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People’s Pharmacy: Witch hazel soothed wasp sting on baby

Q. When I was a baby, a wasp stung me on the eyelid. My parents and grandparents used tobacco for stings, but they couldn’t put that on a baby’s eyelid. So they rushed me to the doctor.

He took one look at me and said, “Apply chilled witch hazel.” My dad used witch hazel after shaving, so they put a bottle in the icebox and daubed some on my eyelid to make me stop crying.

I am an old woman now, and I still keep a bottle of witch hazel in the refrigerator door. It is wonderful for bee or wasp stings or mosquito bites.

A. We have been collecting bee-sting remedies for decades, but this is the first time we have ever heard of the witch-hazel approach. Witch-hazel extract (Hamamelis virginiana) has anti-inflammatory properties.

Other home remedies that have been used for easing stings include papain, an enzyme from the papaya fruit that breaks down protein in the venom. Papain is an active ingredient in meat tenderizer.

People also report success applying the freshly cut surface of an onion to the sting. This, too, contains enzymes to counteract the effects of the venom, as we learned years ago from chemist Eric Block, Ph.D.


Q. You sometimes have questions from women suffering with a rash under their breasts. I was bothered with this problem for years and finally found the answer: amber Listerine.

With a quick spray, I can shortcut any rash. I haven’t had one for more than a year now.

A. Thanks for the suggestion. In hot weather, when skin folds such as the area under the breast may stay warm and damp, rashes and fungus can be troublesome.

Another reader offered a different suggestion: “I was having this problem also. A friend suggested apple-cider vinegar.

“At first I thought she was crazy, but I tried it. Shower and pat dry, blot the rash with apple-cider vinegar and allow the skin to air-dry. I washed all my bras in very hot water and had the rash cleared in just four days.”

Both vinegar and Listerine make the skin less hospitable to fungus, so that may explain why they work for this vexing problem.


Q. I am on NSAIDs for joint pain. Unfortunately, I can’t live without ketoprofen. It allows me to walk and cook and take care of my family.

I’m also taking Nexium for reflux. I was under the impression that drugs like Nexium would protect my digestive tract, but I read on your website that this combination might be damaging my small intestine.

I’m trying to eat yogurt to bolster my good gut bacteria. It seems we can’t win when we end up taking drugs for the side effects of our other drugs.

A. The study found that acid-suppressing drugs (PPIs) increase the damage NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, ketoprofen and naproxen do to the small intestine (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, December 2014). The authors found that PPIs change the bacteria living in the digestive tract; this could make the intestinal wall more susceptible to harm from NSAIDs.

There are many nondrug approaches to reducing inflammation and joint discomfort. Herbs such as boswellia and curcumin and foods like tart cherries and pomegranates all can be helpful. For more details on these and other options, we are sending you our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis. 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. AA-2, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website:

The People’s Pharmacy radio broadcast airs at 2 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.