Why some women have hairy upper lips

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Greetings from the Gulf side of our state. I am a news junkie. I have been in broadcasting for more than 50 years. I watch more TV news than any other television programming. Without naming names, there are two very attractive women reporters, dark-haired, who have prominent mustaches. I find this distracting.

Is unwanted hair removal so very painful or costly that they would not have it done? We have a niece with the same problem, but I would never mention it to her. What’s going on? – D.B.

ANSWER:
Greetings to the Gulf side of your state. I don’t live there. The mailing address makes people think I do. It happens to be a destination for mail.

Many women have hair growing in places usually reserved only for men – the mustache area, the chin, the chest, the upper back and the arms. It’s called hirsuitism (HER-sue-tizm), and it’s not uncommon. About 5 percent of women in the childbearing years have it, and more women develop it after menopause. It has to do with the balance between male and female hormones. Women make male hormones. Some make slightly more than normal, and other women might have hair follicles that are more sensitive to male hormones than they should be. In either case, hirsuitism is the result. It might be the only sign of male hormone production, or there may be other signs of hormone excess.

For many, this is nothing more than a family trait. For others, it can be a sign of trouble in the adrenal gland, the thyroid gland, the pituitary gland or the ovaries.

One somewhat-common condition that produces such an imbalance is polycystic ovary syndrome.

Not every woman with mustache growth needs an exhaustive investigation, but women should mention it to their doctor to see if the doctor thinks further pursuit is in order.

A number of options are open to women who want the hair removed. Shaving and bleaching the hair are two cheap ones. Vaniqa cream – relatively new – can be effective. Electrolysis and laser treatments destroy the hair follicles. Electrolysis is somewhat painful, but not so greatly painful that it’s unbearable. Women reporters can afford either procedure. Male hormone excess can be treated with a number of medicines, and that can rid women of unwanted hair.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: There was an article in the paper about selenium sulfide for white spots on the shoulders and neck. The only selenium sulfide I can find is Selsun Blue shampoo. Where else can I get it? – P.B.

ANSWER:
The article must have been about tinea versicolor, a fungal skin infection that depigments the skin where it has invaded. The spots can be found in many places, not just the neck and shoulders. It’s most noticeable in the summer, when adjacent skin is tanned.

Selenium sulfide is one treatment. Selsun Blue and Head and Shoulders shampoos have 1 percent of that substance. A 2.5 percent concentration is more effective. Clay-Park Labs of the Bronx, N.Y., and Abbot Laboratories of Abbot Park, Ill., market that strength.

You have to do two things: One is to confirm the diagnosis. Vitiligo is a skin condition that also causes a loss of skin pigmentation. A simple microscopic exam of skin scrapings can establish the diagnosis of tinea versicolor. And you have to follow the directions on the application of selenium sulfide to the letter.

Other medicines work too – Lotrimin, Loprox, Nizoral.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My thighs are a museum for cellulite. I put myself on a no-fat diet in hopes of getting rid of it. Will that work? – J.A.

ANSWER:
Cellulite is fat crisscrossed with fibers that give it a dimpled appearance. Calorie restriction gets rid of fat, so it works for cellulite too. However, a no-fat diet isn’t necessary or desirable. You need fat for energy and for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K.

I don’t know your weight. If you need to lose a few pounds, then the approach to your problem should be to cut back calories and increase exercise.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have attacks of terrible pain in my left cheek. Sometimes it happens when I eat, and at other times it just happens. The attacks don’t last long, but they make my life unbearable because every waking minute I am anticipating another attack. Do you know what this is and what I can do for it? – C.M.

ANSWER:
Those attacks have all the markings of trigeminal neuralgia. The trigeminal nerve is one of the 12 nerves that sprout directly from the brain. This nerve transmits facial sensations to the brain. Irritation of that nerve brings on the kind of painful attacks you describe.

Innocent movements of the facial muscles – while chewing, for example – can trigger an attack. A soft touch to the face, even a breeze blowing on the cheek can set off a paroxysm of pain that lasts from a few seconds to two minutes. Even though an attack is relatively brief, people live in constant dread of the next attack. The French call this condition tic douloureux – a painful grimace – because the affected person involuntarily screws up his or her face when an attack strikes.

Often, the cause is an artery encircling the nerve. Pulsations of the artery make the nerve’s insulation crumble and irritate the nerve.

Carbamazepine, phenytoin and lamotrigine are the names of some of the medicines that are often prescribed and often bring relief. However, if medicines fail, then a neurosurgeon can make a direct assault on the nerve. One procedure consists of interposing spongelike material between the pulsating artery and the nerve. Or a doctor can destroy, with radio waves or the injection of various substances, the branch of the nerve that’s transmitting the painful signals. Radiation with gamma waves focused on the irritated nerve is another accepted treatment. This procedure is called gamma knife intervention. No knife is employed. The radiation acts like a knife. You need to consult a neurosurgeon. Your family doctor can recommend one.

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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