This past year has seen many devastating fire regions that have created added challenges to health and welfare. I still remember the shocking news in June of the fires in Portugal. They were so fast and converged together that 65 people lost their lives, many in their cars on the roadways trying to escape! So rarely do forest fires take so many people’s lives. In Greenland, a huge landmass mostly covered with ice and permafrost, they had unusual and unprecedented fires of melted peat bogs. In the United States it was considered to be the most expensive firefighting year to date. Some of the largest fires were the Lodgepole Complex Fire in Montana during July as well as the La Tuna Fire in Los Angeles in September although the damage to homes was relatively low. Overall California’s fires were disastrous and the most recent December fires forced many to evacuate and destroyed over 1,300 structures. The state will have an economic toll of over $180 billion dollars.
In my home province of British Columbia the fires this year set records with the largest area burnt in a single fire season, the most number of evacuees, and the single largest fire ever recorded in the province. Over 39,000 people were evacuated from their homes and 30,000 cattle were at risk. Not to mention many household pets that were left at home and could not be rescued due to roadblocks. Over 300 buildings including homes, barns and commercial structures were destroyed. So many people have to start all over and rebuild their lives.
I was home in Vancouver in August and the sky appeared like a vision of an apocolypse. There was an orange dusky tinge to the night sky and the moon was blood red. I was standing waiting for my taxi looking up and thinking, “Whoa, that is not normal, what in the world is going on?” For the next week I could not see the blue sky although there was not a single cloud up there, daylight was like it was dusk or dawn but all day and the sun was bright orange while the moon was bright red. The air of course was filled with particulates and smoke and although I did have difficulty breathing, I did not try to exert myself and yet I noticed I was more tired than normal. What I really noticed during this month long visit was how this normally Temperate Rainforest Region is much hotter and dryer than it was 20 years ago. All of August there was no rain, it was extremely hot and the sun was intense. I had several sunburns, something I hardly get where I live in sunny, hot Montreal!
These intense natural disasters have many ways of impacting human health and homeopathy can help whether it is for the physical symptoms from smoke inhalation or the emotional issues related to shock and loss of home and livelihood.
1. Reduced air quality and smoke related issues
When the smoke from burning wood is heavy in the air, symptoms can include watery eyes, burning eyes, sore or scratchy throats, inflamed sinuses, headaches, coughs and difficulty breathing. The very young, the elderly, pregant women, and anyone with allergies or an already compromised respiratory system are at greater risk. Urban areas often feel worse effects of forest fires although the smoke has come from hundreds of miles away. The air in cities is already often polluted during hot, dry times. There less oportunity to improve air quality by large areas of plants and trees, breezes and winds, and fresh air from rural areas.
Natural things you can do to help relieve symptoms
Use a bulb syringe or netipot to irrigate your sinuses. This clears out excess mucus and particulates like smoke or dust, and adds moisture to the nasal cavities to keep them from drying up, bleeding or feeling irritated. A warm saline solution is used and is safe and easy to do, just be sure the temperature is never hotter than body temperature. You can follow this up with a Sesame Oil Nasal Spray.
The eyes can be rinsed as well. You can buy a herbal eyewash or make one with Calendula (marigold), Hydrastis (goldenseal), Chamomile, and or Euphrasia (eyebright). Simply make an infusion by adding a handful of one or more of these herbs, fresh or dried, to a half litre of freshly boiled distilled water. Cover and let steep. When it is still warm, strain and use the water on the eyes.
Reduce the amount of contaminants you bring in the house. Keep the windows and doors closed and as soon as you come indoors change your clothes and take a quick shower to wash the exposed areas such as the face and hair. The same can be done after walking the dog, hose them down or brush them with a damp cloth. Vacuuming can stir up particles so wait until the air quality improves and you can open the doors and windows for fresh air again. Air fresheners are extremely toxic as they emit over 350 different chemicals and allergens including benzene, formaldehyde, styrene, and phthalates. Try using a water/vinegar spray with a few drops of an essential oil instead.
Homeopathic remedies to support forest fire symptoms
Ignatia: When there is smoke exposure with depression, grief or disappointments. Has a headache that feels as if a nail was being driven into the side of the head. The pain feels better by lying on the painful side. Any strong smells make things worse. May crave cigarettes to make things better.
Arsenicum: Smoke exposure with extreme anxiety and restlessness. The eyes are burning and tearing. Nose has a burning discharge. Cough is dry. The symptoms are worse at night and when lying down. There is a lot of worry, restlessness and anxiety about the future. Concerns about financial losses or theft.
Euphrasia: Smoke exposure with only physical symptoms. Simply notes that the eyes run and burn and the nose runs but there is no burning or pain. Eyelids can be red, swollen and sensitive. There can be a slight cough with tearing eyes.
Kali bichromicum: When there is a more serious smoke exposure with irritated sinus, lungs. The nose is blocked and any discharge is ropy or stringy and tends to be sticky. Sinuses are sore, raw and painful. Painful coughs with a sore chest.
Natrum arsenicosum: For very sensitive persons. Can be useful if other indicated remedies have not helped. Eyes are dry and painful. Sinuses are blocked and painful.
Racking cough, lungs feel full of smoke. Headaches.
Bryonia: Worse with any motion with dryness of respiratory system. Headache is worse with motion, better with pressure. Dry and painful coughs. Symptoms are worse at night or with motion. Cranky, wants to be quiet, still and left alone.
Silica: Useful for detoxing and expelling foreign particles. Nose is dry and blocked, no smell or taste. Sinuses are blocked and painful. Dry cough with irritation. Sensation of something stuck at the back of the throat.
Carbo Vegetabilis: Shortness of breath, oxygen starved. Wants to be fanned, or craves fresh air. Feels very weak and may collapse. Severe wheezing. Loss of consciousness or fainting.
2. Shock, grief and loss related to forest fires
Natural disasters like wildfires are difficult to prepare for emotionally. We can set up a system or list of things to do to be prepared, but when a life is lost, animals are left behind, or a home is destroyed the feelings can be overwhelming and hard to recover from. Often roads and highways are shut down and people are forced to evacuate when forest fires get close to residential communities.
Shock is usually the initial acute response to loss
Whether the loss was sudden and unpredicted or we knew it is coming, we can experience a state of shock when it happens. The person feels stunned, numb as well as an increased sensitivity. There can be fear, agitation and even panic, and this can lead the person to do things that are not usual or even possibly dangerous. This is an acute, intense and sudden state and usually subsides quickly after the event. When it doesn’t, or the person is in an extreme state of shock that poses a danger to themselves or others, giving a remedy can be helpful.
Aconite: Here we have a limbic, non-rational state where the person feels shaky, fearful and stunned after a sudden fright or strong emotions. There is great fear, anxiety and worry and they can be very restless and moving around, even shouting, screaming or wailing. There can be panic attacks, or they may be inclined to run away and escape, everything is done irrationally and in great fear.
Gelsemium: This is the opposite of aconite and there is instead of a flailing panic a stoic response. They try to control themselves and avoid the feelings they have, and there is also a weakness and numbness as if they are paralyzed. They will not cry and feel drained of energy, and their mind may go blank. Here the danger is more that they try to avoid anything that reminds them of the situation or their fear.
A period of instability and adjustment
During this time there can be extreme emotions and moods shift dramatically and quickly. This is an intense and unstable period and can seem to as inappropriate behaviours, such as laughing in a moment that is somber and serious, or not replying when spoken to. The most common first aid remedy given for grief or loss is Ignatia and it fits this state very well.
Ignatia: The person is experiencing rapidly changing and intensely emotional states. There can be a bout of tears and distress and then suddenly they are silent and withdrawn. They may sigh a lot and also have a sensation of a lump in their throat. It is a good remedy when grief is “stuck” and lasts excessively or it produces symptoms such as weeping that is silent and controlled or that is brief, irregular and dramatic. There is a sense of being shattered from the loss of something or someone that they had invested a great deal of their emotions.
The feeling of Loss
This can be profound for some and was once described in medical terms as a “forsaken feeling.” There are several remedies that can be a good fit depending on how the person experiences loss and how they react to it.
Ignatia: Same as above. Give this remedy if the grief is “stuck” and lasts longer than what the person considers to be normal or necessary.
Pulsatilla: Here the loss includes feelings of abandonment. It is not just about feeling alone, they feel as if they have been left alone by the loss, that they have lost an anchor of support. They wish to seek comfort and sympathy and are emotional, weepy and distressed. They can seem needy because of the intense feeling of abandonment and want to be hugged or held. There is also a sense of instability as their moods can shift radically.
Natrum Muriaticum: This person does not seek out help but prefers to be left alone to deal with their experience. They don’t want to be fussed over and consolation makes them feel worse. They may have irritable outbursts over small matters and will not cry unless alone and even then the tears may not come. Sleep may be affected as they start to think about past events, old wounds and hurts and dwell on them. There can be depression and tremendous grief after losing a significant person in their life.
Phosphoric Acid: There is a great exhaustion and debility since the traumatic event. They can feel isolated from loved ones due to discord, or being physically distant and not being able to have communication with them as much as they would like so homesickness can be involved. They can have insomnia from worry and anxiety about their loved ones and can have difficulty in their thoughts or finding the right word, as if the pathways in their brain are not connecting properly. There is a sense of being emotionally crushed that shows up as lethargy, despair, apathy and they can seem almost lifeless.
If the angry phase develops
Anger is a complex emotion and can vary in intensity, reaction and causation. The remedies below may help the anger to express itself in more healthy ways and allow the purpose of that anger to become clearer.
Magnesium Carbonicum or Magnesium Muriaticum: There can be rapid flare-ups of anger that disappear quickly. The person feels intensely sensitive and lonely. The sensation is similar to being an orphan or a child whose parents were separated or divorced. Magnesium Carbonicum is when the symbol of anger is masculine and Magnesium Muriaticum when that symbol is feminine in nature.
Staphysagria: Here there are strong feelings of injustice and poor treatment, perhaps of how the deceased was treated in their final days. There is anger and indignation and lots of very intense emotions. They might say it is not fair what happened to them. There is often a lot of pride, and so feeling easily offended or that others are being rude. Or it is the opposite state and the anger is suppressed and controlled, and they refuse to show it due to their strong sense of dignity and pride.
Colocynthis: Also angry and indignant, the person has a very strong opinion of what is right and wrong. They do not like to be contradicted and are sensitive to slights or humiliation. They will try to retain their emotions, will feel unfortunate and discontented, often complaining quite often. They are restless and have a lot of physical pains and maybe even cramps.
Homeopath and Holistic Practitioner.