DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What’s wrong with my finger? It hurts to bend it, and sometimes it catches and I can’t unbend it for a time. It’s the middle finger of my right hand. When I force it to unbend, it makes a popping noise. Is there some exercise I could do to get it moving normally? – G.J.

ANSWER: Your finger has all the earmarks of trigger finger. A trigger finger hurts when it’s bent. It can lock in the straight or bent positions. When it unlocks, it makes a loud snap, sort of like a trigger does when it’s in action.

Trigger finger can happen to any finger, including the thumb. It comes from an inflammation of the finger’s tendon and of the sheath that covers the tendon. The inflammation causes pain and locking.

Quite often, the process is due to overuse of the fingers.

In its early stages, resting the finger and soaking in warm water three times a day quiets the inflammation. A splint enforces rest. Anti-inflammatory medicines (Aleve, Advil, Motrin and the many others) lessen inflammation and ease pain.

If you’re not making any progress with it in a week, see a doctor.

The doctor can confirm the diagnosis and inject a cortisone drug in the general area of inflammation. Only in the most resistant cases is surgery necessary to give the tendon more room to move. No exercise will help you.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I used to have beautiful fingernails. They were the talk of the town. Now they are cracking, and they split. I have rubbed olive oil on them, but I don’t see any results as yet. Do you have any suggestions? – D.M.

ANSWER: Your fingernails were the talk of the town? How big was this town?

Nails that have lost their moisture dry and crack and split. Olive oil is not a bad idea. Maybe you expect results too soon.

Constantly wetting the nails actually dries them out. When in water, they expand. When they dry, they shrink. The expanding-shrinking cycles desiccate them and make them brittle. Whenever you have to put your hands in water, wear rubber gloves.

Covering the nails with a cream, oil or lotion keeps moisture in them. Your olive oil is an OK choice. Lactic acid, petroleum jelly, lanolin, mineral oil and alpha hydroxyl acids are the ingredients in many nail moisturizers. You might find they work better than olive oil.

Keep your nails short. Short nails don’t split. Don’t use nail-polish removers very often.

Some insist that the B vitamin biotin strengthens nails.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A very good friend of mine says cooking in the microwave oven, including reheating food, is harmful to children. Is this true? – D.C.

ANSWER: Microwave cooking is not harmful to children or adults.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is there any real advantage to taking nutrients like vitamins in pill form over consuming them in foods. In pill form, they are concentrated and of pure quality.

Are there nutrients that you would have to consume large amounts of food in order to get an adequate supply? Does the body assimilate nutrients in their pure form more easily than it does when they are digested from foods? – B.R.

ANSWER: Humans lived for the great majority of their existence without nutrient pills – vitamins and minerals in “concentrated and pure” forms.

Foods can supply all the nutrients a human needs, but to achieve sufficient vitamins and minerals requires eating a variety of foods. A person does not have to eat gargantuan quantities of any one food to obtain all the required nutrients. Only a variety of foods is necessary. In countries like Canada and the United States, obtaining such a variety is not difficult. The body assimilates nutrients in food just as effectively as it does in pills.

Older people sometimes drift into a monotonous diet that doesn’t provide balanced nutrition. They benefit from a multivitamin.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 80, and I have been told I have a hiatal hernia. The doctor put me on Nexium, and I have been a different person ever since I began taking it. I have no more pain, and I can eat whatever I want. Should I have an operation for the hernia? – T.B.

ANSWER: Why are you considering surgery? Your medicine is getting the job done for you. Nexium is a member of a family of drugs that all but eliminate stomach-acid production. It’s the upward spouting of stomach acid into the esophagus that brings on the pain of heartburn or, as it is more properly called, GERD, gastroesophageal reflux.

A hiatal hernia is a bulging of the stomach through the diaphragm into the chest cavity. The diaphragm is the horizontal muscle that separates the chest from the abdominal cavity. Sometimes people with a hiatal hernia suffer heartburn; sometimes they don’t. Looked at from a different angle, not all heartburn patients have a hiatal hernia. If you have a hiatal hernia and heartburn, and if medicines relieve you of heartburn pain, then you don’t need a surgical procedure.

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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