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7 Do-It-Yourself Remedies That Can Offer Relief
(September 2011)

Photo of woman eating an appleHeal thyself? It's not as hard as you think, at least when it comes to these common, minor health issues.

You can treat a lot of common health concerns with simple home remedies that are readily available from drugstores or supermarkets--no prescription needed.

These remedies are inexpensive, safe, and simple. But if symptoms linger or worsen, be sure to call your doctor for advice.

Acid Reflux
Here's something to chew on: Gum can be a cheap, simple way to tackle post-meal gastroesophageal reflux, often called acid reflux.

British researchers fed 31 patients suffering from acid reflux fat-laden lunches two days in a row. Then they randomly selected patients to chew sugar-free gum for half an hour afterward on one of those days.

The patients who had chewed the gum wound up with significantly lower levels of acid in the esophagus.

Constipation
An apple a day might just keep the doctor away--or at least help you feel regular.

To avoid or treat constipation, you don't always need to reach for laxatives, most of which aren't meant for long-term use anyway. Instead, says the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), exercise more often, eat more fiber, and drink plenty of fluids--eight glasses a day, including water, juices, soup, tea, and other drinks. You should also limit foods high in fat and sugar, such as sweets, cheese, and processed foods.

To add fiber to your diet, gradually increase your intake to at least 2 cups of fruits and 21/2 cups of vegetables a day. The fruits can be fresh or dried, such as prunes, apricots, and figs. Other foods are also rich in fiber, including unprocessed wheat bran, whole-grain cereals and bread, brown rice, and dry beans.

If none of this seems to work, you might need an over-the-counter (OTC) bulk-forming laxative containing oat bran, psyllium, polycarbophil, or methylcellulose.

Minor Burns
For minor first-degree burns, the AAFP recommends you soak the burned area in cool water for at least five minutes to pull heat away from your burned skin and reduce swelling.

Then use a skin-care product that protects and heals the skin, such as aloe vera cream or an OTC antibiotic ointment. Wrap a dry gauze bandage around the burn.

An OTC pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen, can help with your pain. Ibuprofen and naproxen also help reduce swelling.

Whatever you do, don't put butter or oil on burns or put ice or ice water directly on second- or third-degree burns. Those steps can further damage your skin.

Dry or Itchy Skin
Before you make an appointment with a dermatologist (which can take a while to schedule), try a moisturizer.

The AAFP recommends using a hypoallergenic moisturizer (the gooier the better) three or four times a day. Put it on right after you wash or bathe to trap moisture from the water you just used. For really dry hands, apply petroleum jelly just before bedtime and sleep with your hands in cotton-lined gloves.

Bathing too often can also dry out your skin, so the AAFP suggests you take short, lukewarm baths or showers. Use mild soap every day only to clean your armpits and other sensitive areas. Soap up the rest of your body just two or three times a week.

An oatmeal bath might soothe your skin, too. Bath oils, such as baby oil, can also help, but apply them after you bathe to avoid slipping and falling.

A moisturizer might relieve itching as well. If not, try a 1 percent hydrocortisone steroid skin cream, but don't use it for more than a week or two. And don't apply such creams to your face or genital area. If you're still itching a week or two later, talk with your doctor.

Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac Rash
Is your itching or rash due to an allergic reaction to poison ivy, oak, or sumac? Thoroughly wash your skin and clothing with soap and water. Then try hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to reduce itching and blistering. An oatmeal bath may also help.

Bladder Infections
If you're prone to bladder infections, try drinking cranberry juice every day. The National Institutes of Health says research has shown that drinking cranberry juice cocktail can help prevent repeated urinary tract infections in older women, pregnant women, and hospitalized people.

Chemicals in cranberries apparently keep bacteria from sticking to the cells that line the urinary tract. But cranberry juice doesn't seem able to release bacteria already stuck in these cells. That could explain why cranberry juice might not help treat a urinary tract infection if you already have one.

Childhood Coughs
Giving your child honey works at least as well as honey-flavored cough syrup in quieting nighttime coughs and other symptoms.

Researchers reached that conclusion after a study of more than 100 children ages 2 to 18 that appeared in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The study was supported by the National Honey Board, an industry-funded agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Children and parents slept better--all without the potential danger of OTC cough medications. The Food and Drug Administration recommends against giving those drugs to children younger than age 4.

However, you should never give honey to children less than 1 year old.

How to Treat Colds, Sore Throats, and Congestion

Common Colds
Despite the abundance of cold-oriented products available in the typical drugstore, there's no cure for the common cold. However, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases suggests several things you can do to ease your cold symptoms:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Use a decongestant or saline nasal spray to help relieve symptoms in your nose.
  • Use petroleum jelly to soothe a raw nose.
  • Take aspirin or acetaminophen for headache or fever. However, never give aspirin to a child or teenager. It could cause a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.

Sore Throats
For a scratchy or sore throat, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends these steps:

  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain.
  • Gargle with warm water containing salt (1 teaspoon of salt per one 8-ounce cup of water).
  • Suck on throat lozenges or hard candy.
  • Suck on flavored frozen desserts, such as ice pops.
  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom or other rooms you frequent.
  • Drink lots of liquids to keep your throat lubricated and prevent dehydration.

Congestion
Your mother was right about chicken soup. If you're under the weather, says the National Institutes of Health, the steam from the soup may open up congested noses and throats. The soup also provides fluid, which is important in fighting infection.

Some researchers suggest that substances in chicken soup reduce the inflammation linked with the common cold. That may also help relieve symptoms.

By Bruce E. Beans, a feature writer for Vitality. To learn more, visit the American Academy of Family Physicians at www.familydoctor.org.

Krames StayWell. Information is the opinion of the sourced authors and organizations. Personal decisions regarding health, diet, and exercise should be made only after consultation with the reader's own medical advisers. This material may not be reproduced for redistribution without written permission from Krames StayWell.

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