve the pain and swelling associated with injury.  It is the perfect remedy for bumps and bangs or trapped fingers.  It will also relieve the pain in bruised ribs after strenuous coughing, or aching muscles after a vigorous game of football.  The other wonderful thing about Arnica is that it helps to remove shock and trauma from the body following injury or accident.  Give it if you suspect that the child is in shock.

If the pain is of the throbbing variety, then it will probably respond to Belladonna, no matter which part of the body is affected.  Belladonna is a great remedy for infections in teeth,ears or throats, especially if the area looks hot and red.  Also consider Belladonna for throbbing headaches.

This is the number one remedy for babies’ teething pain, and is available as teething granules which can be dropped onto the tongue.  A baby who needs Chamomilla is characteristically grumpy or irritable, may cry out in pain, and usually has one red cheek.  If the baby has two red cheeks and looks very hot with dilated pupils or staring eyes then consider Belladonna.  Or you could cover all eventualities and use a combination remedy of ACONITE, BELLADONNA and CHAMOMILLA – it’s as easy as A B C.
Also consider Chamomilla for colic, especially where the baby is screaming and angry with a hard distended abdomen, is pulling up his legs and has green poo.

Magnesia  Phosphorica has been called the homeopathic aspirin in recognition of its effectiveness as a pain reliever in conditions such as colic, earache, and period pains.  It can be given in addition to any other indicated remedy where additional pain relief is needed, and especially where the pain is better for warmth (eg a hot water bottle) or there are muscle spasms involved.

This is the number one remedy to think of for nerve pains, in any part of the body.  It is also known as the “dental anaesthetic” remedy, because it can relieve pain during and after dental surgery.  It will also relieve stinging pains from cuts and grazes and assist with tissue healing.  It can be used to relieve the pain from mild burns, but a deeper acting remedy for burns is CANTHARIS.

Homeopathic Remedies for Fevers

If given soon enough Aconite has been credited with stopping a cold or fever from developing.  It works especially well for those acute illnesses such as croup which come on suddenly after exposure to cold air.  A dose of Aconite given to an icy child who has been playing school sports in freezing  weather, can bring warmth and comfort, and often avert a chill.
Give Aconite at the first sign of fever and if the child is alternately cold and running a high temperature.

This is another excellent remedy for high fevers, and especially when the child seems delirious and may be hallucinating.  It can be given after Aconite or alternated with Aconite until the fever comes under control.

This is the first remedy to think of when flu symptoms are present along with a low-grade fever.  The child may complain their head feels heavy and they look sleepy and flushed.  They may be shaking and complain of feeling chilled.

Most children need this remedy at some point, as it covers a multitude of childhood illnesses whose symptoms include fevers and needing to be held and comforted.  It is especially helpful in ear-ache, coughs, and sore throats.  The guiding symptom is often that the child is very clingy and will not be left alone.

Homeopathic Remedies & Vaccination

This is a complex topic, and there is much misunderstanding around the use of homeopathic prophylaxis and alternatives to vaccination.  There is an article about this on my website.
After any vaccination give your child a dose of LEDUM to remove discomfort at the injection site.  If a lump develops or the soreness persists, then repeat the Ledum or give in a higher potency (200C is probably best for this).  Ledum is the best remedy to give first for any puncture wound and works well for wasp stings also.
If your child develops a fever then give one of the fever remedies rather than a dose of Calpol.  Other side-effects include diarrhoea (SILICA), cough and skin inflammation (THUJA).  You may need to call on the help of a trained homeopath if your child has a particularly severe reaction to vaccination, but try not to give Calpol.  There are other ways to soothe her and your homeopath will advise you.

Remedies to relax and Soothe Children (and their parents)

Many parents who give Chamomilla teething granules will have discovered for themselves the sedative effect this remedy has on angry or irritable children.  It works equally well for hyper-active children who become difficult and uncooperative (although the effect will not last unless the underlying problem is treated).  I used to give my little ones a dose before any journey to keep them calm and help them to nod off.

This is a good remedy to think of if your child is weeping and upset (also consider Pulsatilla) and in distress.  It can calm fears and anxieties, about going to school for example, and in these situations has been known to work wonders for a tummy-ache that comes on at 8 am on a school day.
If your child is unhappy about going to sleep because of anxiety, then Ignatia may be the remedy that can help with this.

Aconite will help with insomnia due to night terrors and fear of going to sleep.  It is also the first remedy to think of if your child suffers any shock or trauma (and you might want to take a dose too).  If the shock and trauma are dealt with, the body can recover more easily from most injuries.  The patient who needs Aconite may have a morbid fear of dying.

If your child is sleepless from excitement, before a holiday or birthday for example, then a dose of Coffea will help them to settle.  This remedy is helpful when a child is over-excited and maybe enjoying life too much to want to stop and go to sleep.

Musculoskeletal Injury

ARNICA is often the first remedy needed to deal with the shock and trauma of any injury.  Then you need to assess the patient’s response to determine what other remedies may be needed.
Sprained ankles or wrists respond well to RUTA alternated with ARNICA until the pain and swelling resolve.
If the injury is severe, and the patient unable to move because of the pain then give BRYONIA.  Bryonia often works especially well for shoulder and knee injuries.
For injury at a sensitive, nerve-rich location such as the lips or ears give HYPERICUM In the case of trapped fingers it can be alternated with Arnica until the pain reduces.

Getting Started with Using Homeopathic Remedies

If you have read this far, then you will either be impressed by the number of complaints that can be treated with homeopathy, or else wondering why there isn’t a single remedy for each complaint, and perhaps even wistfully thinking how simple it all seemed with a single bottle of sticky pink painkiller. 

Don’t give up on the homeopathy just yet, as this safe, gentle and effective system of medicine, does not produce side-effects or harm your child’s developing immune system in any way.  Instead, get yourself a good book, and there are many to choose from that will do the work for you (see below), and invest in a remedy kit or an evening spent at a workshop learning more about how to use these marvellous remedies. 

And if you really can’t decide which remedy to give, then just remember your A B C Remedy.  I know of several families who give their children nothing else for pain and fevers, and so effective is this strategy that they have not yet seen the need to invest in the full kit !

Homeopathy for Mother and Baby by Miranda Castro
Your healthy Child with Homeopathy by Tricia Allen
The No-Nonsense Vaccine Handbook: a guide for parents by Liz Bevan-Jones & Yvonne Stone direct from Liz at

Patty Hemingway, Registered Homeopath (RMANM)
Patty has clinics in South West London,  and runs workshops on how to treat yourself and your family using homeopathy.  For more information contact her at or visit   or call (0)20 8333 0413

The other ingredients in Calpol (apart from Paracetamol of course) include:

Carmoisine or pink colouring (E122 – suspected carcinogen, banned in Austria, Japan, Norway, Sweden & the US)
Maltitol (a mild laxative)
Gylcerol (E422 – large quantities can cause headaches, thirst & nausea)
Sorbitol (E420 – large quantities can cause stomach upset)
Methyl parahydroxybenzoate, a preservative or paraben (E218 – suspected hormone disrupter and allergen)
Propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216  - suspected hormone disrupter & allergen)
Ethyl parahydroxybenzoate (E214 – suspected hormone disrupter, banned in France & Australia)
Xanthan Gum , a thickener (E415 – no known adverse effects)
E122 & E218 have been identified by  the Hyperactive Support Group as likely causes of sudden cases of AFHD-like hyper-activity.

Information quoted from The Ecologist 29th October 2009, article by Pat Thomas


First published in October 2010


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