DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My friend and I have an ongoing discussion about how we catch colds. I believe the only way is by being exposed to a germ. My friend agrees, but also says you can become chilled, and that results in a cold. Please settle this once and for all. – L.G.

ANSWER: The only way to catch a cold is to meet up with a cold virus. But let’s kick this around a little while it lies there quivering.

Rhinoviruses are responsible for many colds. This virus is passed from one person to another most often via the hands and fingers. An infected person invariably will have virus on his or her hands and fingers. If that person touches another person’s hands or fingers, the virus is transferred. All the second person has to do is touch his or her nose or eyes and the virus has found a new home. (The drainage channel for tears siphons viruses into the nose.) It’s also possible to spread a cold through sneezing or coughing, but that’s a secondary route.

Many colds are preceded by a body chill. That’s part of the infection symptoms, and that might be what your friend refers to.

Once a virus lands in a person’s nose, the time till the development of cold symptoms is short – eight to 12 hours. Runny nose, nasal stuffiness, scratchy throat, cough and sneezing are typical symptoms. They peak in 48 hours and are gone in about one week. A person is most contagious during the first three days of symptoms, when nasal discharge is at high volume and when it contains the most viruses.

If by “chilling” your friend means being in a cold blast of air or getting your feet wet in frigid weather and shivering as a result, she has a slight point. That kind of chilling constricts the nose’s blood vessels and decreases mucus production. It might, therefore, permit cold viruses to mount a more effective attack and can contribute to the ease of catching a cold. All the same, without the virus there is no cold.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you kindly repeat your recipe for relieving constipation? I clipped it out of the newspaper, and it worked for me. Then I stopped using it because I was no longer constipated. Now I find I am constipated again but cannot find the directions. I need them. – L.U.

ANSWER: Regular readers are going to think I am overdoing this, but so many wanted a repeat I feel justified in having one more go at it. It’s not my recipe. I got it from an unidentified source.

Mix 2 cups of bran with 2 cups of applesauce and 1 cup of unsweetened prune juice. Refrigerate the mixture and take 2 or 3 tablespoons twice a day.

Bran is obtainable in all health food stores and in some supermarkets.

You can embellish this recipe with anything your heart desires – nuts, slices of fruit, cinnamon, anything.

The booklet on constipation and laxatives gives further information on these topics. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 504, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Your articles on alcoholism were right-on. I am surprised that you didn’t suggest to wives to get help for themselves. My life and sanity were saved by Al-Anon. Please recommend it to everyone dealing with alcoholics. – S.H.

ANSWER: Al-Anon teaches that alcoholism is a family affair. It’s an organization that helps the nonalcoholic family members cope with alcoholism. The phone number is in every phone directory. The Web site is: I can endorse the organization wholeheartedly.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Do you lose more nutrients from vegetables when you cook them in a microwave than when you cook them on a stove? – A.T.

ANSWER: You lose fewer vitamins and minerals when you microwave vegetables than when you cook them on top of a stove. Little water is needed when microwaving, so nutrients don’t pass out of the vegetables and into the water.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 78-year-old woman with arthritis of the back and spinal stenosis. About a month ago the pain got so bad that it was impossible for me to shop at the mall. I would have to go home and rest my back. The doctor prescribed ibuprofen and then Mobic, with only slight relief. Now he has given me gabapentin, and it works. I can walk the mall again. This drug is for epilepsy. How does it control back pain? – J.D.

ANSWER: Many medicines have found uses other than their primary one. Neurontin (gabapentin) is a good example. It is a medicine designed to control seizures. It’s been found to effectively control pain in many different conditions. It sometimes works for the pain that lingers after an attack of shingles. It is also found to be effective in preventing the recurrence of migraine headaches in some people. And sometimes it relieves back pain.

I can’t tell you how it works for pain control. You are one of the lucky ones whose lives have been turned around because of its pain-relieving potential. Be glad.

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

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.