From the mailbag: Migraines, shingles and avoiding colds
(Today we'll go into the mailbag and answer three questions, instead of the usual one .)
Q. Is there such a thing as a painless migraine?
Sometimes we see light flashes that appear to be little lightning bolts or waves. This type of flash is usually caused by a blood-vessel spasm in the brain, which is called a migraine. These flashes can happen without a headache and they are called ophthalmic migraines or ocular migraines.
An ophthalmic migraine may end in only a few minutes, but usually lasts as long as a half-hour. This type of migraine is considered harmless. Usually, they cause no permanent visual or brain damage, and do not require treatment.
However, if you experience what seem to be ophthalmic migraine symptoms, you should get to a doctor immediately because what you think is harmless may be a retinal detachment.
The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye and sends visual messages through the optic nerve to the brain. When the retina detaches, it is lifted or pulled from its normal position. If not promptly treated, retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss.
Q. Is there some way to prevent getting shingles?
Shingles is a painful skin disease caused by the chickenpox virus awakening from a dormant state to attack your body again. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles.
Some people report fever and weakness when the disease starts. Within two to three days, a red, blotchy rash develops. The rash erupts into small blisters that look like chickenpox.
The pain of shingles can be severe. If it is strong and lasts for months or years, it is called postherpetic neuralgia.
There is a vaccine for shingles called Zostavax. The vaccine is approved for use in people 60 years old and older to prevent shingles. Zostavax does not treat shingles or post-herpetic neuralgia once it develops.
In a clinical trial involving thousands of adults 60 years old or older, Zostavax prevented shingles in about half of the people and post-herpetic neuralgia in 67 percent of the study participants. While the vaccine was most effective in people 60-69 years old, it also provided some protection for older groups.
Once you reach age 60, the sooner you get vaccinated, the better your chances of protecting yourself from shingles.
Q. Do you have any tips for avoiding colds?
There are two ways you can catch a cold: inhaling drops of mucus full of cold germs from the air, and touching a surface that has cold germs and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
So, for starters, avoid close facial contact with people who have colds. Also, if you can, try to avoid touching your face after you have been around someone with a cold.
Washing your hands thoroughly and often is important. Washing with soap and water doesn't kill the cold virus, but removes it. The scrubbing is more important than the soap.
Cleaning environmental surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant might help prevent spread of infection. The worst room in the house for germs is the kitchen. And the greatest concentration is found in sponges and dishcloths.
Laundering a dishcloth doesn't eliminate germs. And putting a sponge through the dishwasher makes it look clean but doesn't remove the infection. Instead, moisten the sponge or dishcloth and microwave it for two minutes. Then you'll have safe, germ-free tools to use.
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