Acupuncture Relief From Back Pain

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have never seen you address acupuncture. I have had a bad back for three months, have seen two doctors and have followed their instructions. I have taken medicines that ease the pain. My back isn’t as sore as it once was, but it still bothers me. Acupuncture has been suggested. What are your views on it? — M.L.

ANSWER: I have no misgivings about trying acupuncture for pain relief. The Chinese have used it for centuries. Any treatment that lasts that long must have some value. Fine needles are inserted into the skin at specific points and are left in place for 15 to 30 minutes. From time to time, the acupuncturist stimulates the needles.

The American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society endorse acupuncture. A recent review article in the New England Journal of Medicine, a premier medical journal, also endorsed it. Who am I not to follow suit?

Back pain strikes almost everyone at some point in life. The booklet on it discusses its causes and treatments. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 303W, 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: It’s that time of year again — the no-see-um season. I can feel a sharp sting when bitten. It goes away and then returns as a large swelling with incessant itching. What can I do to prevent this reaction? Others don’t react this bad. I also use DEET to deter these diabolical pests. Should I wash it off as soon as I get indoors? — C.R.

ANSWERS: No-see-ums got that name because they’re barely visible, only 1/16th of an inch. Dawn and dusk are their busiest hours. Avoidance is the best protection. The red welt you describe arises about 12 or more hours after the bite and can be as large as an inch in diameter. It does itch.

DEET is the best repellent, but it’s not a 100 percent barrier for all users. Have you tried a higher concentration? Are you following label directions regarding when to reapply it? When you get back home, wash treated skin with soap and water. Also, you can spray your clothes with permethrin. It will give you additional protection. Wear long slacks tucked into your socks and long-sleeved tops.

As for the itch, antihistamines are suggested. I admit they don’t work for everyone.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I think I may have the illness where a person pulls out clumps of hair. I’m not sure of the name. I find I do this after I have caffeine. I have been off caffeine for years, and I do not pull my hair out. I thought this might be helpful to others. — K.H.

ANSWER: The name of the condition is trichotillomania (TRICK-oh-TILL-uh-MAY-knee-uh). Between 4 million and 11 million Americans have it. It’s called an impulse disorder. I hadn’t heard about a caffeine connection. If this holds true for others, they will deeply appreciate your advice.

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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