DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 47, and my doctor tells me I have asthma. Is that possible? I thought it was a children’s disease. One of the medicines the doctor put me on is a cortisone-type inhaler. This has me scared silly. I don’t want to stay on a cortisone medicine for life. I have heard it does too many bad things. What do you have to say about this? – M.L.

Asthma can make an appearance at any age. The incidence of it peaks between the ages of 4 and 10, and again in the 40s. It’s not only a childhood illness.

During an asthma attack, the airways (bronchi) narrow because the muscles wrapped around them go into spasm. That makes it hard for air to get into and out of the lungs. Added to the airway constriction is an outpouring of thick mucus within the airways, another obstruction to the flow of air through these passages.

For an acute asthma attack, medicines that relax the muscles wrapped around the airways are used, most often delivered via an inhaler. The onset of action of these medicines is quick, but their duration is only about four to six hours. So it is also important to administer to asthmatics medicines that last longer.

Inhaled cortisone medicines are such drugs, and they’re essential for asthma control. They soothe irritated airways and prevent the contraction of airway muscles. They also prevent the production of thick mucus. It can take up to four weeks before the effect of these medicines is appreciated.

Inhaled cortisone doesn’t cause the serious side effects that prolonged use of oral and injectable cortisone can. Your health isn’t going to be in danger from its use. Your health is going to improve with its use. You might not have to use it for life.

The asthma booklet gives a detailed explanation of this common condition and its treatment. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 602, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Can you give us some information on adult drooling? My husband, 87, is normal in all other ways, but cannot control his drooling. He won’t leave the house because of it. – E.K.

With aging, we have less-effective swallowing mechanisms. In our younger years, saliva is constantly, automatically and imperceptibly swallowed throughout the day. At older ages, it stays in the mouth, and its only exit is through the lips. A second cause of drooling is the sagging of tissues around the mouth, another consequence of aging. The lips and mouth tissues cannot hold saliva in the mouth like they used to.

Readers have made good suggestions on how to combat this problem. R.M. suggests applying a dab of Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream to the corners of the lips to create a dam that blocks saliva overflow. Vaseline works too.

Robinul (glycopyrrolate) and scopolamine, the patch used for prevention of seasickness, slow the production of saliva. But they can have other unpleasant side effects that make them less useful for this purpose.

Botox injections diminish saliva volume. Doctors can tie off some of the salivary ducts to achieve the same end. Start with the dam-building technique. It has no side effects and is inexpensive.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: In two months my son will be 3. He reaches for everything with his left hand. I want to train him to use his right hand. Being left-handed is such a drag. What are your thoughts? – G.S.

Who says being left-handed is a drag? The 10 percent to 15 percent of the population who happen to be left-handed adjust to it without any great physical or psychological trauma. Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, J.S. Bach and Sandy Koufax were lefties. They did all right for themselves.

I’d let your son accept what nature has dealt him.

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 www

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