DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Before he died at age 82, my dad lived with my family for five years. He couldn’t read, he couldn’t drive, and he could no longer do woodworking, his one passion in life. He had macular degeneration. Are my chances of getting it high? How can I tell if it’s coming on? Please tell me all. – R.T.

Macular degeneration is the No. 1 thief of sight for people older than 65. By age 75, close to 80 percent have at least some traces of it.

The macula is a small circle in the center of the retina. The retina is the layer that covers the back of the eye. It’s the place where the eye lens focuses light rays. It is the most essential element in the complex chain of mechanisms that produce vision. The tiny macula is responsible for vision that’s needed for discriminating work, such as reading, driving a car, watching television, sewing or performing any of the multiple tasks that require sharp vision.

Macular degeneration begins with a grayness or haziness of central vision and progresses to the point where central vision is a black blob. Vision off to the side — peripheral vision — is preserved..

In only about 15 percent of macular degeneration patients can a genetic influence be found. The fact that your dad had it does not put you at any great risk.

Smoking increases the prospects of coming down with macular degeneration. Sunglasses that block ultraviolet light lessen the chances of developing it. A vitamin-mineral combination appears to afford protection.

The combination calls for 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta carotene, 80 mg of zinc and 2 mg of copper daily. Go on this regimen only if your doctor approves, because the dose of zinc is a high one, about 10 times the recommended dose.

The newly published pamphlet on macular degeneration covers its entire spectrum. 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 $4.50 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a herpes cold sore. I am not sure how I got it. I am engaged and have been faithful to my fiance. I have never had sex with anyone else. How can I explain this to him? I am afraid it might break up our wedding plans. – W.S.

Calm down. A cold sore is no reason to call off a wedding. Most cold sores are not acquired sexually. The herpes 1 virus causes them. Herpes 2 virus is the more common cause of genital herpes infections.

Herpes 1, the cold sore virus, infects six out of 10 adults in North America. Add the populations of Canada and the United States and then take 60 percent of that figure. It’s a lot of people.

How people happen to get the infection quite often remains unexplained. Don’t fret about it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Twice in the past year my husband has wakened during the night to urinate. On those two occasions he fainted. I heard him fall, and I ran to see what happened. He was on the floor and said he didn’t know what happened. He was fine and seems fine now. Can you explain this? He’s only 32. – B.R.

our husband’s faints have all the earmarks of micturition syncope. “Micturition” is a fancy word for urinating. “Syncope” is the medical word for a faint.

Men who experience this strange phenomenon are usually quite healthy. The faint comes about from a peculiar train of reflexes set in motion by urinating. As the bladder drains of urine, the heart reflexively slows and blood vessels dilate — both of which take blood out of circulation. The faint and resulting fall to the ground restore blood to the circulation. Men who have had this happen can prevent it by sitting down to urinate during the night, the time when micturition syncope most frequently occurs.

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.

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