DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My hands shake so much that they’re a source of embarrassment. I cannot eat out. I can’t get food to my mouth without spilling some, and I never know if I am going to slobber when I take a drink of water. When I see others staring at me, I shake more. Is this Parkinson’s disease? – W.R.

It’s not likely Parkinson’s disease. It’s more likely to be essential tremor, also called familial tremor. It’s the kind of shaky hands that are most noticeable when making precise movements, like drinking a glass of water, sewing, holding a newspaper or writing. It’s called a benign tremor to signify that it doesn’t indicate a threat to health or longevity. It’s not benign in its consequences for leading a normal life.

The hands might not be the only things that shake. The head can bob, and the voice can take on a tremulous quality because the vocal cords quiver.

“Familial” in the “familial tremor” name has real meaning. This kind of tremor has a genetic basis. About 75 percent of children of an affected parent will also have the tremor.

One peculiar aspect of essential tremor is that alcohol just about always abolishes it temporarily. Alcohol, of course, cannot be used as a treatment. But you might find that a before-dinner drink allows you to get through a meal with steady hands.

Medicines can often control the tremor. Inderal (propranolol) and Mysoline (primidone) are two popular and usually successful medicines for it.

In some people, medicines do not control the tremor, and it is so incapacitating that people cannot perform the normal activities of daily life. For these people, surgical procedures, such as stimulating the brain with wire electrodes that carry small levels of electric current, can quiet shaking hands.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I realize that a cold sore is a herpes virus infection. Can the herpes virus of a cold sore be transmitted to the genitals through oral sex? – C.E.

Yes, it can.

Herpes-1 virus is the usual cause of cold sores. Herpes-2 is the usual cause of genital infections. However, the herpes-1 virus can infect genital skin and behave similarly to herpes-2. And the same holds for herpes-2. It can be transmitted to the oral skin and look like a herpes-1 infection.

The herpes booklet contains information on herpes infections and their treatment. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 1202, 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: As a kid, I perfected belching to a fine art. As an adult, I find myself doing so involuntarily. It mortifies me. How can it be controlled? Maybe I’m being punished for my childhood antics. – R.R.

Swallowed air is responsible for most belching. You might protest that you don’t swallow air when you eat. You do. Everyone does. Some swallow more than others, and all are unaware of what they’re doing.

Slow your eating. If you eat rapidly, you are bound to gulp air. The swallowed air distends your stomach, and a belch is the only way to obtain relief.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My 12-year-old son is much shorter than his classmates. His father and I wonder about getting him shots to stimulate growth. What do you think of these shots? – Z.H.

If a child is deficient in growth hormone – the hormone in the shots – yes, I’m all for them.

If a child is in the lowest 3 percent of height for his or her age, then a case can also be made for administering growth hormone.

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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