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Doctor Warns: Don't Take Heating Pad to Bed!

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Q. You wrote about a home remedy for a nighttime cough that called for putting a heating pad under the butt. As a doctor, I must say: Don't do this! Nasty burns can result.

A. Thank you for the reminder. Many other readers also warned about going to bed with a heating pad. Some pointed out that newer heating pads turn themselves off after half an hour.

There are certainly other remedies for nighttime coughs. Some of them, such as smearing Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet, might not meet medical approval, but they should not be harmful. Others, such as sipping thyme tea before retiring for the night, are quite tasty and frequently helpful.

Readers who would like more simple home remedies for nighttime coughs will find some in our Guide to Colds, Coughs & the Flu.

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7 Comments

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I did fall asleep with a heating pad under my back, and yes, I did get a burn (like a sunburn). Won't do that again!

Regarding concerns of burns from a heating pad, I would like to suggest the type of heating pad I use, which is warmed in a microwave oven. I make my own heating pads. To make one, take a new tube sock, wash and dry it, and fill it with about 2 pounds of rice. Sew the end of the sock closed. To heat it, I place it in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Obviously, if this makes it too hot, you would let it cool until it's a comfortable temperature, and next time you'll know to put it into your microwave for less time. You still have to be careful not to burn yourself, so use common sense. Don't overheat the rice sock, and don't put it against bare skin if this is uncomfortable. During use, it only cools down over time, rather than continuing to heat, so I believe it is safer than a plug-in heating pad.

I fell asleep one time in the recliner with a heating pad on the low setting behind me, and I got blisters. Very dangerous. I never do THAT anymore!

As an safer alternative to an electric heating pad, I use a microwavable one. If you make certain that the temperature is safe before applying it to your skin, it can only cool off from that point on, but will produce a nice amount of heat, usually for less than 30 minutes.

I have used a low setting heating pad in bed from time to time for years (with a 2 hour auto shut off) on a low back ache with no side effects. However, the pad apparently had a dysfunction inside and a received a 2nd to 3rd degree burn, which DID NOT wake me up. In the morning I couldn't figure out what caused the painful red area about the size of a 1/2 dollar. It was apparently the heating pad. I ended up at urgent care with a 'burn' ointment, which I used for 2-3 weeks. The red spot was apparent for months.

I must add my comment because I tried this remedy and got the best nights sleep I've had all winter. I have a heating pad that I put on a low setting, with a towel on top. So it never gets too hot. I can understand being cautious about burning but this was such a wonderful experience - it worked better than anything else I've tried.

I use a heating pad with an auto shut-off. I put it on low, and then under me where my low back pain is. You have to use common sense, and then it shouldn't be any more dangerous than taking pain drugs. Don't use on the elderly, babies & young children, or with pets. Also check the connection occasionally, and follow instructions.

I've been using a heating pad in bed for years with no burns or other difficulties. If you're concerned, then use one of the other recommended remedies. I can't sleep with chronic low back pain, and the heating pad works for me.

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