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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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People’s Pharmacy: Watch out for ‘Ambien zombies’

By Joe Graedon, M.S., , Teresa Graedon and Ph.D. King Features Syndicate

Q. When my daughter-in-law died, I was too distressed to sleep, and my doctor prescribed Ambien. Then I went to visit my daughter and accidentally took an Ambien before I left home. Once I got to the airport, I kind of went to sleep.

Somehow or other, I got into the parking lot, boarded a shuttle bus and even got to the right gate. Luckily, I had the shuttle ticket in my pocket to help me figure out where I had parked.

I realized on the plane that something was wrong. When I arrived, my daughter took me to the emergency room to be checked out. Later I figured out that the problem was flying under the influence of Ambien. I’ll never do that again!

A. Zolpidem (Ambien) is a popular sleeping pill. Many people take it on long flights to help them sleep, but sometimes it can cause amnesia. Flight attendants are aware of a phenomenon they term “Ambien zombies”: people who are sleepwalking or doing other things on an airplane while not fully awake. This has led to some embarrassing situations.

You can learn more about zolpidem and other sleep aids, as well as nondrug approaches, in our eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. This online resource may be accessed at the Guide section of

Q. I have read on your website that putting antiperspirant on your feet could potentially prevent blisters. On the other hand, you also have written about the dangers of antiperspirants that contain aluminum. How do you reconcile this information?

A. Although blisters are common, scientists have devoted little effort to studying them. Many years ago, researchers recruited more than 600 cadets from the U.S. Military Academy and conducted a double-blind trial (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, August 1998).

The investigators concluded: “A 20% solution of aluminum chloride hexahydrate in anhydrous ethyl alcohol may be effective in reducing foot blisters during hiking; however, the side effect of skin irritation should be considered and preventive measures studied to reduce this irritation.”

It is difficult to say how much aluminum would be absorbed after applying this very strong antiperspirant to the feet. There are concerns that repeated exposure to aluminum might be neurotoxic.

Alternative approaches for blister prevention and treatment include products from 2nd Skin (Spenco). The company makes adhesive knit bandages to prevent rubbing, as well as gel and blister pads.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website:

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