Athletics possible with scoliosis


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Our 14-year-old daughter was checked for scoliosis at her school, and they sent a note to us saying she has it. She is scheduled to see a doctor. We’re worried sick about this. Our daughter is a very active young woman and into many sports. Does this put an end to her athletics? Will she need surgery? We need some answers. — R. and M.T.

 ANSWER: Hold on. Your daughter might not need treatment. Surgery is performed only in a small number of cases. She’s likely to be permitted to continue with an active sports life.

 Scoliosis is a bending of the spine to the right or left. If the bend is in the upper back, the chest area, it’s called thoracic scoliosis. If it’s in the lower back, it’s lumbar scoliosis. Only 10 percent of children ever require treatment. Let me say that differently: Ninety percent never need treatment.

 What dictates the course of action is the angle of curvature. Since all this is new to you, you must not have detected anything wrong with her back. That suggests she has only a slight curve. That kind of curve is observed for changes. Slight curves, which the majority have, don’t preclude sports participation.

 A less upbeat prognosis holds for scoliosis discovered at ages younger than 12 and a curvature of greater than 20 degrees. As far as I can see, neither criterion applies to your daughter.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 25 and have worn glasses for 10 years. This past year, my vision started to blur. I put off seeing the eye doctor until things really got bad. The doctor told me I have keratoconus, something new to me.


 He said I might need surgery in time. What does that involve?

 For the present, he’s fitting me with contact lenses. I asked my mom and dad if anyone in our family had this, and no one had. How did I get it? — L.C.

 ANSWER: A little anatomy is called for in order to explain this. The trouble in keratoconus involves the cornea, the clear part of the eye in front of the pupil. With keratoconus, the cornea thins and bulges outward in a cone shape. That distorts vision.

 In most cases, it is not a hereditary condition.

 Contact lenses can retard the progression of the bulge and can correct your blurry vision. Different lens material is used according to the severity of the bulge

 If the process continues, then the replacement of the cornea with a donor cornea works wonders. Corneal transplants are among the most successful of all transplants.

 If you and other keratoconus patients want more information, you can get it at the National Keratoconus Foundation. Its toll-free number is 800-521-2524, and its Web site is

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My teenage daughter had a major personality change this year. She was an outgoing, energetic, extremely active child. She has become a mopey, lazy kid with few interests. I thought it might be physical and had her examined. The doctor says she has a kind of anemia called thalassemia but needs no treatment or medicine. That sounds strange to me. I thought all anemias are treated. — B.K.

 ANSWER: Thalassemia includes many different anemias with different signs and symptoms and different outlooks. The word is a Greek word for “sea,” and the sea is the Mediterranean Sea. Countries bordering that sea are the ones with the greatest number of thalassemia cases.

 I’m not going out on a limb by saying your daughter must have thalassemia minor. With it there is a decrease in the number of red blood cells. That is the definition of anemia. But it is a slight decrease, not enough to cause her any problems. It needs no treatment. If your daughter doesn’t perk up shortly, ask for a referral from the doctor to a mental health specialist. Teenagers are subject to mood changes, but her symptoms are lasting far too long.

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. Readers may also order health newsletters from