Old-fashioned oatmeal calms chronic itching


Q. I have long suffered from severely dry, chapped hands, especially after working in dirt, washing dishes or handling certain vegetables. My hands would not only be very dry and bleed, but would also develop tiny blisters that would spread.

My dermatologist prescribed Lotrisone, and I used it for several years. This ointment had to be applied to the affected area often, however, so my prescription lasted only a couple of weeks. And it is expensive.

I finally found a lotion containing oatmeal (Aveeno) that controls the dryness, cracking and blisters when applied three times a day. I have been using this oatmeal lotion for two years now with great success, and thought others would like to know.

A. Aveeno lotion contains colloidal oatmeal along with glycerin and petrolatum. Dermatologists often recommend petrolatum (petroleum jelly) as the most effective skin moisturizer, not to mention the cheapest.

Colloidal oatmeal, available under the brand name Aveeno, is an old-fashioned remedy for itching or rashes. A cup of powder is added to a tub of lukewarm water for a soothing 10- to 20-minute soak. Thanks for sharing your experience with the lotion.

Q. Is there any new information on tinnitus? How effective might Ginkgo biloba be, and what is the proper dose?

A. Tinnitus (ringing, chirping or humming noises in the ear) can be extremely disruptive. It is sometimes caused by medication, especially aspirin. In other cases, nerve damage seems to be the problem. This might be caused by loud noises.

Ginkgo biloba has been studied for its effect on tinnitus, but the results are inconclusive. In one study of people whose tinnitus was due to inadequate blood flow to the inner ear, ginkgo helped 40 percent. The recommended amount is 120 to 160 milligrams per day, split into two or three doses.

Q. I have acid reflux and take Prilosec for it. The Prilosec works great, but it costs more than $100 a month. I have taken over-the-counter Zantac (two pills twice a day), but it does not work as well as Prilosec. Milk and yogurt help a little. Are there any herbs I can take? If I can find an herb or herbs to replace Prilosec, it might help me save some money.

A. There are some inexpensive nondrug approaches to acid reflux. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can be surprisingly helpful, and chamomile tea is a time-honored herbal remedy.

There are limits to the relief you might get with herbs. Avoiding alcohol, coffee and cigarettes might help a lot, but if an extensively tested medicine like Zantac doesn't work well enough, it is not clear that chamomile will be effective.

Q. I have a small cataract. My doctor says it is not ready for surgery. Can any vitamins or herbs keep it from getting larger?

A. Bilberry, a European fruit rich in anti-oxidants, has long been used to protect vision. Preliminary studies suggest that bilberry extract might slow the development of cataracts. Further research is needed, but it might be worth a try for you.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of the People's Pharmacy, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717, or e-mail them via their Web site (www.peoplespharmacy.com) on the HealthCentral,com network.

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