Life Is Still Good Without An Appendix

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My 13-year-old son went to camp for five days. On day three, he had terrific stomach pain and started to vomit. The instructors were alarmed and took him to the local hospital, where doctors diagnosed appendicitis. We had to give phone permission for him to have an operation. Everything went fine, and he recovered quickly.

My wife and I have a few questions. Could he have eaten something that caused appendicitis? What does not having an appendix do to people? No one in my wife’s or my family has had such an operation. We’re ignorant about all this. — G.G.

ANSWER: The appendix dangles from the first part of the colon in the lower-right side of the abdomen. It looks like a slender worm, and has an average length of 3 inches (8 cm). The function of the appendix isn’t clearly defined, but it might have a role in body immunity. Life without an appendix goes on as normally as life with one.

The appendix has a hollow core, which is lined with lymphoid tissue, the same kind of tissue found in lymph nodes. Bacteria from the colon can invade the hollow core and cause the lymph tissue to swell. Swelling cuts off blood supply, and the appendix begins to disintegrate — appendicitis. Undigested food or hard fecal material also can block the appendix’s core and lead to the same situation. Nothing your son ate is likely the cause. All the other campers ate the same food, but he was the only one to develop this problem.

The pain of appendicitis most often starts in the area of the navel (belly button) and works its way toward the lower-right corner of the abdomen. Temperature rises. Vomiting is common, and sometimes diarrhea is part of the picture. A doctor, by what he or she hears from the patient, along with the examination of the abdomen, usually can make the diagnosis. In confusing circumstances, an ultrasound is most helpful.

Millions of people worldwide live without an appendix. They do quite well. So will your son.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Can hand sanitizer kill all harmful bacteria? — D.D.

ANSWER: By “hand sanitizer,” do you mean waterless hand cleaners? Most of them incorporate ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. They kill many bacteria, but not all harmful ones. Nothing short of sterilization does that.

Frequent hand-washing with soap and water for 20 seconds is an effective way of eliminating many germs, including cold and flu viruses. You don’t have to use soap that has antibacterial agents in it. The water doesn’t have to be hot; cool water is fine. Dry your hands with a paper, disposable towel, and turn off the faucets in a public restroom with a paper towel.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When is the better time to take medicines: a.m. or p.m.? Is it better to take them with water or juice? I have been told conflicting answers. —- S.R.

ANSWER: If the prescribing doctor or the pharmacist hasn’t specified a particular time, you can take medicine when it’s most convenient for you.

You’ll never go wrong taking medicine with water.

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 at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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