DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Last year, I broke out with a severe case of shingles. The blisters are long gone, but I still have pain that, I am told, might last indefinitely. Do you agree? I saw on TV that an injection has been developed that helps people who have had shingles. Any information will be appreciated. – V.H.

ANSWER: Shingles is the reactivation of the chickenpox virus that has lived in nerve cells ever since a chickenpox infection in childhood. After the rash of shingles leaves, a good number of people still suffer from pain in the same area where the rash was. The pain comes from nerve damage done by the virus as it made its way down the nerve root to the skin. People describe it as burning, throbbing or even itching. Even a shirt or blouse touching the involved skin can cause an outburst of agonizing pain. The condition is now called postherpetic (herpes zoster is the virus) neuralgia.

Usually all pain is gone in three months. Others have a more protracted course that lasts months or years, but I have never heard of it lasting indefinitely. I suppose it can, but that must be rare.

The injection you heard about is the newly released shingles vaccine. Its name is Zostavax. It’s for people 60 and older. It prevents a shingles outbreak or makes it less nasty. It does nothing for shingles that has already broken out or for current postherpetic neuralgia.

There are many medicines for lingering shingles pain – amitriptyline, lidocaine skin patch, capsaicin cream, Neurontin by mouth and even the opiod painkillers such as oxycodone. The newest medicine for this pain is Lyrica. Have you given it a try?

The shingles booklet provides the details of this common affliction. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 1201, 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: I am concerned about my husband, age 58. He has type 2 diabetes. He is a beer drinker, although recently he has cut down some.

What can happen if he drinks one, two or three 16-ounce cans of beer daily? Does the beer raise or lower blood sugar? He does have low blood sugar reactions some days. Is there a safe amount he can drink in a day? Please enlighten him on this issue. – M.S.

ANSWER: Too much alcohol stops the liver’s production of sugar. That, in turn, can lower a diabetic’s blood sugar, because the diabetic has taken medicine or insulin in a fixed dose. If a person not on insulin has a drop in blood sugar, that person’s pancreas stops releasing insulin, and blood sugar stays within normal limits.

A diabetic man can safely have two alcoholic drinks a day, a drink being 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of whiskey. A diabetic woman is allowed one alcoholic drink a day.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Should we get rid of Teflon cooking items? I have read of their connection to cancer. Is this correct? – C.M.

ANSWER: A chemical called PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) is used in the manufacturing of Teflon. High doses of this chemical have caused cancer in some lab animals, but no human cancers have been observed. Furthermore, after the manufacturing process is complete, virtually no PFOA remains in the cookware.

Teflon cookware is not meant for very high temperatures, temperatures of 535 F and above. The usual frying temperature is 400 to 470 F.

I am not getting rid of my Teflon cookware.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is niacin for? – K.

ANSWER: In small doses, niacin is vitamin B-3. It prevents pellagra, an illness of diarrhea, skin eruption, mental decline and death.

In large doses, niacin can lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

It also goes by the names nicotinamide and nicotinic acid.

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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