Valerian helps one reader's stage fright

Q: You have had several questions about stage fright, so I'd like to share my experience. I am a professional singer, and my daughter gives public presentations as part of her job.

We both swear by valerian! It does the trick for nerves if you take it 15 minutes prior to performing or speaking.

A. Valerian has traditionally been used, alone or with lemon balm, to ease anxiety or even help fight insomnia. A laboratory study suggested that these herbs can help overcome anxiety (Phytotherapy Research, February 2006). Valerian also has been used for digestive problems and menstrual cramps, though it is not often used for those purposes now.

Q: Recently, my left big toe swelled up, formed something like small blisters and itched and burned. I knew this wasn't normal, so I went to the doctor.

The physician's assistant diagnosed the problem as "herpetic whitlow." She prescribed acyclovir to speed recovery. I couldn't afford it, and when I learned it wouldn't cure the problem, I went without. I took diphenhydramine to help me sleep through the itch. It seemed to reduce the swelling a bit as well.

I've never heard of herpetic whitlow before. What can you tell me about it?

A. Most people have seen cold sores and fever blisters on or near the mouth, caused by herpes simplex virus. The herpes virus also can get into small cuts or abrasions on the fingers or toes and cause painful swelling, blisters and itching. The medical term for this type of sore is "herpetic whitlow."

Acyclovir or other anti-herpes drugs such as valacyclovir or famciclovir can help ease symptoms of whitlow, but they should go away on their own.

Here is a link to a picture and more complete discussion of this skin condition:

Q: I have read that many people don't take their prescribed medications because of concern about costs. Please tell your readers that anyone who can't afford the prescription should talk to the pharmacist about an alternative.

I have heard of people saving money through generics, an older drug to treat the same problem or medicine from a compounding pharmacy. The best solution is financial aid from the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug.

A: You have summarized these options well. Although generic drugs can save lots of money, some people find they do not always work the same as their brand-name counterparts.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Send questions to them via

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