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People’s Pharmacy: Vicks did not work for reader’s cough

Q. I tried putting Vicks VapoRub on the soles of my feet to calm a cough last night. It did absolutely nothing for me. If anything, my cough got worse. My feet felt like they were on fire, and the feeling of the Vicks between my toes was just not pleasant. So I will not be doing that ever again. On the plus side, my feet are very soft.

A. Eight years ago, a nurse told us about slathering Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet to quiet a nighttime cough. Since then, many others have reported success. Here is a typical testimonial: “The real treasure of Vicks VapoRub is the application to the bottom of the feet. When I first heard about it, I had a very bad cough from allergy-related bronchitis. I tried this remedy, and it relieved my cough almost immediately.”

Clearly, as your experience demonstrates, Vicks does not work to ease all coughs. If you have athlete’s foot or cracks between your toes, the camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil in the ointment might sting.


Q. I have been taking atenolol for several years and have been troubled with symptoms that have gone undiagnosed despite untold hours in doctors’ offices. I have even been hospitalized with extreme dizziness and heart palpitations. Sometimes I gasp for air after simply climbing the stairs to my home. I also suffer with cold feet and hands.

Just today, I was at the doctor’s office with chest pain, breathing problems and heart palpitations. She said my blood pressure was 100/60 and told me she thought it was due to the atenolol. She suggested I cut back to every other day. I wonder if this drug has been the problem all along.

A. Atenolol is a beta blocker, like metoprolol and propranolol. Such drugs were once first-line treatments against hypertension, but experts now recommend that they be used only when other approaches are inadequate.

Beta blockers are notorious for causing cold hands and feet, fatigue and dizziness. They also can cause breathing difficulties or make asthma worse.

We are sending you our book “Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy” for an in-depth discussion of beta blocker side effects and other ways to treat high blood pressure. It is available in libraries and at Atenolol and other beta blockers should never be stopped abruptly, as this could trigger angina or even a heart attack. Alternate-day treatment is untested and might carry risks.


Q. I’m a critical-care nurse with a daughter who’s a transplant recipient. I know that hospital housekeeping departments do the best they can. Often, though, the cleaning staff doesn’t think to sanitize every surface patients and staff touch. This should definitely happen after one patient is discharged and another is admitted, but it doesn’t always.

When I’m at work, before any admission, I am careful to thoroughly clean things like call lights, phones and monitor wires. I clean my shoes and stethoscope at the end of my shift, and I don’t reuse my white jackets without laundering.

Of course, whenever my daughter is hospitalized, I am careful to clean her room, too. We have had very good results through the years with this approach.

A. As you know, the immune systems of transplant recipients are suppressed to prevent rejection of the organ. As a result, they can’t fight off infections like healthy people do.

We appreciate your attention to potential contamination of hospital rooms. We spoke with Robert Muder, M.D., about his successful infection control program at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System. He found that recruiting housekeeping staff to the team and reframing the job as preventing infections rather than just cleaning rooms really helped.