Q. I thought I heard something recently about infants developing eczema from having a cat in the house. Is that true? I have a new granddaughter who shares her home with a 30-pound Maine coon cat. The cat sheds like crazy. Is this a problem?
A. You heard it right, but we can’t say if it will be a problem for your granddaughter. The study tracked 486 babies from birth through one year. At one year, 28 percent of the babies whose families had cats had been diagnosed with eczema, an itchy and uncomfortable rash. In comparison, 18 percent of the feline-free infants had gotten that diagnosis.
Prior research had suggested that pet ownership might help protect children against allergies. That may be true for dogs but not for cats.
Q. You recently wrote about a pharmacist who refused to dispense the antidepressants Lexapro and Effexor with the pain reliever tramadol. You said this interaction could have led to serotonin syndrome.
I was prescribed Lexapro and tramadol together when I had postpartum depression along with severe migraines. I also took the migraine medicine Imitrex at times.
The results were devastating. For over a year, I suffered from anxiety, convulsions in parts of my body, memory loss and confusion. At times I felt like I had a stroke because I couldn’t control what my body was doing.

A dozen doctors overlooked the diagnosis of serotonin syndrome, and pharmacists dispensed the medications together without blinking. During the first nine months, I was hospitalized three times for a total of 22 nights. No one could figure out what was making me so ill.

Finally I went off the medicines, but even then it took time for all of the symptoms to go away. Thank you for warning others.
A. When SSRI-type antidepressants such as Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft are taken with migraine medicines like Imitrex, Maxalt or Zomig, there is a serious risk of serotonin syndrome. Symptoms of this condition include anxiety, agitation, uncontrollable muscle twitches or contractions, high blood pressure, confusion, convulsions, hallucinations and even coma.
SSRI drugs can trigger serotonin syndrome in combination with a number of other drugs, ranging from antibiotics like Biaxin to pain medicine like tramadol (Ultram). Ask the pharmacist to check on this possibility before taking any other drug with such an antidepressant.
Q. I’ve had trouble with insomnia since entering menopause a few years ago. I wake up several times during the night to go to the bathroom. While I get back to sleep sometimes, on other occasions I lie awake for hours.
I’ve found that Benadryl seems to help. Is there any harm in taking one tablet of Benadryl night after night for years?
A. Diphenhydramine (found in Advil Pm, Benadryl, Sominex Original Formula, Tylenol PM, ) may lose its effectiveness if it is taken night after night. This drug might also make susceptible older people confused, forgetful or unsteady.
We discuss a number of options for insomnia in our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (63 cents), self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ The People’s Pharmacy®, No. I-70, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It can also be downloaded for $2 from the Website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

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