Archive for October, 2011

How can I treat eyelid cysts?

DEAR DR. K: I have small white bumps on my eyelids that drive me crazy. They don't hurt, but they look awful. A doctor told me they are meibomian cysts. He said they are harmless, but if I want to get rid of them, I'll need surgery. What do you think?

DEAR READER: These little cysts are harmless in one respect: They are not a form of cancer. But I wouldn't call them harmless if they bother you every time you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror.

What causes a dulled sense of taste?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've recently noticed a dulling of my sense of taste. What's worse, my ability to taste sweetness (my favorite taste!) seems to be the most affected. Is it possible that I've damaged the part of my tongue that detects sweetness?

DEAR READER: We don't give much thought to our sense of taste until it isn't there. I'm sure your recent taste troubles have made you realize how much you rely on this sense.

Are hair-straightening products safe?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I had my hair chemically straightened six months ago. I love the way it looks, but I'm worried that hair-straightening products may not be safe. I hear they contain formaldehyde.

DEAR READER: You're right to be concerned. Chemical hair-straightening products pose more of a risk than you may think.

How can I relieve watery eyes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am 63 and have tears running down my face at odd times. What's going on, and what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: Watery eyes are a common problem for adults. And there's often an effective treatment.

How can I prevent memory loss?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my mid-60s. As I get older, my biggest fear is becoming forgetful. I've heard that keeping your mind active is a good way to stay sharp. Is this true?

DEAR READER: A lot of my patients have the same fear you do. In fact, to be honest, I have the same fear. Who doesn't? And yet we all know that everyone is forgetful sometimes, and that we probably get somewhat more forgetful as we get older.

Some treatments for fibroids allow for future pregnancy

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am a 31-year-old woman who was recently diagnosed with uterine fibroids. I would like to have children in the future, so I'm afraid that treating my fibroids may affect my fertility.

DEAR READER: Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors in the uterus. Only about a quarter of women with fibroids have symptoms. However, the symptoms can be severe and can affect day-to-day life. Heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, having to pass urine frequently or difficulty passing urine are the most common symptoms.

Changes in your nails aren’t always reliable health clues

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've always been proud of my smooth, healthy-looking fingernails, but recently I've noticed some changes. I have developed vertical ridges in my nails and, although I'm not sure if I'm imagining it, they also seem thicker. Should I be alarmed by these changes?

DEAR READER: It's true that healthy people usually have normal-appearing nails. The trouble is, so do most sick people. Normal nails are smooth, uniformly shaped and uniformly colored, often with a lighter, half-moon shape under the nail near the cuticle.

Do expiration dates matter for medications?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My husband refuses to throw out pills that are past their expiration date. I think this is dangerous. I hope you'll convince him to clean out his medicine cabinet!

DEAR READER: I understand your concern. But you may be able to cut your husband a little slack about his pills. Believe it or not, there is relatively little scientific data about outdated medication. As pills get older, it's fair to ask two questions about them: Do they lose their strength, and do they become toxic or harmful?

Who should get the shingles vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a healthy, 65-year-old woman. I recently read that I should get the shingles vaccine. What is shingles? And should I get the vaccine?

DEAR READER: Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a case of chickenpox, the virus can lie dormant inside your nerves. Some people get infected with the virus without knowing it -- that is, without getting chickenpox. It gets into their body, infects some nerves and remains inactive. People catch the virus from other people, usually during childhood.

Is swimming in cold water healthy?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm an 80-year-old man who spends summers on the coast of Maine. I love to swim in the ocean for 20 or 30 minutes each day. The water is cold (55 degrees F), but it doesn't bother me. My real question is whether doing this is bad for my heart, because my heart rate is sometimes irregular. Are my cold-water swims OK?

DEAR READER: First of all, congratulations! Anyone who is 80 years old and is up to the challenge of a daily swim in the ocean deserves our admiration. You obviously have both courage and a zest for life.