If your child is irritable, has sleeping issues or a sore tummy….do they have worms?

I see a lot of kids with worms in clinic.  It might not be something that we routinely discuss in the school playground, but it is an issue that is lurking in many families.  Sometimes, it can be a simple case of taking the over the counter worming treatment, and the issue goes away.  Other times the situation can be a lot trickier and more in depth measures are needed.

Getting worms is a bit like catching a cold.  If it is just a one off, no need to worry.  You should be able to get rid of them, get back to normal after treatment, and forget the whole thing.  However, some people, both children and adults, can’t seem to shake them off.  This is because the overall terrain of their gut is allowing this cheeky little invader to set up shop.  For cases of repeated worm infections, you need to have a three pronged approach.

You need to:

  1. Get rid of the worms, using either pharmaceutical or herbal preparations.
  2. Implement some new cleaning rituals until the problem is resolved.
  3. Improve the terrain of the gut so worms can’t take over again.

What are thread worms?

If your child has ‘worms’, it usually means threadworms, also known as pin worms.  The technical name is Enterobius vermicularis. They are very common and look like a bit of thread or floss, about a centimetre long.  They live in the large intestines and come out to play at night time, laying their eggs.  The egg are stuck to the skin with a special glue, and it is the glue that causes the itch.  If your child itches them in the night, and then puts their fingers in their mouth, they will eat them and continue the life cycle of the worm

How do I know if my child has worms?

The most well-known symptom of worms is the itchy bum.  However, in about half the people infected, there is no itchy bottom!  Especially in adults this symptom can be missing.  If your child has an itchy bum, it isn’t necessarily worms – it could be thrush, nutrient deficiencies, allergy to soaps or a new toilet paper.

Other symptoms of worms include irritability, lack of appetite, tummy pain, grinding teeth, restless sleep and nightmares, and symptoms of urinary tract infections in little girls.  In girls, all the genital anatomy is very close together, and these little guys like to take strolls in the night….If you notice your kid’s behaviour is particularly bad around the time of a full moon, consider worms, as the life cycle of the worm will sometimes line up with the lunar cycle.

If you’re really lucky, you will see the little critters wriggling around in the poo, either in the nappy or toilet bowl.  My kids are notoriously bad at flushing the toilet, giving me ample opportunity to inspect their poo.

If you’re still not sure, let me introduce you to the sticky tape test.  For six consecutive nights, place a piece of stick tape over your child’s anus.  It needs to be touching the skin.  First thing in the morning, take off the tape and inspect it for eggs or worms.  If you do it for the full six nights, this test is pretty conclusive.

Another test which gives an indication is a stool test, which your GP can organise for you.  Whilst it doesn’t look for threadworms specifically, it does look for another parasite called Dientamoeba fragilis.  These two parasites are great friends, where one goes the other is sure to follow.  D. fragilis gets transmitted to humans using the eggs or larvae of Enterobius vermicularis as a taxi.  So if you do a stool test and you find out you or your child has D. fragilis, they likely have threadworms too.

Prong one: Treat the worms

It is best to treat the whole family at the same time, as even the people without symptoms may well have them.  You can use over the counter medication (the chocolate squares) or herbal treatment.  If you have been using the over the counter medication for a while, the worms might have built up some resistance and you might need to switch to herbal.  Try to coordinate treatment with the full moon, as eggs hatch with the lunar cycle.  For best results repeat treatment every two weeks for four cycles, to catch the full life cycle of the worm.  Add in probiotics for better results, and foods which discourage parasites such as garlic, cloves, oregano, stewed rhubarb and carrots.  My gut busting soup contains lots of foods helpful for banishing worms.

Prong two: Cleaning Rituals

For a week, each member of the household should shower morning and night.  No baths.  People who can’t be trusted not to itch their bottoms in the night should wear undies and a onesie.  It can also be useful to put Vaseline over the anus to prevent itchiness and prevent the worms coming out to play.

All sheets, pillow cases, towels and undies should be washed in hot water as often as possible and dried in the sun.  If you have a tumble drier, put them in there for ten minutes as well to make sure you kill everything.  The bathrooms should be thoroughly cleaned with hot water, especially under the toilet seat.  The eggs can become airborne, so when you take the sheets off the bed, carefully bundle them, instead of shaking them out.  Vacuum bedroom floors, and hot mop them if you can.  Cut everyone’s finger nails short, and get them to wash their hands a lot.  Pets can’t be blamed for threadworms, so leave them alone!  And finally, don’t eat food that has fallen on the floor.

Prong three: Improve the terrain of the gut

If digestion is strong, the worms will pass through without setting up shop.

Everyone, especially children should eat a healthy and varied diet.  That means lots of whole foods, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, little or no processed food and adequate good quality protein.

To stimulate digestion, try to start the day with a glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon (don’t do this straight after, or just before you brush your teeth as it can damage your enamel).

Drink lots of lots of filtered water.  This is critical!

Don’t go to bed with a full stomach.

Don’t drink with a meal, only between meals.  Drinking during a meal dilutes the stomach acid and limits digestion.

Spend lots of time outdoors – gardening, playing, bushwalks etc.

Kids don’t need processed foods.  No white flour products (muffins, bread, cake), no added sugar (lollies, fruit yoghurts, juice), no soft drinks.

What they do need is high quality probiotic foods like sauerkraut and kefir.

Foods which are good for digestion include papaya, lemons, apples, figs, pears, pineapple, nutmeg (just a pinch), oregano, parsley and turmeric.

If you have been struggling with repeated infestations of worms, get in touch with me for an individualised treatment plan to get rid of them once and for all.  Don’t wait, in the belief your child to grow out of it – adults can also have repeated infestations.

If your child has behaviour or sleeping issues, do the sticky tape test, and then get in touch if you find evidence of worms.