Archive for April, 2012

What are the treatment options for a deviated septum?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My husband has a deviated septum. The condition runs in his family, and both his mother and uncle had unsuccessful surgeries to correct theirs. As a result, he refuses to consider surgery. What can be done?

DEAR READER: In people with a deviated septum, one nasal passage inside the nose is wider than normal and one is narrower. This alters the pattern of airflow in the nose and sometimes blocks airflow on the narrowed side.

Is there a relationship between sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Then, shortly afterward, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Could the two be related?

DEAR READER: One way they could be related is if you are overweight. The heavier you are, the greater your risk of both conditions. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It usually develops during adulthood among people who are overweight. Being overweight causes your cells to resist the effects of insulin, a hormone that drives sugar (glucose) from the blood into cells.

What should I know about allergic reactions?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My sister-in-law has a bee-sting allergy. What happens if she gets stung? Can it be life-threatening?

DEAR READER: For someone with such an allergy, a sting can be very serious — yes, even life-threatening. If left untreated, an allergic person could die within minutes to hours after a bee sting. Bee-sting allergies — along with some other allergies, which we'll discuss — are so serious because they can lead to anaphylaxis, a severe, sometimes life-threatening, allergic reaction. It occurs within minutes of exposure to an allergy-causing substance (allergen). It is also sometimes called anaphylactic shock.

What determines a premature baby’s chance of survival?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My sister recently gave birth prematurely, at 33 weeks. Thankfully, the doctors think my new niece will do well and should not have developmental problems. I know that doctors are able to save more premature babies these days than they used to. What determines whether a "preemie" survives?

DEAR READER: I'm glad to hear that your new niece is doing well. Being born at 33 weeks means she was born seven weeks early. Most babies are delivered about 40 weeks after the mother's last menstrual period. Labor starts with a perfectly timed cascade of hormonal signals between the developing fetus and the mother. Contractions develop, the cervix dilates, and before long, out comes a well-developed, healthy newborn. But sometimes labor comes early.

What causes hair to turn gray?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am a 43-year-old woman whose hair has gone quite gray in the past year. I've had a fairly stressful year, and since the change in my hair felt quite sudden, I'm wondering if stress could have caused it. If not, what else might be the culprit?

DEAR READER: It's easy to assume that stress causes gray hair, because there appears to be evidence all around us. Take President Barack Obama as an example. Compare photos of Obama taken before he ran for president to more recent pictures. You'll notice a distinct difference. His hair used to be consistently dark brown. Now, there are areas of gray dotting the landscape. Is the stress of running a country to blame?

What is impetigo?

DEAR DOCTOR K: After a recent cross-country drive, staying in many roadside motels, I ended up with a skin infection called impetigo. Could I have gotten this infection in a motel? And how can I prevent it in the future?

DEAR READER: It would be difficult for me to say for certain where you picked it up. Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection. The shorthand names for the two types of bacteria that cause impetigo are "staph" and "strep." The same type of strep that causes strep throat can also cause impetigo. These bacteria can live on people's skin without causing impetigo or any other visible signs. They also can live for short periods on upholstery, bed sheets, clothes and other objects a person may come into contact with.

Can cracking your knuckles cause arthritis?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My husband cracks his knuckles constantly. Aside from the fact that I find it annoying, I'm also worried that it's bad for him. Can knuckle-cracking lead to arthritis or other problems?

DEAR READER: That "popping" noise that irritates you so much when your husband cracks his knuckles may well be music to his ears. But for those who don't crack their knuckles, the appeal can be hard to understand. And, like you, some of my patients (spouses of habitual knuckle-poppers) have wondered what causes the sound and whether it's harmful.

Is menstrual synchronization a real phenomenon?

DEAR DOCTOR K: It seems to be commonly accepted that women who live together or who are close friends get their periods at the same time. I've had the same experience. Is this a real biological phenomenon or just a coincidence?

DEAR READER: The idea that women who spend a lot of time together eventually begin to get their periods at the same time each month is called menstrual synchrony. But how this synchronization occurs — or even if it happens at all — is not well understood.

Is there a treatment for lactose intolerance?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've recently become lactose-intolerant. Is there a treatment for this? Or do I have to say goodbye to cheese and milkshakes forever?

DEAR READER: Yes, there is a treatment. But whether it will allow you to eat cheese and drink milkshakes occasionally depends on your gut. Lactose intolerance occurs when your gut does not have enough of an enzyme called lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose, the main sugar in milk. When lactose isn't properly broken down, it can cause abdominal cramping, bloating, gas and diarrhea.

How is a shellfish allergy diagnosed?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've always loved shellfish. But lately when I eat it, I break out in hives. Could I be allergic?

DEAR READER: You sure could be. Such an allergy could cause more symptoms than just a rash, including low blood pressure and difficulty breathing, so you need to find out if you are allergic to shellfish. See an allergist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies.