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People’s Pharmacy

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Is mothball-laden sofa making family sick?

By Joe & Terry Graedon
Joe and Terry Graedon
Joe and Terry Graedon are authors of The People's Pharmacy book and host an award-winning health talk show on public radio.

Q: I picked up a couch of my Grandma’s from my uncle. He’d kept it in the garage with a ton of mothballs.

It fits in my living room, but I notice I’ve been feeling weird lately. My eyes are bothering me, and I have a headache, breathing problems and feel nauseated and dizzy. The aroma of mothballs is still very noticeable.

My wife also is feeling bad, and I am worried about the kids. Could that old sofa be making us sick?

A: It is possible. Most mothballs contain para-dichlorobenzene (p-DCB), a pesticide that goes from the solid mothball form to a gas that is toxic to moth larvae.

Exposure to the vapor can trigger irritation of the eyes and nose. High concentrations may lead to fatigue, headache, nausea and vomiting. P-DCB fumes can even affect the nervous system, causing weakness and lack of coordination. This compound has some estrogenic activity and is considered an endocrine disruptor.

If children or pets swallow mothballs, they could be poisoned. It sounds like the free couch from your grandmother was no bargain.

Antibiotic clears asthma

Q: I had hard-to-treat asthma for years and was referred to an allergist who prescribed the antibiotic azithromycin. After I finished the first course, with some improvement, he prescribed another round. When I finished the second course, my asthma disappeared as suddenly as it had come on. I no longer have to use an inhaler.

A: Some cases of hard-to-treat asthma may result from a persistent lung infection (Current Allergy and Asthma Reports online, Oct. 3, 2013). Certain bacteria that are hard to diagnose or treat can cause wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and other symptoms of asthma.

Another reader offered this report: “I heard about the extended use of antibiotics for asthma and convinced my doctor to try it. I improved my lung function dramatically and now 18 months later only need my corticosteroid inhaler if I hang out with smokers. My doctor was amazed at the results we achieved with the antibiotic.”

Hand santizer as deodorant

Q: I can’t stand the smell of most deodorants, so I tried a hand sanitizer. It works very well. I had no odor at all, even by the end of the day.

The main ingredient is ethyl alcohol. Do you know of any reason I should not use it?

A: Many other readers have found that alcohol in one form or another can control underarm odor. One person wrote: “I’ve tried rubbing alcohol under my arms. It kills bacteria and works well, but I was not sure using it daily would be good for my skin. I now am trying vodka! It also kills bacteria. The smell is milder than the rubbing alcohol and is gone by the time it has dried, which is very quickly.”

Our only concern about people using hand-sanitizing gels on their armpits is the other ingredients that might be included. Fragrances and benzophenones may have hormonal activity. Tocopherol (vitamin E) can sometimes be irritating to the skin.

Some readers also report that milk of magnesia makes a good, low-cost underarm deodorant without any aroma.

Reach Joe and Terry Graedon at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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