DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My little boy, a second-grader, was sent home from school with a note saying he has pinkeye and should remain at home until the eye has cleared. The boy isn’t sick. He doesn’t complain of anything. In fact, he is watching TV and is asking to go outside. How long does he have to stay home? Is there any medicine for it? – P.K.

ANSWER: You should take the boy to the family doctor to find out what kind of pinkeye he has and if, indeed, he actually has pinkeye. Lots of things look like pinkeye.

Viral pinkeye, common at your son’s age and highly contagious, starts out with redness of one eye. The eye doesn’t usually hurt. It might be a little sensitive to light. Frequently, the eye waters. Some complain that the eye feels like it has sand in it; if so, artificial tears can make the eye more comfortable. Cold compresses to the closed lids are also soothing.

The other eye routinely becomes infected in a matter of days.

There is no specific medicine for this kind of pinkeye. To prevent spread, have your son wash his hands often. He should have his own washcloths and towels, and other family members should wash their hands frequently.

The infection lasts seven to 10 days, and the boy ought to stay home until his eyes clear.

Bacteria can also cause pinkeye. To an untrained person, the eye looks very similar to viral pinkeye. One distinguishing characteristic between the two is crusty lids, common in bacterial pinkeye. Antibiotic ointments and creams can cure this infection.

Eye infections are a complicated subject that doesn’t lend itself to generalizations. Herpes eye infections, for example, need immediate treatment with antiviral medicines. That’s why the doctor exam is so important.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son is in his 40s and lives alone. In the past five months he has lost 35 to 40 pounds and has a problem with his stools. As much as he will tell us, everything he eats goes right through him. It will let up for a few days and then begin again. He saw a physician’s assistant, who ordered an upper GI series. It was normal. I have begged him to see another doctor, but he stubbornly refuses to do so.

If this is a parasite infection, what would happen if it is left untreated? I am terribly worried. – M.S.

ANSWER: Your son should be terribly worried too. Such a weight loss and the continuance of diarrhea indicate serious trouble. He should see a gastroenterologist pronto.

The list of causes for weight loss and diarrhea is long. Malabsorption syndromes are one possibility. They are illnesses where nutrients cannot be absorbed from the digestive tract. Pancreatic illnesses are one example of a malabsorption syndrome. The pancreas is the site for the production of digestive enzymes. Diarrhea is common when the pancreas is on the fritz. Another possibility is inflammatory bowel diseases – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Infections of the digestive tract must be considered. Parasitic infections, not too common in the United States and Canada, do happen. Left untreated, some clear on their own, while others continue unabated, with a person possibly facing malnutrition. Bacterial infections have to be ruled out too.

A normal upper GI isn’t sufficient evidence that all is well. He needs a battery of tests, and he probably needs a scope examination of his colon.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am married and faithful, but have repeated infections of the skin of my penis. My urologist says I need to be circumcised. What do you say? – J.G.

ANSWER: Recurring infections that are not responding to antibiotic treatment are an indication for circumcision.

Routine circumcision of newborns is something that isn’t necessary unless religious or ethnic considerations call for it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you explain a rotavirus infection? I read about it some time ago, and I think I had one. I had very watery stools for a full week. I didn’t feel all that bad. – C.N.

ANSWER: Rotaviruses cause diarrhea, fever and sometimes vomiting. It’s mostly young children between the ages of 4 months and 24 months who become symptomatic. Rarely do adults have symptoms, because the great majority of them have previously been infected and are now immune to infection.

With children, the infection can be serious. They can become dehydrated from the profuse diarrhea and can require hospitalization.

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

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