DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Three or four months ago, the ring finger on my right hand started making popping noises when I bent it. Now it’s still doing that, and it catches in a bent position from time to time. I work as a carpenter, and I can’t afford to take time off. What do you think this is? — R.B.
ANSWER: My guess is trigger finger. The tendons that bend the fingers travel from the forearm into the palm and then onto each finger and the thumb. On their way to the fingers, a sheath of tough tissue encircles them.
Repetitive movements of the fingers irritate the protective tendon sheaths, and they swell. The swelling squeezes the tendon, and the popping noise you hear is the tendon freeing itself from its swollen sheath. That snapping noise sounds like the noise heard when cocking a gun’s trigger.
As time goes by, the finger might become locked for some time in the bent position.
You don’t want to hear this, but rest is essential to permit the tendon to move smoothly. If you must work, padded gloves afford some protection for the finger. Gripping a tool like a hammer is particularly hard on the tendon and its sheath. Tools with a larger-than-normal handle are less of a problem. The best protection is wearing a metal splint so that the finger can’t move.
Your doctor can give you a cortisone injection into the problem area, and that often reduces the swelling quickly. You must rest your finger after the injection for at least three days.
If two injections fail to free the finger, then you need to consult an orthopedic surgeon for an opinion on surgical release of the tendon.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This past summer, I got the shock of my life at a family get-together. My cousin, whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years, has bulging eyes. Her mother — my aunt — told me it was due to a thyroid problem. I’d never heard of a thyroid problem affecting the eyes. Does it? — G.D.
ANSWER: It can. An overactive thyroid gland can lead to deposits of material in the eye sockets, which causes the eyes to protrude. There are treatments for this complication of hyperthyroidism. I’m sure this cousin is under the care of a thyroid specialist and an ophthalmologist.
The booklet on thyroid disorders explains the many conditions arising from a malfunctioning gland. To order a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 401W, 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: Can hair grow on the lips if a person shaves very close to the upper and lower lips? Some informed individuals say no. — L.G.
ANSWER: Never in my life have I seen hair on people’s lips. Lips have no hair follicles. You even could shave the lips if you felt so inclined (but please don’t try this), and hair would not grow on them. If you have evidence to the contrary, let me know.
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.