Medical problems don’t always require expert diagnosis and complicated treatment


Simple solutions can often cure back pain, dry eye, incontinence and other ailments. (iStockphoto)

Not every medical problem requires an extensive diagnostic work-up and complicated treatment. Sometimes minor changes in what you eat or wear or in your daily habits can help.

Keep in mind that though some of the approaches described below are self-help measures, others, such as those for treating urinary incontinence, are likely to be most effective under a doctor’s guidance. And you should always seek medical attention when symptoms are severe or don’t improve despite your efforts.

Dry eyes. One underappreciated cause of dry, itchy, burning eyes, as well as eyestrain and even blurred vision, is prolonged computer use, which is also known as computer-vision syndrome. To combat this, make sure that you adjust lighting and position your computer screen to avoid glare, using a filter over your screen if necessary. Remember to blink frequently to keep the surface of your eyes moist.

Chapped lips. If your lips are dry, red, and cracked despite frequent use of lip balm, the product itself might be the problem. Try using just petroleum jelly for a few days. If you want to resume using a balm once the problem resolves, look for a brand that’s free of color and fragrance, which can trigger allergies, as well as free of glycolic acid, which can cause irritation.

Neck, back, shoulder pain. Wallets and purses are common culprits. Back experts recommend that men carry their wallet in a front pocket rather than a back pocket because sitting on it can exert pressure on the sciatic nerve in the buttock, causing compression sciatica. Women should ditch a heavy purse in favor of a smaller version with a wide strap or multiple skinny straps that won’t cut into the shoulder.

Also, evaluate your work environment. If you sit at a desk, adjust your chair so that the work surface is elbow high, your knees are in line with your hips, and the backrest pushes your lower back slightly forward. Position your computer monitor so that it’s in the center of your gaze when you look straight ahead.

Hand injuries. The increased use of computers and mobile devices is causing people’s hands to take a beating. If your hands hurt, take “tech holidays” from your smartphone, and when you do use it, write shorter and fewer messages. When working at the computer, rest your hands as soon as you feel strain or pain.

Tummy troubles. The answer might be as simple as wearing looser clothing. Snug pants and girdlelike undergarments can interfere with bowel function and cause abdominal discomfort as well as other side effects, including bladder infections, vaginal yeast infections, nerve damage, contact dermatitis and blood clots in the legs.

Incontinence. The urinary leakage brought on by stress incontinence occurs when you sneeze, cough or laugh. But you can help solve the problem with Kegel exercises. To do them, squeeze muscles as if you were stopping a stream of urine or preventing the passage of gas. Do two types of squeezes: short ones lasting two seconds and longer ones lasting five to 10 seconds. Do each type 40 to 50 times a day, either all at once or at intervals, five to seven days a week.

An overactive bladder can often be retrained using techniques such as urinating at regular intervals and gradually holding your urine for longer periods of time. In addition, some people respond to dietary changes, including eliminating such foods as caffeine, carbonated beverages, acidic foods and alcohol, all of which can irritate the bladder.

Copyright 2012. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

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