DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Do you know of a cure for bedsores using sugar and Maalox? I think a paste is made from both and applied to the sores. – A.L.

ANSWER: I have heard of Maalox (an antacid) being used for bedsores, but I haven’t heard of the sugar-Maalox mixture. I can’t find any information in the medical literature that supports the use of Maalox alone or the Maalox-sugar mixture for healing bedsores.

A better name for bedsores is pressure sores. Body weight compresses skin between bone and an unyielding mattress.

The pressure cuts off blood supply to the skin. In two hours or less, if the pressure isn’t relieved, the skin breaks down and a bedsore emerges. The sore can burrow deeply into underlying muscle. Sites prone to developing bedsores are the heels, the lower back, the elbows, the back of the head and the sides of the hips.

Moisture and friction contribute to the making of a bedsore. Friction comes from dragging a patient across bedsheets or from the patient sliding downward in a bed whose head is partly raised.

Keeping a bedridden person dry, eliminating any pressure and avoiding skin friction prevent bedsores. Special mattresses and beds can get rid of skin pressure. An air-fluid bed, for example, consists of microspheres of ceramic glass beads through which warm air flows. The air makes the beads behave as a fluid, so, in essence, the patient floats on the bed. If the cost of such a bed or of a special mattress is prohibitive, then a patient with a bedsore must be turned frequently, at the very least every two hours. All bedridden patients, with or without bedsores, have to be turned that often.

A hydrocolloid dressing, which is a dressing impregnated with a gelatinlike material, absorbs bedsore drainage and keeps it clean. Moist, sterile saltwater dressings also work. The part of the dressing on the sore is moistened, but the part on the surrounding skin must be kept dry.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you give me information on cataracts? I have been told I have them and will have to have surgery on them. – F.B.

ANSWER: An understanding of cataracts requires some eye anatomy. About a fingerbreadth in from the front and center of the eye is the eye lens. The lens focuses light onto the retina for a clear picture, sort of like the lens of a camera focusing light onto film. A cataract is a smudge on the lens. The smudge is a breakdown of proteins inside the lens. Light can’t pass through the smudge, so a cataract blurs vision. Bright light makes people with a cataract uncomfortable because of the magnified glare they see. They also see halos around lights.

Just about everyone who is over 60 has the makings of a cataract. Most cataracts progress very slowly, and most don’t ever reach a state where they are serious impediments to vision.

When a cataract impairs a person’s ability to drive, read or watch TV, then the patient approaches the doctor and asks if this is the time for the cataract to be removed. The operation takes around half an hour and is done as an outpatient. The smudged lens is removed, and a clear, artificial one replaces it.

You can keep cataract progress from advancing rapidly by protecting your eyes from ultraviolet light. Wear sunglasses that filter ultraviolet rays when you go outside. High blood pressure and cigarette smoking also make cataracts progress faster. So does uncontrolled diabetes.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have macular degeneration, and my doctor has me on a vitamin preparation that contains beta carotene. Since smokers should stay away from beta carotene, what about me? I am not a smoker and have never been one. Will I get lung cancer from taking this preparation? – J.K.

ANSWER: The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A. The ban on beta carotene, in high doses, applies only to smokers. It can promote lung cancer in them.

You’re not a smoker. The ban doesn’t apply to you.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 28-year-old female with a myriad of health troubles. My doctor had me take an echocardiogram. My doctor says the results were good, except I have ventricular atrophy. She says it will cause me no trouble. I searched the Web for information but came up empty-handed. Can you give me information on this condition? – J.B.

Are you sure your doctor said “atrophy”? “Atrophy” means a wasting away, a shrinking. Could the doctor have said “hypertrophy”? Hypertrophy is enlargement. Muscle growth, for example, is hypertrophy. If your heart is a little enlarged, there’s nothing to worry about. I am pretty certain that’s what was on your echocardiogram report.

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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