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Avoid Harmful Home Remedies

We have been collecting home remedies for more than 30 years. Some are silly, others are implausible, but many are practical and helpful. We try to apply the “might help, won’t hurt, doesn’t cost too much” principle.

Sometimes, though, people suggest remedies that should never be tried at home. We recently received a letter from a World War II veteran. Bud wrote: “Back in the war years I was in the Navy and it was not uncommon to get a case of body lice, commonly known as the crabs. We would use a product called Campho-Phenique.

“I don’t know if the product is still on the market, but it was very effective. We’d apply it to the groin area at bedtime, take a shower the next morning and the problem was solved.

“On a lighter note, I had a good friend who thought he had a better idea. We had airplanes with a large lid on the gas tank that you could dip your hands into. He applied the 100-plus octane to the affect part of his body and you could have heard him yell all across the base. End of experiment!”

In a similar vein, we heard from one sweet little old lady that putting Vicks VapoRub on her hemorrhoids was helpful. We foolishly mentioned this on a TV show several years ago. John Welter responded with his report:

“…In a clinical setting where no one could see me, I scientifically applied a sufficient amount of VapoRub to the inflamed area and waited for results…the active ingredients in VapoRub–which are think are menthol, camphor and napalm–instantly engulfed my hemorrhoidal locality in spontaneous combustion. The warmth of VapoRub on a congested chest might be comforting; applying it to the most sensitive escape route in the human abdomen made me imagine I was a jet fighter with afterburners. I moved distractedly through the house like an F-15 pilot saying: ‘Mayday! Mayday! I took a direct hit to my tail section! Eject! Eject!’

“The use of VapoRub for hemorrhoids was supposed to be a home remedy, although obviously it has military applications…I must politely report to Joe Graedon that while it’s possible that a few people might benefit from VapoRub on their hemorrhoids, I think most people will respond with such well-known expressions as, ‘Shots fired! Officer down! We have casualties!'” (Durham Herald-Sun, March 24, 2001).

Other remedies we discourage include using Clorox to treat nail fungus, kerosene to treat head lice or WD-40 (a metal lubricant) to ease stiff joints. These old-fashioned approaches are much too risky.

Never use the lit end of a cigarette to try to dislodge a tick from your skin. It doesn’t work, the tick may release extra tick juice into the bite and you run a risk of getting burned. (Instead, tick experts recommend grasping the critter with a pair of tweezers and pulling firmly and steadily until it lets go.)

Home remedies can be useful so long as common sense rules. If symptoms don’t improve or if they worsen, seek medical attention.

We have collected hundreds of affordable and popular approaches in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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