Q. I’ve been plagued with post-nasal drip for decades. I also have a deviated septum that can make my breathing labored at night. I notice this especially when I’ve cleaned during the day. In the morning I have to clear my throat repeatedly for about 45 minutes because of the post-nasal drip upon rising.
Two weeks ago I decided to put a thin film of Vicks VapoRub up my nostrils before bed so I wouldn’t have to wake up. Voila! No more labored breathing and no more post-nasal drip and raspy throat the next morning. Am I just imagining that Vicks helps? Is it harmful to put Vicks up my nose every night?
A. Although it was once common practice to put a dab of Vicks inside the nostrils, the manufacturer of Vicks VapoRub is now quite specific in its warnings: “For external use only.Do not use by mouth or in nostrils.” That is partly because one ingredient, camphor, can be toxic if absorbed into the body.
We have collected an amazing variety of unusual uses for this old-fashioned remedy. Anyone who would like a copy of our Guide to Unique Uses for Vicks may send $2 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. Vi-76, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.
Q. I am a 51-year-old female who has been plagued with persistent eczema. The skin on my hands was always red, itchy, cracked and often bleeding. My hands were always covered with bandages or gauze.
Dermatologists prescribed cortisone creams of increasing strength. None was helpful over the long term. Hand cream for dry skin was totally useless.
Five years ago I went to an allergist for an unrelated problem. When he saw my hands, he was concerned that the open sores put me at risk of infection. He suggested taking borage oil since it had helped many of his patients.
I tried it, taking one capsule of borage oil after breakfast and one before bed. Within a few months the eczema on my hands had disappeared completely and the condition is now only a minor annoyance. My dry skin is controlled with ordinary hand cream. I hope this tip will help others.
A. Borage oil is rich in a fatty acid called GLA (gamma-linolenic acid). The oil comes from the plant Borago officinalis, also known as star flower. We are delighted that you got such relief, but not everyone will benefit.
A placebo-controlled study recently published in the British Medical Journal (Dec 13, 2003) suggests that borage oil is ineffective for eczema. The researchers conclude that, “it seems unlikely that dietary supplementation with gamma linolenic acid is beneficial in management of atopic dermatitis.”
Q. You recently wrote about canker sores (aphthous ulcers). I have found that toothpaste with SLS (sodium laurel sulfate) made the ulcers much worse! When I switched to Weleda toothpaste, I saw an immediate improvement. Toothpaste with tartar control seems to be especially irritating.
A. Thanks for the testimonial. Some dentists recommend avoiding toothpaste with SLS to reduce canker sores.
We also heard from another reader that a vitamin might be helpful: “My mother had many canker sores. In a routine physical, she was tested for vitamin B12 and found to be deficient. Once her doctor started her on B12 shots, the canker sores disappeared and have not recurred.”

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