Minor aches and transient symptoms are part of everyday life (M Anwar 2015). Different people respond differently to a given symptom, and responses can range from totally ignoring the symptom to immediately seeking medical help. Self-care, using home remedies and consuming traditional and alternative medicines are common responses to symptoms.
Responses to symptoms, or illness behavior, is the differential perception, evaluation and consequent response to specific symptoms (M Anwar 2015). Early work explored factors that influence individuals' decisions to seek medical help for a given illness. These included cultural and family background, social networks, psychological distress, access to healthcare, interpretation of the symptom, the intensity of the symptom, prior illness and medical care experiences, illness beliefs, as well as many other individual and social variables.
Minor illnesses are usually treated in home and community contexts (M Anwar 2015). Despite, or perhaps because of, their commonness, responses to minor illness are poorly researched, especially outside developed countries. Self-care, self-medication, use of home and herbal remedies and spiritual healing were found to be the most common responses to these symptoms. Factors affecting participants’ treatment decision-making included past experience, friends’ or relatives’ experience and advice, family practice, presence of a health professional in the family or circle of friends, and cultural practice. Consulting with a doctor was not a preferred option in treating minor illnesses.
Pandemics are as old as humanity and since ancient times we have turned to plants to find solutions to health-related problems (S Garcia 2020). Traditional medicines based mostly on plants are still the only therapeutic possibility in many developing countries, but even in the richest ones, herbal formulation currently receives increased attention. Plants are natural laboratories whose complex secondary metabolism produces a wealth of chemical compounds, leading to drug discovery – 25% of widespread use drugs are indeed of plant origin. Their therapeutic potential is even bigger: although many plant-based compounds show inhibitory effects against a myriad of pathogens, few reach the stage of clinical trials. Their mechanism of action is often unknown, yet traditional plant-based remedies have the advantage of a long-term experience in their use, usually of hundreds to thousands of years, and thus a precious experience on their safety and effects.
Herbs are the most commonly used category of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) among U.S. residents other than prayer, and they are widely used among older adults (TA Arcury 2007). Herbs are generally available; they can be gathered, grown at home, or purchased at supermarkets, pharmacies, and health food stores. They are available in their natural form, as extracts, and as pills. Herbs can be selected by any individual, but may also be prescribed by a conventional (allopathic) or alternative health care provider. People using herbs may be following cultural practices, engaging in the use of home remedies, acting on an alternative health care philosophy, or responding to media and marketing.
A basic premise of health self-management is that adults are actively involved in monitoring and making decisions about their health (TA Arcury 2007). One might not consider all decisions to be positive within the framework of conventional medicine; for example, some individuals may decide to do nothing, to maintain behaviors that are detrimental to their health, or to use unproven alternative remedies. Although older adults perform some health self-management behaviors to prevent the onset of new disease or illness, their health self-management frequently focuses on treating symptoms (e.g., taking an aspirin or resting in a dimly lit room for a headache), states (e.g., starting a diet or increasing physical activity to reduce weight), or chronic conditions (e.g., taking insulin or testing blood glucose to control diabetes).
Women tend to have greater health knowledge and health concerns than do men (TA Arcury 2007). Women are often greater users of complementary and alternative therapies, but not among older adults. Use of complementary and alternative therapies, including herbs, changes with age.
Ethnicity and culture are important in determining how a person implements health self-management, particularly how that person incorporates complementary and alternative health care, such as herbs, into a self-management regime (TA Arcury 2007). Members of an ethnic group share beliefs and common experiences that affect their willingness to use different forms of health care.
Personal and financial resources, such as education or income, affect performance of health self-management behaviors (TA Arcury 2007). These structural factors are important within the SRM framework as they facilitate or limit an individual's ability to implement a behavior. For example, education is related to the use of complementary and alternative therapies. Having more education may result in having greater knowledge of complementary and alternative therapies like herbs, as well as having the ability to pay for them. However, the lack of formal education could result in greater use of traditional herbal remedies due to less access to, less ability to pay for, or less willingness to use conventional medical care. Financial resources, whether income or health insurance status, can affect individuals' relative access to conventional care and their ability to pay for herbal supplements.
Reliable information (LM Parisius 2014) regarding patient knowledge of home remedies and the types of health problems patients use them for is scarce. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence indicates that home remedies are used by patients for managing minor health problems and that this can be sufficient for symptom management while the body recovers from minor health problems. The most frequently used home remedies were steam-inhalation, hot lemon drink, honey, chamomile tea and chicken soup. Information about home remedies was most commonly gained from family members, rather than from written guides, media or GPs.
Parisius, L.M., Stock-Schröer, B., Berger, S. et al. Use of home remedies: a cross-sectional survey of patients in Germany. BMC Fam Pract 15, 116 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2296-15-116
Mudassir Anwar, James A. Green, Pauline Norris & Nadeem I. Bukhari (2015) Self-medication, home remedies, and spiritual healing: common responses to everyday symptoms in Pakistan, Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, 3:1, 281-295, DOI: 10.1080/21642850.2015.1088387
Thomas A. Arcury, Joseph G. Grzywacz, Ronny A. Bell, Rebecca H. Neiberg, Wei Lang, Sara A. Quandt, Herbal Remedy Use as Health Self-Management Among Older Adults, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 62, Issue 2, March 2007, Pages S142–S149, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/62.2.S142
Garcia S (2020) Pandemics and Traditional Plant-Based Remedies. A Historical-Botanical Review in the Era of COVID19. Front. Plant Sci. 11:571042. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2020.571042