DEAR DR. DONOHUE: All through the night I wake up because thick mucus fills my throat. I have to constantly clear it, and then I go back to sleep until the next load arrives. Do you have any suggestions on how to solve this? – R.S.

ANSWER: You have a condition that plagues millions – postnasal drip. Thick mucus trickles from the nose and sinuses into the throat. It’s annoying and can disturb sleep, but it’s not deadly.

Age is one reason why it happens. Older people have thick mucus. They have lost glands that keep mucus thin and watery.

Room humidity is another factor. If it’s low, invest in a humidifier. Moist air keeps mucus from thickening.

Saltwater nasal sprays are a help. There are many on drugstore shelves. Some names are Humist and Nasal. Or you can make your own. Put a quarter-teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and stir until the salt dissolves. Then, with a bulb syringe (obtainable in drugstores), gently flush each nostril with the saltwater and let it drain out. If you do this two or three times a day, mucus stays thin. Be sure to do it before going to bed.

Guaifenesin, the generic name of a drug with many brand names, keeps mucus on the thin side. You can buy it without a prescription.

Mention this to your doctor, who can look into other causes such as vasomotor rhinitis, a condition where there’s an overproduction of mucus. And the doctor will also consider allergies, another reason why excessive amounts of mucus form. Both conditions are treatable.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A few months ago, my doctor put me on Zocor for a high cholesterol reading. I’m not sure I need it after reading your article about high levels of good cholesterol – HDL cholesterol. Mine is very high – 95 mg/dL (2.5 mmol/L). My age is 62. I would appreciate your opinion. – B.B.

ANSWER: If most of a person’s total cholesterol is HDL cholesterol – good cholesterol, the kind that keeps arteries free of obstructing buildup of cholesterol, fats and materials – then the total cholesterol number is not such a big worry. If you divide total cholesterol by HDL cholesterol and come up with a value less than 4.5 for a man and 4 for a woman, then a person is not at great risk for forming arterial plaque.

Your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol is 2.9, an excellent number.

However, your LDL cholesterol is on the high side. LDL cholesterol is the bad stuff that clings to artery walls and eventually dams the flow of blood to the heart and other organs. It is a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. Your number is 163 mg/dL (4.22 mmol/L). That’s very high. For a person with no factors that might bring on artery clogging and a heart attack, the LDL reading should be less than 130 (3.4). Almost no one makes it to 62 with no risk for a heart attack. If a person is at risk for a heart attack, the value should be less than 100 (2.6). If a person is at high risk for cardiovascular illness due to having had a heart attack, the LDL value should be 70 (1.8) or less.

Your doctor is justified for putting you on Zocor because of your high LDL cholesterol.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What causes a white tongue? I have one. It doesn’t hurt, but it surprised me when I saw it in the mirror. My mother was always looking at our tongues because she said they indicated stomach trouble. Does that still hold? – Z.G.

ANSWER: I think everyone’s mother inspected their tongues to see if they were white. To them, it did mean stomach upset. But that’s an old husband’s tale.

Most of the time, a tongue turns white from dead cells piling up on it. Gently scrubbing the tongue with a soft toothbrush can get rid of the coating. If it persists, then the whiteness might be an indication of infection with the yeast Candida or of two serious problems – lichen planus or leukoplakia. A doctor will have to look at it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you settle an argument? Let’s say person A, who is a dog lover, has access to spoiled, rotten food right out of the garbage. Person A believes that washing the food, placing it in a container and then storing it in the refrigerator makes it safe to use for dog treats. Person B believes this is not safe. Is person A foolish, or is person B paranoid? – P.B.

ANSWER: Rotten food should not be eaten by humans or animals. Rot comes from bacteria and fungi invading the food. Those germs can cause sickness in humans and animals. No amount of washing is going to get rid of them. Person A is foolish. Person B is not paranoid. Person C, Donohue, has spoken.


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