Q. I read that there is a way to sterilize sponges in the microwave, but I didn’t get all the instructions. How long do they stay in the microwave?

This technique would be a lot easier for us. Currently my wife pours boiling water on the kitchen sponge every day.

A. Kitchen sponges that sit around are frequently contaminated with nasty germs that can cause illness. Your wife hit upon one way to sterilize the sponge so that wiping a counter doesn’t spread bacteria all over it.

An easier option is to wet the sponge, wring it out and nuke it for two minutes in the microwave. The heat kills the worrisome bacteria along with viruses (Journal of Environmental Health, Dec. 2006).

It is important that the sponge be damp. Soon after this recommendation was published, some people tried it without wetting the sponge. Sponges caught on fire, smelled up kitchens and ruined microwave ovens.

Q. I have suffered for many years from atopic dermatitis, or eczema. The regimen and potions prescribed by my dermatologist helped to some degree, but what really seems to have cleared up the itching is an antioxidant supplement called pycnogenol. After six months, my eczema is in total remission.  What can you tell me about pycnogenol?

A. Pycnogenol is extracted from the bark of maritime pine trees. The plant compounds it contains are proanthocyanidin flavonoids similar to compounds derived from cranberries, blueberries or other plant sources.

Pycnogenol has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Perhaps the effect on your eczema is related to its ability to calm inflammation.

Q. I have had recurrent sinus infections for over 30 years. I am 44 now.

The typical pattern seems to be a cold virus turning into a sinus infection. As the cold wanes the sinus infection develops. Do you have any suggestions for breaking this curse?

A. Millions suffer as you do. To break the cycle you need to avoid colds. Some readers swear by cod liver oil. Perhaps the vitamin D boosts the immune system. Many report that the Chinese herbs, andrographis or astragalus, also seem to improve immunity. Others sing the praises of zinc lozenges at the first hint of the sniffles.

We have provided more details about such approaches in our Guide to Cold Remedies. We are sending it to you along with a CD of our recent one-hour radio show interview about preventing and treating sinusitis. Anyone who would like this information may send $17 to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. CDQ-617, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Many people find that washing the sinuses out with saline (salt water) helps reduce congestion and may prevent infection. Frequent hand washing may also help avoid a cold.

Q. I read your article about soy sauce and burns on Tuesday and went to work the next day. I am an executive chef and was blending a very hot soup when the blender top popped off and the soup ran down my arm.

I’ve been in this business for 22 years and I have a lot of remedies. But I went for the soy sauce. I have to tell you it saved me a lot of pain and blisters. I put it on a paper towel and pressed it on my arm. It really worked! Thank you.

A. Other readers have reported that they too benefited from the soy sauce remedy for burns. Thanks for sharing your story. Immediate immersion in cold water is also helpful.

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  1. Scott

    (Sorry, got an accidental send)
    The end of the soy sauce story is that I should be blistering by now and I’m not. I currently have no pain or swelling. (Just a brown palm!) Quite remarkable. Thanks for this hint!

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