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Gradeons' Pharmacy: Fire ant bites seem to halt pain, spasms

Q: I have chronic nerve pain that is never-ending in both legs. Walking helps me reduce the spasms in my legs.

I was out for a walk and a fire ant bit my big toe. That hurt plenty, but 10 minutes later, the pain and spasm stopped in the leg that was bitten. There was no change in the leg that wasn't bitten. Could that bite actually have eased my pain?

A: Several years ago, we heard from another reader: "I had such unbearable hip pain that I had to be helped in and out of chairs." After being bitten by fire ants, "I was sick and dizzy most of the day, but a miracle happened: My severe pain has gone."

A visitor to our website offered this story: "I have had severe pain in two fingers on my left hand for several years. I got into a fire-ant nest in a bale of hay while feeding my horses and received about 20 stings before I got them off me.

"The next morning, the pain in my left hand was gone, and so far, four days later, I still have no pain in that hand. I really hope there are some serious research studies being conducted somewhere on the pain-relief properties in fire-ant venom."

Scientists are studying the molecular biology of fire-ant venom, but there don't seem to be studies of its use to relieve pain. We caution that this is not a do-it-yourself project, since people can have terrible allergic reactions to the bites and go into shock. Some individuals have suffered seizures or heart failure as a reaction to fire-ant bites.

Q: Several doctors through the years have put me on different vitamins. I now take a daily multivitamin with minerals as well as vitamins E, D-3 and B-12. Is there a test that can show which vitamins I actually need?

A: There is no single test, but we agree that it is better to know whether you need additional vitamins than to take them willy-nilly. Your doctor can test for vitamin B-12 and vitamin D

quite easily. If he or she suspects you are low in other nutrients, those tests can be run.

There also are companies that sell at-home or walk-in lab tests for a number of vitamins and minerals. The results may give you a better sense of which supplements might be beneficial.

Q: I have nail fungus on a thumb and both big toes. My doctor will not prescribe pills because of possible liver damage, so I would like anything that will get rid of the fungus.

My thumbnail really looks bad when the polish is removed during a manicure.

The nurse said to try Vicks VapoRub. A friend recommended white vinegar or lime juice. I can't figure out how to get any of these under the nail.

I've heard it might take six months to get rid of the fungus. Is there anything else that would work faster?

A: Getting rid of nail fungus is a slow process because the treated nail has to grow out healthy. This can take months.

There are many solutions you can use at home to discourage fungus, including Listerine and Pau d'Arco tea, as well as vinegar or Vicks. Lengthy soaking allows for nail penetration.

You will find directions for these home remedies in the Guide to Hair and Nail Care we are sending you. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. H-31, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Be cautious with lime juice. Using it before sun exposure can lead to a severe sunburn.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or email them via their Web site: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is "Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them."

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