DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My doctor tells me I have the beginning of macular degeneration. I am completely depressed by this. My mother had it, and her last years were not happy ones. If I go blind, I don’t know what I will do. I live alone and have no one to help me. Is there any treatment? – G.K.

The retina is the layer of cells covering the back of the eye. It transmits incoming visual information to the brain, where that information is processed into sight. In the center of the retina lies the macula, a structure whose diameter is only about one-fiftieth of an inch. It is responsible for fine vision, the kind that permits reading newspapers, threading needles, driving a car and recognizing faces.

When a doctor looks into the eye with a scope, he or she can see the retina and macula clearly. There are a few changes that can provide a rough prediction that macular degeneration might occur in the future. They do not carry a sentence of mandatory degeneration. Further, no sign provides information on how rapidly macular degeneration will progress, if it progresses at all.

There is no cure for the dry kind of macular degeneration – your kind, and the more common kind. While a combination of vitamins and minerals might slow its progression, this combination does not act as a preventive for the condition.

Five hundred milligrams of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta carotene, 80 mg of zinc and 2 mg of copper might be able to retard the advance of macular degeneration once it has started. These doses of vitamins and minerals are many times greater than their recommended daily allowances. People should not begin this therapy on their own. They must get an approval from their doctors. Copper is in the mix because high doses of zinc interfere with copper absorption, and that can give rise to an anemia.

The facts on macular degeneration are outlined in the pamphlet with that name. Readers can obtain a copy by writing to: Dr. Donohue – No. 701, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I never had chickenpox when I was a kid. My mother confirms this. I wonder if I should have the chickenpox vaccine that I know is used for children. What do you think I should do? – C.L.

Adults who never had chickenpox during childhood are susceptible to it as adults. Chickenpox in adults tends to be more severe than it is in childhood. It also happens to be one of the most catching of all catching illnesses.

In addition, chickenpox caught during pregnancy can give rise to fetal abnormalities.

Even though both you and your mother are positive you never had chickenpox, the infection could have been so mild that it was never recognized as being chickenpox. In addition, a small number of children who become infected with the virus never develop any signs of infection.

If you want to know what your status of chickenpox immunity is, you can have your blood checked for antibodies to the virus. If you have none, then you should consider being immunized with the vaccine.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have had four serious episodes of depression that forced me to stop work. I am fine now, and I have been fine for more than two years. I still take an antidepressant, Wellbutrin. How long am I supposed to remain on this drug? My doctor says for life. What are its side effects? – L.J.

If a person has had three or more bouts of major depression, doctors are opting more and more to treat the person for life to prevent more relapses.

Wellbutrin can cause seizures, and it might affect the liver. It hasn’t caused you any trouble so far, and it’s not likely to cause you any trouble in the future. The prescribing doctor will look for any signs of problems.

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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