The People's Perspective on Medicine

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

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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I fall asleep every night with the heating pardon and never get burned and sleep well and my back feels so much better.

i have suffered with chronic back and pain in both legs for almost 4 years, i take morphine twice a day which barely touches my pain, I began using a heat pad about 2 years ago which is always on its highest setting which is rarely hot but its very relaxing, mine is an older model that doesn’t switch off unless i actually turn it off at the plug and thankfully I’ve never had burns or anything like that but this does make me worry but it still wouldn’t stop me from doing it as its the only thing that allows me to sleep throughout most of the night.

Have any of you had unusual readings of your INR (blood thickness) after using a heating pad?

I try to keep my INR around 2.8 to 3.0 I recently had a test result of 7.9. The only thing that changed was that I had used a heating pad the morning before my test.

Just read about your leg pain. you are probably low in Magnesium and Potassium. You need to have it checked, and only use the Prescription kind, and not what you buy over the counter. Also, drinking Tonic
Water 3 times a day will help the legs. This is advice from my brother,
who is a Doctor, as I also had the same problems.

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.

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 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.

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 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!

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 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!

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