DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 50-year-old female, and I have asthma that seems to be getting worse. In October, I got the H1N1 flu and had to go to the hospital twice because of breathing problems. I get scared every time I have a simple cold. I was told that my asthma is allergy-induced, and I have been on a daily inhaler ever since. I saw an allergist, who tested me and wanted to put me on allergy shots. He said they may or may not work, but they don’t cure asthma. Then what’s the point? Does oxygen help? Are there natural ways to prevent asthma? — M.M.
ANSWER: Asthma is a chronic condition. Looking for a cure is not realistic in many cases. Looking for control is realistic. It’s an inflammation of the airways — the bronchi, the tubes that bring fresh air into the lungs and remove carbon dioxide from the lungs. The inflammation makes the airways very sensitive. They constrict on slight provocation and obstruct the flow of air. Furthermore, they pour out thick mucus, which adds to airflow obstruction.
Respiratory viruses do trigger attacks, and that’s why the flu virus was such a problem for you. You should be sure to get the yearly flu vaccine.
Allergies can be another trigger for attacks. Allergy shots are not guaranteed to stop them, but they can lessen their intensity and frequency. You might want to reconsider your position.
Remove airborne irritants from your home and bedroom by getting rid of feather pillows, shag rugs and dust mites. If you have a pet, and you notice that exposure to it brings on an attack, then you have to limit where the pet is allowed in the home. An air-conditioned home keeps outdoor allergens out of your environment.
For an acute attack, you need a medicine that acts quickly to dilate airways. Albuterol (Proventil) is such a medicine. If your long-term control medicine isn’t preventing attacks, get another. The list of asthma medicines is very long. Oxygen is helpful in severe attacks. I know of no natural substance that alleviates asthma.
The asthma booklet describes the many treatments for asthma. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 602W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I must have bumped my ring finger. It is painful, and the top part is swollen on the side of the nail. I think some pus is forming. What can I soak it in? I cannot go to a doctor. — B.P.
ANSWER: You describe a paronychia (PAIR-uh-NICK-ee-uh), an infection of the skin and tissues bordering a fingernail. If the skin and tissues show only mild swelling, then frequent daily soaks in hot water can bring it to a head and cause it to drain. If it is quite swollen and painful, you’ll have to see a doctor. Try an emergency-department doctor. It has to be incised to permit drainage, and antibiotics will be needed.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.
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