Health Quaries

Some Health Quaries & Answers

Q: Once there was only one Robitussin cough medicine. Now there are lots. The one with dextromethorphan almost killed me. I had such a hard time breathing, I thought I was going to die.

I reported this to my pharmacist and was told that I might be allergic to the DM in Robitussin. He warned me to read all labels on cough medicines from now on.

People need to be warned, especially parents who might give this to their children.

A: Dextromethorphan, or DM, is the leading ingredient in most over-the-counter cough medicines. Its effectiveness has been controversial, particularly in children. Parents have been warned to avoid cough and cold medicines for kids 4 years and younger.

Although allergic reactions to DM seem uncommon, there are reports in the medical literature of serious breathing difficulties triggered by this cough medicine (Allergy, August 2004). Follow your pharmacist’s advice to read labels.

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Q: My boyfriend was recently released from prison and believes saltpeter was put in the food. How do you remove the effects after numerous years?

A:  Saltpeter: (potassium nitrate) is falsely believed to lower libido. Youngsters in boarding schools and summer camps, as well as men in the military or in prison, have perpetuated the myth that they are being fed saltpeter.

If time and support don’t overcome your boyfriend’s sexual difficulties, counseling may help. Hormonal assessment also may be needed.

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Q:Is there anything to help with pediatric eczema? Topical steroids helped my granddaughter for a while, but I worry about long-term side effects. Probiotics were suggested; I don’t know anything about them.

A:Research suggests that good bacteria (probiotics) may prevent or reduce eczema severity in children (Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology online, Sept. 2). American health professionals are less familiar than those in Europe with using probiotics to treat eczema, food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea.

Q:I have several little skin tags in my armpits. I do not want to pay a doctor to cut them off.

A:Dermatologists can easily remove skin tags (small, benign fleshy skin growths), but it will cost you. Readers have offered suggestions: “Band-Aid makes a product called Clear Spots — 50 tiny square pads with adhesive around all four sides. I cover the skin tag tightly with a Clear Spot, and after a week to 10 days, it shrivels up and falls off.”

“I have skin tags on my neck and chest. The smallest shriveled and fell off after a couple of days of applying New-Skin [liquid bandage] twice a day.”

“I am a nurse, and for years I have tied a piece of thread around the tag at the base, pulled it tight, made a tight knot and cut off the long ends. (It stings at first.) After three or four days, the tag turns black and falls off. It works every time. It helps to have someone do it for you.”

Reach Joe Graedon, a pharmacologist, and Teresa Graedon, an expert in medical anthropology and nutrition, at or in care of this newspaper.

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Q:I appreciate you writing about home remedies for children when they come down with colds, but I am alarmed that you suggested lemon and honey for coughs. I feel this needs an urgent disclaimer.

A.Honey can be dangerous for a child under age 2. A friend’s 6-month-old baby nearly died of infant botulism. Honey can cause this in infants. Even honey jars have a warning that it is not for small children.

Children 1 year old and younger should never be given honey. You are correct that this warning is designed to reduce the risk of infant botulism. Honey is occasionally contaminated with spores of the bacteria that cause botulism. Honey poses little risk for adults or children older than 1, but babies may not be able to fend off the bacteria.

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Q. Someone asked about natural migraine remedies and you mentioned spicy hot and sour soup, among other things. I’ve had migraines since before I was in kindergarten (I’m 58 now), and the best thing I’ve found is ginger.

A.Jamaican-style ginger beer is good, though rather sweet. The pickled ginger sold with sushi is a godsend. It also helps with the nausea.

Ginger has been documented as a migraine treatment for decades (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, July 1990). A small study testing a combination product (GelStat Migraine) containing ginger and the herb feverfew found that it could help alleviate migraines (Medical Science Monitor, September 2005).

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Q.My life is so much better since I read your column about rinsing my hair with vinegar. I am 56 years old, and for the previous 30 years my scalp has itched intensely whenever I sweat. No anti-itching shampoo or skin specialist could cure me, but rinsing with vinegar did.

A.Itching and flaking can be caused by dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis. Dermatologists believe that these conditions are caused by the yeast malassezia that grows on the scalp. A vinegar rinse apparently makes conditions unfavorable for this fungus. One woman has used a solution of 4 parts warm water to 1 part apple cider vinegar for more than 50 years. Others prefer a 1-to-1 water/vinegar mixture.

In India, we offer fennel seeds after meals. This helps avoid flatulence. Fennel is also good for sore throat and sinus problems.

I use the following recipe for my sinus trouble: Combine 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger, 1 clove, a 1/2 -inch piece of stick cinnamon and 1 teaspoon brown sugar in 2 cups of water. Boil it until there are 1 1/2 cups of liquid left, strain it and drink it hot with a little milk. You can substitute honey for the brown sugar.

I also rinse my nasal passages with a homemade saline solution and find it helpful.

Your recipe sounds delicious. Traditional uses for fennel include preventing flatulence and treating upper respiratory infections. Whether that extends to sinus congestion, we don’t know.

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Q.I am having trouble leveling out my Coumadin. Cranberries are a puzzle: The nurse says eat them; the doctor says don’t.

A.Maintaining a steady anticoagulant effect from Coumadin (warfarin) can be like walking a tightrope. Too much can lead to bleeding, while too little may permit blood clots to form.

British health authorities warned against combining cranberries or cranberry juice with Coumadin after some people on a stable dose of Coumadin had serious bleeding after drinking cranberry juice or eating cranberries. Australian scientists have reported that cranberry significantly increases warfarin’s anticoagulant effect. We suggest you avoid cranberries and cranberry juice while on Coumadin.


Q.I have a 17-year-old son. For years, I have suspected that he has a mild form of ADD. He’s willing to try medicine but I’d like to try a more natural approach.

A.Diagnosing attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is not simple. There’s no definitive blood test or questionnaire.

Medications that can help focus attention don’t work for everyone and they have some side effects. Ritalin, for example, can cause nausea, insomnia, weight loss, anxiety, heart palpitations, headaches and increases in blood pressure.

Dr. Edward Hallowell, one of the world’s leading experts on ADD, suggests dietary supplements such as fish oil, grape seed extract and pine bark extract (Pycnogenol), as well as exercise, adequate sleep and a structured environment.

Sources: Los Angles Time

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