Unless you are able to hibernate in a cave, the chances are very good that you will be exposed to someone’s cough in the next few weeks. Attend a talk, a concert or a church service and you will hear people hacking. Someone might even cough in your face.
Coughing is the way the lungs react to irritation and inflammation. And it is one way that viruses are transmitted from person to person. Droplets can be propelled at up to 50 mph to a distance of 6 feet.
How can you control a cough, especially at night? It turns out that cough medicine is not all that great, especially for children. A study in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics found that the most common ingredient in cough syrup, dextromethorphan, was no better than placebo (November 2013).
Dextromethorphan is the DM in many popular cough medicines. This is not the first research to show that children don’t respond well to the usual over-the-counter cough syrups. A review in the journal Lung (February 2012) concluded that there is no good evidence supporting most OTC drugs (DM, diphenhydramine or guaifenesin) for kids with colds.
What else can people do when they have a nasty cough keeping them awake? The author of the review in Lung, pediatrician Ian Paul, suggests honey for children older than 1. He also recommends a topically applied vapor rub.
His study comparing buckwheat honey to DM or no treatment found that parents reported better relief of their kids’ nighttime coughs with honey (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, December 2007). One reader reported, “My mother used to give me a teaspoon of honey with a little bit of lemon juice added, and it seemed to always calm my cough.”
Another popular home remedy for coughs is onion syrup. Many readers report that onions sliced thin and simmered in sugar were used as both a cough syrup and chest poultice. Here’s one such story: “My mother prepared ‘onion syrup’ when I was a child in the ‘40s and ‘50s, but she used honey instead of sugar.
“On my first trip to India in 1986, I accompanied a local doctor to villages where she was teaching assistants to distinguish minor ailments that could be treated with local remedies from major problems that needed professional care in the nearest large village. One of the remedies used for minor coughs was onion syrup sweetened with natural sugar processed from the local sugarcane fields.”
Dr. Paul’s other suggestion of applying a vapor rub also is a favorite of our readers. Here is one story: “I have tried putting Vicks VapoRub on the soles of my feet for a hacking cough. It works wonders and softens the feet as well, so you get an extra bonus. When I have told others about this, they laugh until they have tried it and then thank me for the unusual remedy.”
Q: My husband takes Coumadin (warfarin) for atrial fibrillation. We recently began taking a mixture of honey and cinnamon. Does cinnamon interact with Coumadin?
He also has hypertension and takes medication for that. Does he need to discuss this with his doctor? We don’t want to create a problem by taking the honey-and-cinnamon mixture.
Answer: Cinnamon has become very popular for its medicinal properties. People with Type 2 diabetes may use it to help control blood sugar (Annals of Family Medicine, September/October 2013). Cinnamon also might help normalize cholesterol levels and reduce joint inflammation.
The trouble is that the most common form in the supermarket is cassia cinnamon, which often contains a compound called coumarin. Some people are susceptible to liver damage if they take too much of this spice.
Because it affects drug-metabolizing enzymes CYP2D6 and CYP3A4, coumarin might theoretically interact with the blood thinner warfarin as well as with a number of blood pressure medications. Your husband should ask his doctor to check whether cinnamon would pose a problem with his other drugs.
Q: I’ve been on Cymbalta for six years. My rheumatologist prescribed it for fibromyalgia neuropathy in my feet. (It felt like my feet were in a bonfire all the time.)
When I first began taking it, the pain stopped. But I developed depression and high blood pressure and gained a lot of weight.
Last October, my husband lost his job. The Cymbalta was going to be nearly $600 a month. Since my liver enzymes were high, I decided to wash out of it.
It took three weeks to taper from 120 milligrams to nothing. The withdrawal produced “brain zaps” and violent outbursts in which I hit my beloved husband of 20 years, threw things and terrorized the dogs. I hit myself until I got bruises. My husband hid our guns and my medications because of the suicidal threats I made. I can’t sleep, and the pain from the fibro is worse than ever.
Will this ever stop? I feel like I’m at the Hotel California, where “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!”
Answer: Cymbalta is prescribed for depression, anxiety, nerve and muscle pain as well as fibromyalgia. Patients are not always told when they start this medication that stopping it can be challenging.
We have heard from hundreds of people that the symptoms of withdrawing from duloxetine (Cymbalta), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), escitalopram (Lexapro), venlafaxine (Effexor) and similar drugs include electric shocklike sensations (brain zaps), dizziness, anxiety, irritability and hostility, digestive difficulties and nerve tingling.
Although the symptoms can last for weeks, they usually fade. We are sending you our Guide to Dealing With Depression, which discusses withdrawal and provides some nondrug alternatives for depression. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
Q: I used Domeboro solution to get rid of my plantar wart. I soaked my foot in the solution once a day. Within two weeks’ time, the wart fell off and didn’t return.
Answer: Domeboro solution is an old-fashioned approach. The aluminum acetate powder is dissolved in water to treat skin irritations such as athlete’s foot and poison ivy. We did not know it would heal plantar warts.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.