A few simple remedies for a stubborn cough

Q: I have had a hacking cough for more than a week. Consequently, I’ve had no sleep at all and had horrible pains in my chest and sides from the endless cough, cough, cough.

I had heard about putting Vicks on the soles of the feet but dismissed it as just an old wives’ tale. However, last night at 1:30 a.m., I was so sick of coughing that I thought, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” There’d be no harm trying.

I smeared the bottoms of my feet, and put some socks on and lay down to wait. I just now woke up, having slept straight through with not a single cough all night. A solid, uninterrupted night’s sleep makes me feel like a new person this morning.

A: More than a decade ago, a nurse called our public radio show to report that putting Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet calmed her children’s nighttime cough. She admitted that it sounded “wacko,” but we tried it and shared it with others. Like you, many have reported success.

Other simple remedies often can be helpful against a cough, including thyme tea, chicken soup with sage, a spoonful of honey (for children over a year old) and even dark chocolate. We have included information about such approaches and a wide range of purposes that Vicks VapoRub may serve in our Guides to Colds, Coughs and the Flu and Unique Uses for Vicks. Anyone who would like copies, please send $5 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (66 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. QVi-276, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. Each guide also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Those applying Vicks to the soles of the feet will find it helpful to put on a pair of warm socks afterward. This protects the sheets from the greasy ointment and helps prevent slipping on the way to bed.

Q: My wife and I have each taken an acyclovir pill a day for 18 years. During that entire time, neither of us has had a fever blister, cold, flu, shingles or virus of any kind. We do not get flu shots.

I’m 75, and she’s 60. I am amazed that acyclovir has not been promoted widely, considering how well it works. The generic is very cheap, and we have had absolutely no side effects.

A: Acyclovir (Zovirax) was the first Food and Drug Administration-approved antiviral drug against herpes infections. It is used to treat chickenpox, shingles and genital herpes as well as cold sores (fever blisters). We could find no evidence that prescription acyclovir would provide protection against other viruses, such as those that cause influenza or colds. Perhaps your resistance to such infections is coincidental and a testimony to the strength of your immune system.

Q: I have had difficulty with extremely bulky bowel movements my entire life. It is terribly embarrassing to have to use a toilet away from home for fear of plugging it up. Fiber supplements, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, prunes and stool softeners don’t help. I would love suggestions that might work.

A: One low-cost, low-risk option might be to try sugarless gum containing xylitol. This natural compound is not absorbed from the digestive tract, so it attracts water and makes the stool softer and hopefully less bulky. If your kidneys are healthy, a magnesium supplement (200 to 400 mg) also may be helpful.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”