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People’s Pharmacy: Advice on treating head lice

Q: My 10-year-old just brought lice home from a friend’s house and gave it to her five brothers and sisters and myself. We have always used lindane, but the doctor said to use permethrin instead. That didn’t work. What else can we do? And what is wrong with lindane?

A: The Food and Drug Administration has asked doctors not to use lindane to treat lice unless all other treatments fail. Lindane can trigger seizures, a condition that is much more serious than lice.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently listed lindane as a carcinogen. It increases the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Lancet Oncology online, June 22).

There is a lice treatment that your doctor could prescribe, Ulesfia, that contains benzyl alcohol. It is pricey, however, especially for treating six children plus yourself. Other prescription lice treatments include Sklice (ivermectin) and Natroba (spinosad).

You might consider treating the family with Cetaphil cleanser. This contains cetyl alcohol. Dampen the hair, coat it with Cetaphil and blow it dry. Leave the hardened Cetaphil on overnight so that it can suffocate the lice (Pediatrics, September 2004). Then wash it out in the morning.


Q: I have read questions about painful ears during flights. This was a severe problem for me.

I now follow this regimen that an ear-nose-and-throat doctor gave me, and it works. Ten days before flying, I start using Nasacort nasal spray twice a day. I take Benadryl an hour before the flight and use Afrin spray 30 minutes before taking off (two sprays per nostril).

I also use EarPlanes earplugs and chew gum during the flight. I use Afrin spray (two squirts in each nostril) when the pilot announces that we will be landing (or 20 minutes before landing).

I know this sounds like a lot of stuff, but it has kept me traveling.

A: Wow! That is an impressive treatment program. Others may benefit.


Q: We had to take our mother to the hospital because she had fallen and suffered a broken rib. Part of the admitting process was listing all the meds she was on. The hospitalist who saw her reviewed the list and asked, “Why is she taking such and such medications?”

We didn’t know just what had been prescribed to help her sleep at night. The doctor said that these meds can make the elderly fall and should not be given to someone who’s 80!

We are now attending doctor visits and taking notes. We are trying to have her see just one doctor and use one pharmacy to have better oversight. After she was discharged from the hospital, we had to endure her benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. How can we learn what other drugs she should avoid?

A: There are a number of drugs that should rarely, if ever, be prescribed to elderly people. Many doctors keep this in mind, but some aren’t aware of what to avoid. That’s why it is crucial for family members to be vigilant.

We are sending you our “Guide to Drugs and Older People,” which has such a list. It also lists medications that can contribute to confusion in senior citizens. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. O-85, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website:


Q: I have lived in Seattle for 35 years, but this past winter I spent three months in Arizona. I have noticed a dramatic improvement in my memory, and I am thinking more clearly. Could this be due to the vitamin D that I have received from sun exposure in Arizona?

I am 59 and do not take vitamins. I eat well, ride a bike about 50 miles a week and lift weights. Is it possible that the sun exposure has really made a difference in my mental ability?

A: There’s no way to know if living in the Northwest led to a vitamin D deficiency. A research review concluded, “Recent studies have confirmed an association between cognitive impairment, dementia, and vitamin D deficiency” (Clinical Interventions in Aging, April 2, 2014).

To learn more about vitamin D and how to make sure you are getting enough, read our “Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency,” which can be downloaded for $2 from