Haemorrhoids, or piles, are a common problem, yet some people are too embarrassed to seek help for the painful burning, itching and bleeding they cause.
How to cure haemorrhoids
Pharmacies sell many products that help—creams, pads, ointments and suppositories. As a rule of thumb, doctors say you should avoid over-the-counter products that have ingredients ending in ‘caine’.
These contain an anaesthetic that provides immediate relief but, if used regularly, causes increased irritation. Luckily, there are also plenty of home remedies to try.
Read more: What are haemorrhoids?
Home remedies for haemorrhoids
- Soak a cotton wool ball with undistilled witch hazel and apply to the haemorrhoidsIt's rich in tannins, which cause the blood vessels to contract.
- A dab of Vaseline can help to soothe the areaIt's also contained in many over-the-counter haemorrhoid treatments.
- Liquid vitamin E and wheatgerm oil are both thought to be effectiveApply with a cotton wool ball a few times a day.
- If you can find it in a health food shop…try a salve containing comfrey or calendula, which will soothe and promote healing.
- Strange as it sounds…a poultice made from grated potato is astringent and soothing.
- Try supplementing with grape-seed extract It's a good source of anti-oxidants that help strengthen veins and capillaries. Look for a product standardised to contain 85-95 per cent procyanadins, the active ingredient. Horse chestnut is another good option; take 300mg daily of an extract standardised to contain aescin.
- Yarrow has a mildly astringent actionApply a cooled, strained brew to sore spots to soothe inflammation and shrink veins.
- Vicks VapoRub is a little-known home remedy for haemorrhoidsThere's no harm in trying this, but it should only ever be applied externally—to the outside of the anus—as camphor, one of its ingredients, can be toxic. Its proponents say it doesn't sting (but others disagree)—so you'll have to try it to find out.
- For external haemorrhoids, apply a warm, wet tea bagYou can do this while sitting on the toilet. The warmth soothes and you get added benefit from one of tea's main components, tannic acid. It helps to reduce pain and swelling and also promotes blood clotting, which helps to stop the bleeding.
Read more: What are the symptoms of haemorrhoids?
Treat piles with warm baths
Fill a bath with warm water, then ease yourself into it. You should be sitting with your knees raised, allowing maximum exposure of the anal area to the warm water. You'll find that this eases the pain. Warm water encourages increased blood flow to the area which helps to shrink swollen veins.
Try adding a handful of Epsom salts to the bath before you plunge in, to help constrict the haemorrhoids. Stir the water well to dissolve the salts.
Rather than fill up a whole bath every time you want relief, you can buy a ‘sitz bath’. These baths, designed solely for sitting in, are available from medical supply companies. Or if you have a bidet—and you are not too large—you can simply immerse your rear end in the bowl. Filling a basin is a lot faster than filling a whole bath and, as it's more convenient, you'll probably use it more often.
Posture advice for haemorrhoids
A couple of times a day, find a comfortable sofa, stretch out, and put your feet up. What's good for your frayed nerves is also good for your haemorrhoids. In this supine posture, you take the weight off your overstressed anal area. At the same time, you improve circulation to the area that needs it. Ideally, allow at least 30 minutes for this ‘task’. If you sit or stand for long periods, make sure you change position regularly.
Fill a sturdy plastic bag with ice, or use a bag of frozen peas and wrap the bag in a thin cloth—an old pillowcase is ideal—and sit on it for up to 20 minutes. The cold shrinks the swollen vessels, providing enormous relief. There's no limit on how often you can do this, but give yourself at least a 10-minute break between applications. Alternating hot and cold—using a sitz bath between ice applications—is also helpful.
If you do a lot of sitting, take a tip from new mothers everywhere and buy a doughnut-shaped cushion, sold to relieve pressure in the perineal area. Instead of having your bottom firmly against a seat, it is suspended in the middle of the cushion.
Anyone who does a lot of sitting needs to do some standing as well. If you're tied to your desk most of the time, take a 5-minute walk every hour or so. Every time you get up, you ease the rectal pressure that leads to haemorrhoids.
Diet tips to treat piles
Get more roughage into your diet. Research shows that a high-fibre diet can significantly reduce haemorrhoid symptoms, including pain and bleeding. Foods that are rich in fibre include wholegrain breads and cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, brown rice and nuts.
When you're getting more fibre, you need to stay well hydrated to prevent constipation. Be sure to drink enough fluids so that your urine is pale, not dark, yellow.
What not to do to cure piles
Heavy lifting puts pressure on the anal area. If there's something heavy that needs lifting, look for volunteers to help out.
If you usually lift weights when you work out at the gym, make sure you skip the squat thrusts. Every time you crouch down, then lift up again, you put direct pressure on your rectum. Also avoid any exercise that involves sitting for long periods, such as cycling on an exercise bike.
The key to avoiding haemorrhoids is not straining, so excuse yourself and go to the toilet whenever you have to go. The trouble with waiting is that it leads to constipation. And that, of course, means you have to strain more when you do go, and that invites haemorrhoids.
After a bowel movement, wipe with plain, white, unscented toilet paper that's been dampened under running water. Scented, coloured toilet paper may have some aesthetic attractions but any additional chemical can be an irritant. Follow the paper wipe with facial tissues coated with an unscented moisturising cream such as sorbolene.
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