A reader reports that the decongestant lessens the discomfort of poison ivy. Why would that be? Plus: Hunting for discounts on prescription drugs, and a former competitive swimmer shares an alternative treatment for swimmer’s ear

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Q: I’d like to tell you about a new use for Vicks VapoRub. I got poison ivy on my legs and couldn’t stop itching. When I slapped some Vicks on it, the rash stopped itching. The next morning, the redness had diminished.

A: Skin cells that encounter a stimulus like a mosquito bite or a poison-ivy reaction use nerves to send the message (“it itches!”) to the brain. These nerves contain transient receptor potential (TRP) channels that are sensitive to itch (Neuron, May 2, 2018).

TRP channels respond to certain chemicals in addition to temperature and itch. Overwhelming them can shut down the sensation of itch for a while. That is why a short blast of hot water works so well to stop an itch. Capsaicin, the hot stuff in hot peppers, can do the same thing (Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, online, Feb. 10, 2018). Other TRP channels respond to menthol and camphor, key ingredients in Vicks VapoRub (Neuropeptides, February 2010). This probably helps explain why Vicks eases the itch.

Q: As a former competitive swimmer who continues to log several miles in the pool each week, I’m familiar with swimmer’s ear and the treatments for it. None of the nonprescription solutions you have described is ideal, for a couple of reasons.

First, putting alcohol or vinegar into an inflamed ear can be excruciatingly painful. Second, adding more liquid to existing wetness doesn’t solve the problem but can actually exacerbate it — particularly if long hair covers the ears, preventing them from ever fully drying out.

The true remedy is simple: dry the external canal with a thin terry-cloth towel, then use a hairdryer on a cool setting to dry the ear completely. This strategy works for people AND for long-eared dogs, like my Lab.

A: Thank you for sharing your experience. We appreciate that long-distance swimmers and dogs with floppy ears may require the drying strategy you suggest.

For the average person who may spend far less time with their ears under water, the alcohol and vinegar solution may be helpful. The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery recommends this approach to prevent swimmer’s ear.

Q: Do you have the name of a legitimate Canadian pharmacy? I am taking Eliquis 5 mg twice a day for my atrial fibrillation. It is free for the first month, but it will cost me more than $400 per month after that.

I found that it is about $162 per month from an online Canadian pharmacy. I don’t know if this is safe.

A: Eliquis is an anti-clotting drug that people with atrial fibrillation take to prevent blood clots from forming. Such clots could travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

This drug is currently available only as a brand name. You are right that the cost could run well over $400 a month if your insurance doesn’t pay. Some legitimate Canadian pharmacies charge less than half that much.

You are right to be cautious. There are unscrupulous online pharmacies that masquerade as Canadian drugstores. In “Saving Money on Medicines,” available in the Health Guide section of www.PeoplesPharmacy.com, we describe how you can verify which are authentic and provide URLs and phone numbers.

Some worth consideration are JanDrugs, ADVPharmacy and YouDrugstore.