Q. My eyes are very sensitive to wind, light and smoke. Every morning I wake up with red eyes. To relieve the redness, I use Visine, an over-the-counter eyedrop. I seem to be dependent on it, and wonder if there's any danger using eyedrops every day.
A. Using eyedrops every day may actually be making your eye probem worse.
Many eyedrops like Visine contain a medication that makes the tiny blood vessels on your eyes constrict, thus temporarily clearing minor redness due to dust, smoke and other eye irritants. The trouble is, after you use this type of medication repeatedly, the blood vessels on your eyes react by dilating, and your eyes may grow redder than before you began using the drops. This "rebound" reaction leads to a vicious cycle of ever-worsening eye redness and repeated use of eye drops. At this stage, it does seem as if your eyes are dependent on the eyedrops. The treatment is to kick the habit.
I suggest using an eyedrop without any blood vessel constricting medicine in it, such as plain Murine. Check with your pharmacist to be sure the eyedrops you're getting are free of redness-clearing ingredients, because Murine also makes a brand with these included. In the meantime, avoid coming into contact with things that irritate your eyes, such as smoke. If your condition doesn't improve on its own, see your doctor to make sure you don't have another cause of eye redness -- such as an eye infection -- that would require different treatment.
Q. I recently read that more than 50 percent of the population suffers some form of diverticular bowel problems by the time they reach 60. With this many people affected, why don't we hear more about it?
My previous doctor diagnosed me as having diverticulosis of the colon and advised me to avoid eating foods with seeds or nuts. Supposedly, these become lodged in the bowel protrusions, become infected and cause the bowel inflammation known as diverticulitis. My new physician says that these dietary restrictions aren't necessary.
A. You're right that most people in the United States develop diverticulosis as they grow older; fortunately, only a small minority of people suffer significant problems as a result.
Diverticula are pea-sized pockets protruding from the colon. Doctors often first discover "tics" -- as they're called for short -- on a barium enema x-ray of the large intestine.
Countries where people eat high-fiber diets have little diverticulosis; industrialized nations, where people eat a lot of refined foods, have high rates -- so high that tics almost seem the norm. In simple terms, fiber seems to exercise the bowels, keeping them in shape; without fiber, the colon becomes, in a sense, flabby and out of shape, allowing diverticula to develop in weak spots.
Diverticulosis -- the simple and painless presence of tics in the colon -- turns into a painful diverticulitis when one or more small pockets become infected. This condition causes fever and pain in the left lower abdomen. If hospital treatment with antibiotics isn't successful, surgery to remove the affected part of the colon is sometimes necessary. Diverticulosis is also a common cause of intestinal bleeding in middle and older age adults.
While doctors agree that a lifelong diet high in fiber helps prevent tics from developing, there's some disagreement about what to eat once tics have formed. Small undigested seeds may give rise to inflammation if they become lodged in a tic; how often this happens isn't known, and many doctors feel that a diet high in fiber (which implies undigested foods) helps people with diverticulosis. If you follow your new doctor's advice, I suggest chewing nuts and seeds well when you eat them.
Jay Siwek, a family physician from Georgetown University, practices at the Fort Lincoln Family Medicine Center and Providence Hospital in Northeast Washington.
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