Archive for January, 2014

How can I protect my kids from frostbite?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My kids love to play outside, even in the cold and snow. How can I protect them from frostbite?

DEAR READER: Frostbite, ironically, results from the body's attempt to protect itself against the cold. Our body cares much more about the temperature of its inside self than the temperature of its outer self. What do I mean? The normal temperature inside our body (our "core temperature") is around 98.6 F. The organs inside -- the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and others -- function best at that temperature.

Is there a connection between music and health?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I believe music helped my mother recover after her stroke. Is there a connection between music and health?

DEAR READER: The ancient Greeks certainly thought so: They put one god, Apollo, in charge of both healing and music. Recent medical studies seem to confirm what the Greeks thought. Music seems to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce levels of stress hormones. It can also provide some relief to heart attack and stroke victims and patients undergoing surgery.

What is “dry” AMD and what can I expect?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My ophthalmologist has told me I have "dry" AMD. What is this? What can I expect going forward?

DEAR READER: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula, the small part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. The retina is the back part of the eye. As light enters your eye, the lens of your eye focuses the light on the retina. The retina then sends signals to the back of your brain. It's there that your brain translates those signals into vision -- the image of the things you are looking at.

Should I switch from dairy milk to a different kind?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I hear that dairy milk, which I've been drinking all my life, may not be healthy. Should I switch from dairy milk to a different kind?

DEAR READER: When I was a kid, every mother (surely including mine) believed that dairy milk was healthy. Television commercials called dairy milk "nature's most perfect food" and intoned "you never outgrow your need for milk." I think I remember hearing that every time I watched Davy Crockett on television. (Yes, I know that dates me.)

Which type of birth control is right for me?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've recently become sexually active and I'm planning to go on the pill. But there are so many different types of birth control pills. Which one is right for me?

DEAR READER: I don't know enough about you to give an answer that's right for you. From my general remarks about these pills, I'm hopeful you can pinpoint the ones that seem right for you -- and discuss them with your doctor.

I have seasonal affective disorder — What can I do as winter approaches?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have seasonal affective disorder so I dread the approach of winter. What can I do?

DEAR READER: Here in Boston, it can get dark before 4:30 in the afternoon. For some people, the shorter days of this time of year bring on seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression. People with SAD tend to develop symptoms every year. They start gradually in late autumn and build up during the winter months. For many, relief may not come until the longer days of spring.

Why have I lost my sense of taste?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've lost my sense of taste within the past few months. I take medicine for high blood pressure -- could that be the reason?

DEAR READER: It could be, but there are other possibilities. What we call "taste" is actually a combination of the sensations from the taste buds on our tongue and the smell centers in our nose. Taste also involves nerves in the tongue that sense the texture of food we are eating.

What is a virus — what makes viral illnesses so difficult to treat?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What is a virus? And what makes viral illnesses so difficult to treat?

DEAR READER: Viruses are a very simple kind of germ. They are smaller and simpler than other common germs, such as bacteria and fungi. They cause illnesses ranging from mild -- like the common cold -- to potentially fatal. This includes diseases such as smallpox, influenza, Ebola and HIV.

I have two young children — Besides small toy parts, what are other choking hazards?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have two young children. I know not to buy toys with small parts or keep coins within their reach. What other choking hazards should I be aware of?

DEAR READER: Your question is timely, because a large study on this topic was recently published. It provides answers that surprised me and may surprise you. I think this is information that every parent with young children needs to know.

Is the C-reactive protein still considered an important indicator of heart disease risk?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A few years ago my doctor told me that C-reactive protein was an important indicator of heart disease risk. At my last checkup, he didn't mention it at all. Is it still considered important?

DEAR READER: C-reactive protein (CRP) is produced by the liver in response to inflammation anywhere in the body. Inflammation contributes to atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessel walls that's responsible for most heart attacks and many strokes. CRP from inflamed plaques of atherosclerosis spills into the blood.