Prevention possible for macular degeneration

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What can a person do to prevent macular degeneration? Two women on my block have it, and they have had to curtail their activities drastically. They are both widows. So am I. If I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t survive. – T.O.

ANSWER: Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of visual impairment for older people. The macula is a small, round area of the retina, the eye layer that transmits incoming images to the brain so that we can see. The macula is the place of fine, central vision – the kind needed to drive, to read and to sew. When the macula deteriorates, it’s as if a thumb smudge blurs the center of vision.

The degeneration comes in two forms: wet and dry. Wet is the proliferation of leaky blood vessels beneath the macula. With the dry form, the kind that accounts for 85 percent to 90 percent of cases, causes are obscure, but the process is preceded by yellow deposits in the retina. Those deposits are drusen, and a doctor, looking into the eye with a handheld scope, can see them.

One prevention route is to protect the eye, the retina and the macula from the sun’s ultraviolet light by always wearing sunglasses that filter out UV rays. A second preventive step is to stop smoking.

A third way to ward off macular degeneration is to eat a diet that contains large amounts of vitamins E and C, beta carotene and zinc. Whole grains, vegetable oils, eggs and nuts are good sources of vitamin E. Citrus fruits and juices, broccoli, potatoes and green peppers furnish vitamin C. Beta carotene is found in carrots, kale and spinach. Meats, poultry, fish, dairy products and whole grains provide zinc.

Vitamin preparations of those vitamins and zinc, along with copper, are also available. You should talk with your doctor about the advisability of taking such a preparation. It can slow the progression of moderate macular degeneration to advanced degeneration.

The booklet on macular degeneration goes into greater detail on this topic. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 701, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My daughter, 7, has broken out in a bunch of pink spots that have spread over her chest and back. She says they itch a little, but other than that she seems quite well and doesn’t have a fever. I was a bit alarmed by the rash and took her to the doctor. She said that my daughter has pityriasis rosea. The doctor didn’t prescribe any medicine and didn’t mention any limitations on her activity. What would you do? – P.C.

ANSWER: Pityriasis (PIT-uh-RYE-uh-suss) rosea (ROSE-ee-uh) is a common skin outbreak of salmon-colored patches mostly on the chest and back, just like your daughter has. It starts out with what’s called the mother patch, a single pink patch larger than the ones that follow it. In about a week after the appearance of the mother patch – to which most people never pay attention – crops of similar, but smaller, patches arrive.

Sometimes the child or adult – the peak ages for having it are between 15 and 40 – complains of itching, but usually it’s mild.

The outbreak goes away in three weeks to two months.

There are no medicines for it. If the itch is bothersome, cortisone creams or oral antihistamines can control it. Ultraviolet sunlight hastens the resolution of the rash. There are no restrictions on activities.

The cause? It might be a virus.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Do pet allergies cause headaches? – V.M.

ANSWER: There are no strong links between pet allergies and headaches. You can prove a possible cause and effect by removing yourself from the pet in question and the house or apartment where the pet stays for a couple of days. If the headaches go, then you might be onto something.

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 www.rbmamall.com

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