DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My father is 88 and quite headstrong. He has taken a daily dose of mineral oil for years and years. He says it keeps him regular. Should he continue to do this? Could it harm him? — K.H.
ANSWER: Mineral oil was once a favorite treatment for constipation and for its prevention. It’s not a great way to combat either. It interferes with the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, and it can block absorption of other nutrients. He should take it before eating or before taking any medicines or vitamins. If it goes down the wrong way — into the lungs rather than the stomach — it causes pneumonia.
Your dad is 88. I take it he is in reasonable health. He’s been taking mineral oil for years and years without facing any consequences. I would mention to him that this isn’t a good idea. However, he is at an age when he can do most anything he wants. If he objects, I wouldn’t push matters too hard.
The booklet on constipation and its treatment deals with this common problem in depth. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 504W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow 4 weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: If a person is all alone and choking from something caught in the throat, this person cannot perform the Heimlich maneuver on himself. Would it be good for that person to insert a finger into the back of the throat to provoke regurgitations and clear the airway? — C.
ANSWER: If food or anything else gets caught in the windpipe (the trachea), a solo person can dislodge it by bending over a sturdy chair so the abdomen, just above the navel (bellybutton), rests on the top of the chair. A kitchen chair with a wooden back is a good choice. Then the person pushes the abdomen with an inward and slightly upward thrust against the top of the chair. It should generate a burst of air through the windpipe to dislodge whatever is stuck there. Repeat the thrust as many times as necessary. If a chair is unavailable, then make a fist with one hand and cover it with the other hand. Put the fist in the same location, above the navel, and make a forceful inward and upward thrust. Repeat as needed.
The forced vomiting isn’t a good idea.
Readers may write Dr. Donohue or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.