Archive for February, 2012

What is seasonal affective disorder?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My wife gets down in the dumps every winter. It begins in the fall and hits its peak sometime in January or February. She thinks it's just because the cheer of the holidays has passed, but I think it's more than that. Could it be seasonal depression?

DEAR READER: It's not impossible that your wife has a case of the "winter blahs," as she insists. The holiday season can be exhausting. Plus, you eat too much, and if you're like me, the rich food and the added pounds make you feel tired. But I agree with you that your wife also could be suffering from what is called seasonal affective disorder.

Do public toilet seats pose a health risk?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A lot of my female friends seem overly worried about sitting on public toilet seats. They think doing so could give them diseases like herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV. I'm more worried about the mess left by those who "hover" over the seat unnecessarily. Who's right?

DEAR READER: It's not completely irrational to worry about dirty public toilet seats. Any contaminated surface can spread infectious disease. However, the real risk of catching a disease from a clean toilet seat is almost nonexistent.

Should babies always sleep on their backs?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a newborn daughter, and I'm worried about keeping her safe while she's sleeping. Please give me some advice.

DEAR READER: The biggest concern with newborns is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). To reduce the risk of SIDS, always place your baby on her back to sleep. In the past, some authorities said it also was OK for babies to sleep on their sides. Today, most authorities do not agree with this.

How can I prevent swimmer’s ear?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Swimming is my favorite form of exercise, and I do it several times a week. Lately I've been plagued by swimmer's ear. Can you tell me how to prevent it so I don't have to give up swimming?

DEAR READER: Swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear canal that is usually caused by bacteria. The official name of the infection is "otitis externa," but it's usually called swimmer's ear because it so often occurs in swimmers.

Is it safe to take antibiotics to prevent a urinary tract infection?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a 42-year-old woman. This year I've had four urinary tract infections. Each cleared up with antibiotics. But now my doctor wants me to take a preventive antibiotic every day. Is this safe?

DEAR READER: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are surprisingly common in women of all ages. Most UTIs occur in the bladder. As you know from experience, the symptoms include frequent, urgent and painful urination, bloody urine, and pressure or pain in your lower abdomen. Less often, your kidneys may become infected.

Can men have hot flashes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a 75-year-old man who recently underwent prostate cancer surgery. I've begun to have what I think are hot flashes. I'm baffled, because I thought hot flashes were a female problem. Could I be having male hot flashes?

DEAR READER: In short, the answer is yes. As with hot flashes in women, sex hormones are to blame. Women get hot flashes at menopause, when their estrogen levels drop. In men, the problem is testosterone, a type of hormone called an androgen. More specifically, declining testosterone levels can lead to hot flashes in men.

Is acupuncture useful for treating pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend keeps telling me to try acupuncture for my low back pain. But I don't understand how a bunch of needles will help. Can you explain how acupuncture works?

DEAR READER: Acupuncture is a technique of traditional Chinese medicine. The theory is that the body maintains a delicate balance of two opposing forces. Disease occurs when these forces are out of balance. This imbalance is believed to block the flow of vital energy. This energy regulates spiritual, emotional, mental and physical balance.

How can I prevent neck strain while sleeping?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Most nights I fall asleep feeling fine. But I wake up in the morning with a literal pain in my neck. What can I do?

DEAR READER: Without even realizing it, you may be putting stress and strain on your neck muscles at night. But there are steps you can take to prevent neck pain, even as you sleep.

What are the symptoms of a drinking problem?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've always enjoyed an occasional drink, but often lately I've been reaching for a glass of wine to help me relax. Could I have a problem?

DEAR READER: Just the fact that you're worried raises a red flag for me. If your drinking creates difficulty for you personally, socially or at work, then your drinking may be a problem. Several screening tests can help determine if you have a drinking problem.

How can I prevent sports injuries?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage son plays several school sports. He loves them, but I'm concerned about sports injuries.

DEAR READER: Playing sports is a great way for your teen to get regular exercise, meet other teens and learn teamwork. Of course, kids can get injured while playing sports. Fortunately, the risk of serious injury is low. Still, there's a risk.