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Originally published Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 5:12 AM

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Is sofa that reeks of mothballs making family sick?

People’s Pharmacy on the dangers of mothballs, antibiotics for asthma and hand sanitizer as deodorant.


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Q: I picked up a couch of my Grandma’s from my uncle. He’d kept it in the garage with a ton of mothballs.

I notice I’ve been feeling weird lately. My eyes are bothering me, and I have a headache, breathing problems and feel nauseated and dizzy. The aroma of mothballs is noticeable.

My wife also is feeling bad, and I am worried about the kids. Could that old sofa be making us sick?

A: It is possible. Most mothballs contain para-dichlorobenzene (p-DCB), a pesticide that goes from the solid mothball form to a gas that is toxic to moth larvae.

Exposure to the vapor can trigger irritation of the eyes and nose. High concentrations may lead to fatigue, headache, nausea and vomiting. P-DCB fumes can even affect the nervous system, causing weakness and a lack of coordination. This compound has some estrogenic activity and is considered an endocrine disruptor.

If children or pets swallow mothballs, they could be poisoned. It sounds like the free couch was no bargain.

Q: I had hard-to-treat asthma and was referred to an allergist who prescribed the antibiotic azithromycin. After I finished the first course, with some improvement, he prescribed another round. When I finished the second course, my asthma disappeared. I no longer have to use an inhaler.

A: Some cases of hard-to-treat asthma may result from a persistent lung infection (Current Allergy and Asthma Reports online, Oct. 3, 2013). Certain bacteria that are hard to diagnose or treat can cause wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and other symptoms of asthma.

We have just published a book about using azithromycin for asthma treatment. The book, “A Cure for Asthma? What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You — and Why,” is available at our website.

Another reader offered this report: “I heard about the extended use of antibiotics for asthma and convinced my doctor to try it. I improved my lung function dramatically and now, 18 months later, I only need my corticosteroid inhaler if I hang out with smokers. My doctor was amazed at the results we achieved with the antibiotic.”

Q: I can’t stand the smell of most deodorants, so I tried a hand sanitizer. It works very well. I had no odor at all, even by the end of the day.

The main ingredient is ethyl alcohol. Is there any reason I should not use it?

A: Many other readers have found that alcohol in one form or another can control underarm odor. One person wrote: “I’ve tried rubbing alcohol under my arms. It kills bacteria and works well, but I was not sure using it daily would be good for my skin. I now am trying vodka! It also kills bacteria. The smell is milder than the rubbing alcohol and is gone by the time it has dried, which is very quickly.”

Our only concern about people using hand-sanitizing gels on their armpits is the other ingredients that might be included. Fragrances and benzophenones may have hormonal activity. Tocopherol (vitamin E) can sometimes be irritating to the skin.

Some readers also report that milk of magnesia makes a good, low-cost underarm deodorant without any aroma.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th floor, New York, NY 10019, or via their website:www.peoplespharmacy.org



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