DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What are the symptoms of a brown recluse spider bite? A month ago, I got a very itchy spot on my foot. A day later I squeezed it. Two little specks of fluid came out. I rubbed it so bad that it got a scab on it. After the scab healed, it still itches at times. Could it cause muscle soreness throughout the body? – R.H.

The brown recluse spider is found mostly in southeastern Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, northern Georgia, and southern portions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. A closely related species lives in Arizona and California. If you don’t live in one of those places, your chances of meeting this spider are small.

The spider is about 1 inch long (2.54 cm) and has the pattern of a violin on its back. This is not an aggressive spider. Only when a human disturbs its home and only when it happens upon a human’s skin does it bite. These spiders like to live in closets, attics, barns and places like wood piles.

A bite produces burning pain and redness at the bite site. The bite gradually turns blue or purple and an ulcer or blister appears. Both turn black in time. Bitten people complain of headache, body aches and often have a fever. They frequently feel sick to their stomachs, and they might throw up.

Emergency treatment consists of washing the bite with soap and water and then applying an ice pack to it to slow absorption of the spider’s poison. The bitten site, usually a foot, leg, hand or arm, should be elevated, and the person should then be taken to an emergency department for definitive treatment. Your bite doesn’t sound like a brown recluse spider bite. Muscle pains at this late date are unlikely to be due to a month-old spider bite, especially since no other typical signs have occurred.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am an 80-year-old disabled vet. I eat dark chocolate every day. I read that it’s great for health. For the first time ever, I saw on TV that milk chocolate is great for memory and eyes. I have a slight problem with both. Should I, in your opinion, switch to milk chocolate? – N.A.

The chocolate story has to be taken with a little caution. Dark chocolate has the most flavonoids in it. They are anti-oxidants. They protect body cells from the potentially harmful byproducts of cell metabolism. Dark chocolate lowers LDL cholesterol, the kind that sticks to artery walls and obstructs the flow of blood. It also appears to bring down blood pressure a bit.

No one should go hog-wild with dark chocolate. It tastes fabulous. Chocolate and chocolate candy have lots of calories in them, so they are foods that should be taken in modest doses.

I can’t find any evidence to support what you heard on TV about milk chocolate benefiting the eyes and memory. Don’t switch just yet.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This is my fifth letter on various questions. None was answered. I will try again.

I am an active, healthy, very tall, slender woman who never had leg or knee problems. Five weeks ago, I spent two weeks on a huge ship, where I used stairs all day. A few days into the trip, my legs became painful, and I was nearly disabled. I have used ice and heat to no avail. To this day, the pain makes walking awful and rising to my feet impossible. The strange part is that the pain moves from the front to the back of the knees, then to the front or sides of the shins, then to the back of the knees again and then to the calves. Some days I can walk for an hour without pain. What is this? Will it last forever? What can I do? – S.K.

You have a right to be mad. I have an obligation to answer some of your questions. I don’t remember the previous ones, and I am left with this one. You’re going to be madder. I am stumped. I haven’t a clue as to what’s causing this pain. I have to call out to doctors who are reading this for their help. I will print any reasonable answers.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have foot drop. My right foot is involved. I had a back operation in 1976, and five years later I got the foot drop. Please tell me more about it. – A.V.

ANSWER: We learn to walk as infants, so we forget how truly complicated walking is. The stepping foot has to be lifted off the ground by leg muscles, which get the command to lift from nerves, the spinal cord and the brain.

In foot drop, the interplay of brain, spinal cord, nerve and muscle has been interrupted. Often, the trouble arises in nerves that send messages to the leg muscles to pick up the foot when taking a step. The result is a floppy foot, one that either can’t be lifted or is lifted only with difficulty. If a correctable cause can be found, then the answer is eliminating it. Sometimes there might be pressure on a nerve that’s causing the foot drop. I don’t know if your prior operation had anything to do with it.

If a cause can’t be found, then mechanical appliances, such as braces, can facilitate walking.

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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