DEAR DR. DONOHUE: In the last years of his life, my dad suffered from macular degeneration, and it made his life difficult. No one else in my family has had it. I hear vitamins can prevent it. If that is so, which ones, and how much? – D.G.

Age-related macular degeneration happens later in life, usually well after 50. Family history and genes have a hand in its development, but having had one parent with it does not doom a person to coming down with it too.

Smoking and a high-fat diet increase the risk of it. Eating lots of green, leafy vegetables and having fish twice a week appear to prevent it.

When the doctor looks into your eyes with a scope, he or she can tell you if there are signs that you might face macular degeneration in the future. Yellow deposits in the retina are warning signs that it could crop up. Those deposits are called drusens. The macula is a small, circular area of the retina that contains visual cells necessary for reading and fine work. “Degeneration” means that those cells begin to wither and die. Advanced macular degeneration affects sight needed for central vision, but off-to-the-side vision remains.

The vitamin-mineral treatment you ask about doesn’t prevent macular degeneration nor does it prevent the progression of mild macular changes.

It can slow the worsening of moderate or severe macular degeneration. The daily regimen is 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta carotene, 80 mg of zinc and 2 mg of copper. This isn’t something that people should start taking on their own; it’s something that should come recommended by their doctor. These doses of vitamins and minerals are higher than the recommended daily allowance calls for.

The booklet on macular degeneration goes into greater depth in discussing both the wet and dry forms of this illness. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 701, 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: Please give information on strokes as related to heart disease. I had a six-way bypass in May 1992. In May 1998 I had blocked neck carotid arteries, and this past week the blockage in one was 90 percent. I always thought of myself as a heart patient, not as a possible stroke patient. – B.J.

You are an artery-hardening patient.

Arteriosclerosis (are-TEAR-ee-oh-sklare-OH-siss) – artery hardening – is the basis of most heart attacks, strokes and peripheral vascular disease. Arteries become blocked with deposits of cholesterol, blood platelets, protein, fats and other material. When the blockage is complete, no blood reaches the affected organ, and the part of it supplied by the blocked artery dies – a heart attack or a stroke.

Since heart attacks and strokes receive so much attention and affect so many people, we think of them as separate things. They are, but it’s because two different organs are involved. They are similar in that the underlying process is clogging of the arteries. Prevention of both entails information that has been preached for decades – lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, stay active, avoid obesity and don’t smoke. Some people do all these things and still have a heart attack, a stroke or both. For them, it’s a matter of their genes predisposing them to such fates.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I caught my fingers in a closing door. Two fingernails have turned black. I don’t want my nails pulled off. How can I get them back to normal? – S.F.

If the black is pooled blood, a doctor can bore a tiny hole into the nail and let it out. If the blood has congealed, it has to stay there and you have to wait until it’s absorbed by the body, which will happen in time. That might take a couple of months.

If the nails themselves have become discolored, then it takes six months for a new nail to grow from the base to the nail tip.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: You mentioned a solution to prevent swimmer’s ear. How do you apply it? – J.R.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: You had a mixture to keep the ear dry and free of infection. How much do you pour in the ear? – D.E.

The mixture is made with equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol. The alcohol keeps the ear dry. The vinegar prevents proliferation of harmful bacteria. One or two drops are instilled in the ear with a dropper and allowed to stay in place for half a minute to a minute. The head is then tilted toward the shoulder to empty the ear canal.

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

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.