DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What can you tell me about whooping cough? I saw four different doctors for a cough that would not go away. The fifth doctor finally diagnosed me as having whooping cough. The cough left after taking the medicine he prescribed. Isn’t this a children’s disease? I believe I was vaccinated for it as a child. – L.M.

ANSWER: Whooping cough’s official name is pertussis. Before there was an effective vaccine for it, more than 270,000 cases occurred every year in America, and they were mostly in children. Up to 10,000 died yearly from the infection. When widespread vaccination became available, the number of cases fell dramatically.

The name comes from the cough that is common in one stage of childhood whooping cough. The child makes a series of rapid, forceful exhalations followed by an inhalation that sounds like a whoop.

Whooping cough is making a comeback in adults. You might well have been vaccinated as a child, but immunity wanes in three to five years. In 12 years, it is gone. Most adults, therefore, have no immunity to the germ. Authorities recommend that adults, when they have their every-10-years tetanus shot, receive a shot that combines the whooping cough and tetanus vaccines.

Adult whooping cough is not like the childhood illness; adults don’t make the whooping noise when they cough. Most often, their illness is simply one of a chronic cough. It’s been said that as many as one-third of adults with a lingering cough have whooping cough.

The antibiotics erythromycin or azithromycin are prescribed for this illness.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 59-year-old male in relatively good health. A recent physical exam and bloodwork showed nothing abnormal.

During the exam, I complained about a problem that had surfaced in the past year. The doctor said, “That’s Peyronie’s disease.” He said nothing is done except in serious cases. Well, mine is bordering on serious. I looked on the Internet and came across an article recommending an over-the-counter drug that has enzymes in it. Pharmacists and health care workers never heard of it. Can you shed some light on the condition? – D.G.

ANSWER: With Peyronie’s (pay-row-KNEES) disease, scar tissue forms in the penis. That causes the penis to bend. Intercourse can be painful and, at times, impossible.

I don’t know the medicine you referred to. I have my doubts about the effectiveness of oral enzymes. In this instance, they don’t make it to the place they’re needed.

For some men, Peyronie’s disease becomes less of a problem after a year or so. In others, it doesn’t get better. For them, there is the medicine Potaba, which is a bit hard to take since it entails downing 24 tablets daily. Cortisone injections into the scar tissue can sometimes soften it. The enzyme collagenase, injected into the scar like cortisone, is another possible treatment. It can digest the collagen in scar tissue. Surgical removal of the scars is another option. A urologist can guide you in choosing the best course for you to take.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 72 and had my first EKG this week. The doctor said I had a right bundle branch block. What is it, and what is done for it? – R.R.

ANSWER: Mother Nature gave the heart its own pacemaker, which is located in the upper right heart chamber. It generates a little blip of electric current. The current travels down to the bottom heart chambers, the ventricles. When it arrives there, it causes the ventricles to contract and pump blood. The electric current is conducted through special tissue called “bundles.” There’s a right and left bundle. They’re like electric cables.

You have a short circuit in your right bundle. Electric current still makes its way to your right ventricle, but it takes a detour. People with a bundle branch block have a slightly lower longevity than do people with normal hearts. That doesn’t mean you are on the verge of dying. There is no medicine for the condition. All you have to do is perform those things that keep hearts healthy – lower your cholesterol, maintain normal blood pressure, lose weight if indicated and exercise according to guidelines given to you by your doctor.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son, age 7, has what his pediatrician calls night terrors. I asked the doctor if he would grow out of them, but I didn’t get an answer. Will he? – J.C.

ANSWER: Night terrors are frightening dreams that wake a child up, often screaming. The child is confused and might be sweating and have a fast-beating heart. He or she remembers little to nothing of the dream, so it’s a waste of time to quiz the child about it.

Did you or your husband have night terrors as a child? Frequently, one parent of an affected child had them too.

Children usually outgrow them by late adolescence.

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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