Carpal tunnel syndrome may be the problem


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have lost the feeling in the thumb, index and middle fingers of both hands. Is there an exercise or an over-the-counter medicine I can try in order to regain my sense of touch in these fingers? – P.O.

I can’t recommend a medicine or an exercise for you. I have to recommend that you see your family doctor. What you describe bears a strong resemblance to carpal tunnel syndrome.

In the wrist, a large nerve that serves the thumb and the index and middle fingers passes through a tunnel of bone and tough ligaments on its journey to those fingers. If the tunnel narrows, it squeezes the nerve. The result is carpal tunnel syndrome – numbness of those fingers and sometimes weakness in their movements. Or the result of compression can be pain or tingling sensations. It can happen to both hands.

Carpal tunnel is a common condition affecting 5 percent to 10 percent of the population. For reasons that are not clear to me, it victimizes women more than men.

Often, simple solutions bring a cure. Resting the wrists with wrist splints reduces tunnel inflammation and opens up the tunnel. Many times, the splints need be worn only during sleep. If sleep time is not enough time to rest the wrist, then the splints must be worn during the day too.

A cortisone shot in the region of the tunnel also lessens inflammation and takes pressure off the nerve. You can’t do this to yourself.

Rarely, surgery is needed to enlarge the tunnel and take pressure off the nerve.

Maybe I’m wrong. Your doctor can straighten this out and start treatment for you if it truly is carpal tunnel syndrome.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I know someone who is three months pregnant and smokes a pack of cigarettes every day. She did the same with her past three pregnancies. She says smoking doesn’t harm the baby. And she says she won’t stop smoking. Her clothes and home reek of cigarette smoke. Even her 2-year-old baby smells of cigarette smoke. Won’t all this smoking harm her children? How can I get her to quit? – C.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am concerned that my sister and daughter-in-law are smoking during their pregnancies. Would you write about the harmful effects smoking has on the fetus? – B.W.

Both of you are well-intentioned, but neither you nor I can get anyone off cigarettes if the person doesn’t desire it and doesn’t have the determination to carry that desire out.

Having children is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. Parents need to create an environment that’s safe and that assures their children will have the best chances for a healthy life. A smoking mother-to-be is delinquent in this obligation.

A pregnant woman is the source of oxygen for her developing fetus. The gases in smoke displace oxygen from red blood cells. She shortchanges her baby and herself of a full oxygen supply. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that’s not doing the baby any good.

Smoking raises the risk of premature delivery. It leads to low-birth-weight babies, even ones who are full-term. It diminishes the amount of blood flowing to the placenta, the only source of fetal nourishment. Secondhand smoke has been shown, many times over, to adversely affect the health of children in a household.

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