Quitting cigarettes cured man's cluster headaches

• I suffered from cluster headaches for 14 years. Some doctors said the pain was psychosomatic. Others told me I was allergic to chocolate.

Once I actually put a pistol to my head to kill myself because the pain was so unbearable. But with a wife and three children to support, I could not pull the trigger.

Doctors prescribed Demerol for the pain, and I became dependent on this narcotic. I eventually kicked the habit.

Then I quit smoking. Within a week, my headaches stopped. They only return when I am in a room with a smoker. I thank God I no longer suffer horrible headaches.

Cluster headaches are sometimes called suicide headaches because the pain can be so severe. It tends to occur on one side of the face, near the eye. The pain can last up to several hours and recurs in clusters for weeks or months at a time.

Nonsmokers might benefit from breathing oxygen. A new study shows that 15 minutes of high-flow oxygen at the beginning of a cluster headache can be surprisingly effective (Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 9).

We discuss treatments for cluster headaches, migraines and other head pain in our brand-new Guide to Headaches and Migraines. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (61 cents), self-addressed envelope to Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. M-98, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

It also can be downloaded for $2 from our Web site, www.peoplespharmacy.com.

• I have suffered from acid reflux for about six months, and it kept getting worse and worse. Nothing I tried was helping.

I read some comments on your Web site that Ambien might cause heartburn. The light bulb went off: Seven months ago, my mother died and my sister-in-law broke her hip. I was under great stress and couldn't sleep, so my doctor prescribed Ambien. Soon after I started taking it, I had my first awful experience with acid reflux, but I didn't make the connection.

The only way I could sleep was to take Ambien, but the reflux was unbelievable. As soon as I read about it, I made a doctor's appointment, but I also skipped the Ambien that night. I didn't sleep much, but the reflux wasn't as bad. The next night, I did not take Ambien, slept a bit better and had very little reflux. Last night, I repeated the experiment and had NO reflux although I slept fairly well.

I am thrilled. I'd much rather cope with a sleepless night from time to time than the horrible pain. Is heartburn listed as a side effect?

The prescribing information lists "dyspepsia," a general term for indigestion, as a side effect. Although there isn't much research on this complication, dozens of visitors to our Web site have reported reflux linked to Ambien.

• My nose gets terribly dry in the winter, and I frequently get nosebleeds. I used to use Vicks VapoRub to moisturize it but read in your column that this is a bad idea. My doctor told me to use K-Y Jelly, and it works great to prevent nosebleeds.

Pulmonologists have warned against using petroleum jelly in the nostrils, since such products might be bad for the lungs.

K-Y Jelly is a water-based sexual lubricant, so the risk is much lower. Saline nasal sprays also might help moisten dry nasal tissues.

• I have had colitis for almost three years. Last month, a friend mentioned that she read an article in the newspaper about coconut macaroon cookies preventing diarrhea. I was ready to try anything, so I bought some cookies. The rest is history. I now can go anywhere without worrying about my uncontrollable problem. I consider it a miracle!

We have heard from hundreds of readers about the benefits of dried coconut or macaroon cookies to combat chronic diarrhea. Whether the symptoms are from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or colitis, many people find this natural remedy helpful.

• Write to the Graedons in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, pharmacy@mindspring.com or www.peoplespharmacy.org.

Quitting cigarettes cured man's cluster headaches