DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 79-year-old man who has a bad cough most of the time. A tickle in my throat brings it on. I cough up gray mucus. Several doctors have not found a solution. I do have acid reflux and take Nexium for it. I don’t sleep at night because of the condition. When I cough, I often get a warm-all-over feeling and perspire. Please help. I am miserable. – C.V.

The big four causes of a cough that won’t go away are: postnasal drip, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis), gastroesophageal reflux (GERD, acid reflux, heartburn) and asthma. There is a fifth category – unexplainable – but that doesn’t count as a cause. And there is smoker’s cough, but that should be obvious to everyone, even smokers who live in denial. Your doctors would have picked up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, so we can eliminate them. You’re being treated for gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn) with Nexium, so we can cross that off the list too. That leaves postnasal drip as a likely choice.

The trickle down of thick mucus into the throat tickles throat nerves that then trigger coughing. Stopping postnasal drip isn’t an easy task. You can clear your nose of mucus with salt water (saline). You can buy it in drugstores, or you can make your own. Add a quarter or half a teaspoon of salt to a cup of hot water. Let the water cool. Then, with a spray device or a bulb syringe (both also found in drugstores), bend over a sink and gently irrigate the nose. Do this before going to bed at night.

Older antihistamines like Benadryl can cut down mucus production. They also make you drowsy, so take one capsule before bedtime. If Benadryl doesn’t dry the mucus, add a decongestant like Sudafed or Actifed.

It would also be a good idea to see an ear, nose and throat doctor to find out if your sinuses are kicking up a storm by producing too much mucus. I can’t explain the warm feeling that comes with your cough.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I recently had an ultrasound to check for gallstones, since I seem to get ill after I eat fatty foods.

However, I was surprised to learn that, instead of gallstones, I have five hemangiomas in my liver. What exactly are they? What causes them? What should be done for them? I am a physically fit, 34-year-old woman. What happens if I get pregnant? – J.A.

Liver hemangiomas are benign blood vessel tumors. Benign indicates they are not cancer and don’t become cancer. They’re common. About 7 percent of the population has one or more of them. They’re usually small, less than an inch (2 cm) in diameter. Their cause isn’t known.

Most people don’t need to do a thing about them. Extremely large ones that interfere with liver function have to be removed. Such hemangiomas are the exception to the rule of leaving them alone.

If you should get pregnant, you’ll have a baby. Pregnancy doesn’t affect the hemangiomas.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: How much magnesium do I need?

It seems like there is some new food thing every day for health. I’m getting tired of all this stuff. How does magnesium fit into the picture? I never heard that I needed it. Can I get it in food? – B.A.

Magnesium is one of the many minerals that humans need in small amounts. It’s essential for a great deal of the chemical reactions that take place in all body cells. When blood sugar dips, magnesium prompts the liver to release more sugar. It, along with calcium, strengthens bones. It figures into diabetes control.

For men, the daily magnesium requirement is 400 mg for ages 10 to 31; 420 for ages 31 to 70; 350 for those older than 70. The corresponding requirements for women are: 310, 320 and 265.

Food sources include green, leafy vegetables, unpolished grains, nuts, bananas, kidney and black beans, spinach, baked potatoes, oatmeal, meat and milk.

There are times when I feel the same as you when it comes to food recommendations.

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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