DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My mother is 82 and lives by herself. This past week I have had to help her every day because she has become so short of breath. She won’t see her doctor because she says she has “only a little chest congestion.” Will you help me motivate her to see the doctor? – K.V.

ANSWER: Your mother more than likely has more than a little congestion. She could well have congestive heart failure.

In that condition, the heart beats so weakly that it cannot empty itself of blood. Blood backs up into the lung blood vessels, where the fluid component seeps out of vessels and into the lungs. Breathlessness on slight exertion is its hallmark sign. It’s a little like what happens to people who drown.

If the congestion worsens, then blood backs up into body vessels, and the feet and ankles swell.

A poor blood supply to heart muscle is often the cause. Untreated high blood pressure is another reason why hearts fail and lungs become congested. Damaged heart valves are yet another reason.

Your mother is foolish in refusing to see the doctor. Many times, congestive heart failure resolves with proper medicines. Sometimes the treatment is surgical correction of deformed heart valves or bypassing obstructed heart arteries, but she should not let the prospect of surgery keep her from the doctor. More often than not for someone her age, medicines can relieve shortness of breath. Simple changes in lifestyle are also important, the rationing of salt being a prime example.

Readers interested in learning more about the common condition of congestive heart failure can order the pamphlet on that topic by writing: Dr. Donohue, No. 103, 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: My 10-year-old daughter was sent home from school because the school nurse said she has ringworm. She has a very small bald spot. I am embarrassed by all this. I keep a very clean house, and I don’t know how she could have picked up a worm. Please tell me about this. – F.W.

ANSWER: “Ringworm” is a bad name. It has nothing to do with worms. It’s a fungus infection, and your daughter probably got it from another child at her school. It does not reflect on the cleanliness of your house.

One or more patches of baldness or patches with short stubs of hair are the heralds of ringworm.

You are going to have to take the child to your doctor for prescription medicine and, more importantly, for the doctor’s confirmation of the diagnosis. There are many other conditions that cause bald patches.

If she does have the condition, it is treatable with griseofulvin, an oral medicine.

The little girl does not have to become a pariah in your house. Don’t let other people use her combs or brushes or anything that comes in contact with her scalp. That’s all the precaution you have to take.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please tell me about telangiectasias. They’re what my doctor says I have. I would like to get rid of them, but he considers them nothing and says there is no reason to treat them. I still want mine gone. How are they treated? – T.T.

ANSWER: Telangiectasias (tell-ANN-gee-ek-TAY-zee-uhs) are cobweb-fine red and blue lines that are actually small blood vessels. Just about every adult has one or more, so aging has something to do with their formation. Women have them more often than men do, so female hormones also share some blame for them. Furthermore, they run in families, so genes are also implicated.

They do not cause medical problems, and the only reason to treat them is cosmetic.

If you want yours removed, you’ll find many doctors happy to oblige you. The vessels can be dried up with an electric current, obliterated by injecting them with a solution that causes their collapse, or eliminated with a laser.

Dermatologists remove telangiectasias regularly.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please explain the medicine Cipro. The instructions that come with it warn people not to take calcium and iron and to stay out of the sun. I take both and live in a sunny place. What should I do? – N.K.

ANSWER: Cipro is an antibiotic that has been around since 1987. That’s enough time for any bad problems to be widely publicized. No mass warnings have been issued. Iron and calcium diminish Cipro’s absorption. Take Cipro two hours before taking those supplements, or take it six hours after swallowing them. It can sensitize the skin to sunlight. Protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen when using it.

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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