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Friday, July 15, 2011
Which Summertime Home Remedies Really Work?
Which Summertime Home Remedies Really Work? Separate fact from fiction when it comes to what soothes sunburns, bug bites and more By Amanda Greene
As enjoyable as the easy, breezy days of summer are, they also come with a few less-than-welcome seasonal conditions, such as poison ivy, swimmer’s ear and heat rash. Chances are you’ve heard a few homespun theories about how to treat these warm-weather maladies, like applying toothpaste to calm a bee sting or slathering burned skin with aloe. But do these treatments really work? We spoke to the medical experts to find out which solutions are worth trying, and which are best left behind.
1. Aloe to soothe sunburn: Try it!
While the best defense against a painful sunburn is to stay in the shade (especially during the sun's peak hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and slather on sunscreen, sometimes you just can’t avoid getting one. So does aloe, and products that contain aloe, really provide relief? “When squeezed, aloe leaves release a colorless gel that contains 99.5% water and a mixture of chemicals, including choline salicylate, which is a relative of aspirin and can relieve mild to moderate pain,” says Josie Tenore, MD, a physician at Fresh Skin aesthetic medical center in Highland Park, Illinois. “Applying the pure gel to your skin may provide anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe a burn.” According to Glenn Kolansky, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, in addition to the gel culled from an aloe plant (just snip open the leaf and squeeze), over-the-counter 100% pure aloe gels will also do the trick. However, Dr. Kolansky stresses that this remedy will only help alleviate the pain associated with first-degree, superficial burns. Photo: Thinkstock
2. Baking soda to relieve heat rash: Try it!
Heat rash is an inflammatory reaction to hot weather that occurs when your sweat ducts become blocked, trapping perspiration under your skin. Symptoms include tiny blisters or extremely itchy, prickly red bumps. While it usually goes away on its own after two or three days (see a doctor if it lasts longer or you experience a fever or increased pain in the area), taking a 20-minute bath in baking soda-infused water may help provide some comfort until then. “The active ingredient in baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which has mild anti-inflammatory properties,” says Howard Podolsky MD, chief medical officer for Nextcare Urgent Care clinics. He recommends filling a bath with lukewarm water and adding three to four tablespoons of baking soda. Photo: iStockphoto
3. Garlic to treat swimmer’s ear: Skip it!
Spending long hours in the water often causes swimmer’s ear, an infection of the ear canal caused by bacterial and fungal growth. Children and adults are both susceptible; however, youngsters tend to be affected more frequently because they often don't dry their ears off properly. While garlic does contain many antibacterial properties, “most garlic pastes that you’ll find at the supermarket aren’t pharmaceutical grade,” says Dr. Podolsky. “I’ve seen it work, but I wouldn’t recommend it because putting non-sterile items in an infected ear canal is a set-up for increased infection.” The trick to clearing things up, he says, is to keep the area dry, since the infection thrives in moisture. Keep your child out of the pool for a few days to see if it improves. You can also try drying the area using a blow-dryer, set to cool, for three to five minutes a day for no more than two days. If the problem persists after 48 hours, visit a doctor to see if prescription drops are necessary. Photo: iStockphoto
4. Peppermint to calm insect bites: Try it!
While there aren’t many controlled studies that have proven the effectiveness of peppermint oil in soothing itchy bites, many people do find that it works as long as there is no broken skin on or around the bite. Dr. Podolsky advises first treating the area with antibiotic ointment and then applying a few drops of a mixture that contains several drops of peppermint extract mixed with 8 ounces of water. “Topically, peppermint oil can act as an anti-inflammatory and can be quite soothing,” he says. If you have scratched the bite and created an open wound (where broken skin is present), skip the peppermint mixture. Instead, clean the area with soap and water or hydrogen peroxide and then apply a triple antibiotic ointment, followed by a bandage. Once a scab forms, you can remove the bandage and let it heal naturally. Photo: iStockphoto
5. Honey to heal minor cuts and scrapes: Skip it!
According to Dr. Tenore, applying a layer of honey to a small cut or scrape seals moisture in, allowing minor wounds to heal. But, as with garlic, Dr. Podolsky warns that the honey you find at the supermarket isn’t a safe bet. “Though it’s perfectly fine to eat, the honey we get at the grocery store contains its own set of microbacteria, which is fine for our stomachs but can actually inflame a cut.” Instead, treat cuts by cleaning them with soap and water or hydrogen peroxide, then apply a triple antibiotic ointment and cover with a bandage. Photo:iStockphoto
6. Zinc supplements to fight body odor: Skip it!
Zinc can, in fact, help inhibit bacterial growth in your body, but Dr. Kolansky warns that most people aren’t deficient in zinc and ingesting too much of it can be toxic. Topical deodorants containing zinc may help; Dr. Podolsky notes that they tend to reduce the amount of sweat you produce, which can, in turn, cut down the amount of body odor you have. However, since there is no set rate of zinc absorption, and these deodorants contain varying levels of zinc, it’s not a guaranteed fix. If you're considering using a zinc deodorant or just concerned in general that your body odor isn't normal, your best bet is to see a doctor. “You need to figure out what the underlying cause of the odor is and rule out a problem, like kidney failure, that might be at the root of it,” says Marc Siegel, MD, a practicing internist and associate professor of medicine at New York University. Photo: iStockphoto
7. Oats to soothe poison ivy: Try it!
There's a reason why so many body lotions include oats in their ingredient lists—it's been used to alleviate skin irritations for centuries. “It has an anti-inflammatory effect and is very soothing,” says Dr. Podolsky—just the thing you need when your skin is itchy from coming in contact with poison ivy. If you haven’t broken any skin from excessive scratching, add three to four tablespoons of instant rolled oats to a lukewarm bath and hop in for a soothing soak. If the skin has been broken, clean the area with soap and water or hydrogen peroxide instead, apply a triple antibiotic cream to the open wound and cover it with a bandage. Photo: Thinkstock
8. Toothpaste to ease a bee sting: Skip it!
Peppermint may be soothing to an itchy bite when mixed and applied with water, but picking up peppermint-flavored toothpaste at your drug store isn’t your best bet when you’ve been stung by a bee. Toothpaste contains ingredients like calcium phosphate and aluminum hydroxide, which do a great job of cleaning your teeth, but can be too harsh and irritating on a sting or bite. Instead, Dr. Podolsky advises removing the stinger with a pair of tweezers, then cleaning the area with soap and water and applying triple antibiotic ointment. To reduce inflammation, take ibuprofen as directed on the bottle. Photo: istock
9. Prevent blisters with antiperspirant: Skip it!
Think swiping some deodorant on your feet will keep them dry and blister-free? According to Dr. Tenore, many deodorants and antiperspirants contain talc, which can actually cause—rather than prevent—blisters, since it can clump on your foot and create friction between your skin and your shoes. Instead, try wicking socks, such as those made with COOLMAX fabric, “that actually move the sweat from the surface of the foot to the exterior of the sock,” Dr. Tenore recommends. When wearing sandals, applyBodyGlide, which doesn’t contain talc, or moleskin to blister-prone areas. Photo: istock