Q. I read somewhere recently that a woman almost died while cleaning with chlorine bleach and ammonia. I clean with these items every week. Could you tell me how this could possibly cause death?
A. Combining the common cleaning agents chlorine bleach and ammonia can liberate deadly chlorine gas. We trust you have not made this mistake.
This example points up the potential problem of mixing chemicals. Just as you were unaware of the danger of adding ammonia to chlorine bleach, some people do not realize that certain drugs are incompatible. For example, a person taking Coumadin might experience life-threatening bleeding if he started taking the antibiotic Bactrim (co-trimoxazole).
The antidepressant Nardil may be deadly when combined with another antidepressant such as Zoloft or even cheddar cheese. To learn more about such hazards, you might consult our book, Dangerous Drug Interactions, available at libraries and bookstores. It can be ordered directly ($8.99) by calling (800) 732-2334.
Q. For occasional tension headaches I have long taken 222 (aspirin with codeine), available in Canada without a prescription. Several times of late I have experienced acute indigestion after taking this medication. Could it be responsible or is this just a coincidence?
A. Canada permits over-the-counter sale of pain relievers containing low-dose codeine. The 222 brand you refer to contains 325 mg of aspirin, 8 mg of codeine and 15 mg of caffeine. The recommended dose is one or two pills.
Some people react to codeine with stomach upset, including nausea and indigestion. Aspirin could contribute to such discomfort. Caffeine can also be hard on the stomach, though the dose in 222 is so small this may not be a factor. If 222 is giving you trouble, you’ll need a different pain reliever.
Q. I recently found two pills that I have never seen before under a towel in my bathroom. I questioned everyone in the house and no one seems to know anything about them. The pills are round, beige in color, and say M93 on them. Can you tell me what they are and what they are used for?
A. We checked with poison control and discovered that these pills are flurbiprofen, a prescription anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen. Perhaps someone was using them to relieve arthritis pain, a headache or painful menstrual cramps.
Anyone who wishes to identify an unknown drug can check the code on the pill and ask a pharmacist. Reference books often contain pill identifiers. In an emergency, a poison control center can also ID an unknown medication.
Q. I have been using Lumigan eye drops for several months to treat glaucoma. One of the side effects is that your eyelashes could grow; mine have grown a lot!
I keep wondering what it is in the Lumigan that makes eyelashes grow, and whether anyone has tested it on people with thinning hair. Would it work for that too?
A. Lumigan (bimatoprost) is a relatively new medicine for glaucoma. One unusual side effect is growth of eyelashes. Other reactions may include darkening of the skin around the eyes and changes in eye color. No one knows exactly why these effects occur and we have found no research suggesting that topical use of Lumigan could help thinning hair.

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