DEAR DRS. DONOHUE AND ROACH: Will you discuss the disease histoplasmosis? My daughter was told she may have it. She is undergoing tests now. I understand that it causes damage to the lungs and other parts of the body. She was told it comes from bird droppings, including those of chickens. Please inform us of the treatment. — M.A.
ANSWER: Histoplasma is a fungus that thrives in the river valleys of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. It thrives there because the soil is enriched with bird and bat droppings. Chicken droppings also favor its growth. Histoplasmosis (his-TOE-plaz-MOE-siss) is the illness generated by the fungus.
People catch this fungal disease by breathing air that contains spores of the fungus. Spores are the early stages of the fungus. Air spread occurs when the soil is disturbed by shoveling or by construction or for any other reason that people dig. Chicken-coop cleaning is another source of infection spread, as is exploring caves.
For most, breathing the spores causes no trouble. For some, it causes an illness that resembles a minor flu infection and requires no treatment. For a few, it sets off a severe illness of the lungs that can spread to other organs. These are the people most in need of treatment.
Your daughter's doctors are looking for evidence, through blood tests, that the fungus has set up home in her lungs. Sometimes a lung biopsy is necessary to obtain solid proof of infection.
Treatment is available. Antifungal medicines can take care of histoplasmosis, just as antibiotics take care of bacterial infection. Amphotericin is one example of a drug used for this infection.
DEAR DRS. DONOHUE AND ROACH: I have extremely dry skin. Is there anything I can take orally for it, rather than applying moisturizing lotions? — J.
ANSWER: I don't know any oral medicine for dry skin. I can give you some tips on how to lessen your skin's dryness.
Dry skin becomes a problem for many people in the winter, when furnaces are pushing out hot, dry air. Those people, and possibly you, benefit by increasing the humidity of the house to between 40 percent and 60 percent with a humidifier.
Use only mild soaps like Dove or Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser.
Don't take long baths or showers, and keep the water temperature warm but not hot. After bathing, pat yourself with a towel, but leave the skin somewhat damp. That's the time to use a moisturizing product. Petroleum jelly is cheap and effective. If a moisturizer leaves your skin greasy, first rub a small amount between your hands and then apply it to the skin.
It's not so much a matter of oil returning to your skin as it is water. Your skin needs hydration.
DEAR DRS. DONOHUE AND ROACH: I have recently been hospitalized and operated on for a bowel obstruction. I was told that the problem would most likely return, because there is no cure.
What causes the obstruction? — J.G.
ANSWER: Adhesions are one of the biggest causes of bowel obstruction. They are strands of scar tissue that wrap around the bowel and strangle it. Adhesions most often come about from having had previous abdominal surgery. Everyone who has had any abdominal surgery develops adhesions. Only a few, however, develop an obstruction.
The surgeon tries to be as careful as possible when handling abdominal organs in order to keep adhesion production to a minimum. Abdominal infections are another cause of adhesions.
Other causes of bowel obstructions are possible. I mention adhesions as the probable cause because the doctor told you that you might have another episode of obstruction. Even if I am right about adhesions being the cause, it's not inevitable that they will come back.
TO READERS: The booklet on chronic fatigue syndrome explains this mystifying disorder and its treatment. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 304, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-5475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient's printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
Drs. Donohue and Roach regret that they are unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may write the doctors or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers also may order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.