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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The People’s Pharmacy: Were the Boy Scouts wrong about nail polish?

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

Q. You have written that Boy Scouts were misinformed when they believed that chigger larvae burrowed under the skin. You went on to state that using clear nail polish on the bites is considered an urban legend.

WebMD says, “Once chiggers latch onto your pants or shirt, they crawl around until they find a patch of skin. After they make tiny holes in your skin, they inject saliva (spit) that turns some of your cells into mush.

“Why do they do it? To a chigger, those now-liquid cells are food. Once they’re attached to your skin, a chigger may stay there for several days while they feast.”

So, they aren’t buried in your skin, but they aren’t just taking a bite and dropping off. They’re continuing to feed for a few days, just like ticks. That means if you cover chigger bites with nail polish, you’re probably suffocating the mites. So, it probably works. That’s been my experience: Nail polish works better than hydrocortisone against the itch.

A. You are right that chigger larvae can remain attached to the skin for several days as they feed. The itch often starts within a few hours as the body begins to react to the digestive enzymes in the chigger saliva.

We could find no scientific studies confirming that clear nail polish or liquid bandage curtails the itch or speeds healing. Of course, that does not mean such remedies don’t work.

The itch can be intense, which is why over-the-counter hydrocortisone may not help everyone. Dermatologists sometimes prescribe a more potent corticosteroid gel such as clobetasol and suggest an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

Q. As a nutritionist and diabetes educator, I find it frustrating that doctors and pharmacists do not inform patients of the side effects of prednisone, especially raising blood glucose. Several of my clients have successfully maintained normal blood glucose while taking prednisone by following individualized guidelines to avoid sweet beverages and juice, drinking water instead.

Limiting carbohydrates, eating adequate protein, and taking advantage of the energy boost prednisone offers by exercising (with the doctor’s OK) all help. Many may be able to get around this side effect of prednisone with good education, but they should be informed that they need to pay attention and encouraged to monitor blood glucose.

A. Thank you for reminding us that many medications can raise blood sugar. Corticosteroids like prednisone are especially problematic.

You can learn more about other medications that may do this as well as dietary strategies to help keep blood glucose under control in our “eGuide to Preventing & Treating Diabetes.” This online resource may be found under the Health eGuides tab at

Q. My mother-in-law took Claritin for years to treat allergies. When she stopped taking it, she became so itchy she thought it might even be poison ivy.

Instead, her doctor told her it was because she stopped Claritin cold turkey. He told her to taper it, so she started back on it. After she slowly weaned herself off, she was free of rash and itch.

A. We have often heard from readers that they experienced unbearable itching after stopping the antihistamines cetirizine (Zyrtec) or levocetirizine (Xyzal) suddenly. Thank you for pointing out that stopping other antihistamines abruptly may also produce this withdrawal reaction in susceptible individuals.

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: Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”