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DEAR DR. DONOHUE - I'm 41, a male. Through your encouragement, I quit smoking, lost 63 pounds and lowered my blood pressure considerably in the past year and a half. Your article on Proventil and Vanceril inhalers prompted me to ask my doctor if I could try them versus the pills I was taking for my asthma. They have helped me get active again. Are those inhalers habit-forming? Do they have side effects? Now I work out at a club for 45 minutes daily five days a week. In between I lift weights on my own. I rest on Wednesday and Saturday. Am I doing too much? How would one know? - R.K.

ANSWER - Yours sounds like a success story. The Proventil inhaler dilates breathing tubes. It is not habit-forming, but like many of the breathing tube dilators can cause some users to have a tremor, become nervous and speed up the heart. If none of these things is happening to you, so much the better.The Vanceril inhaler, on the other hand, has a cortisone-related drug in it. If you can get by without it, then do so. If you need it, use it sparingly. Check with your doctor.

I don't think you are doing too much. If you feel tired all the time, that is defeating the purpose. You have to back off. Also, if you feel you aren't making progress or are regressing, so far as stamina is concerned, that's a sign of overdoing. You need rest. For someone with asthma, you seem to be doing all the right things. I'm proud of you.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE - I've had this terribly embarrassing problem since I was 13 - dark circles under the eyes. I sleep seven hours a night, so it's not that. Please tell me the cause and what to do. - N.N.

ANSWER - Most under-the-eyes circles come with your genes. You usually can spot ancestors with them in old family albums. And they usually are associated with unduly prominent veins close to the skin surface in the loose area under eyes. Cosmetic camouflage is the usual answer. Sometimes an allergy can cause blood engorgement of those veins and produce circles. Those are called allergic shiners.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE - Every few days I get a spell of itching all over my body. Is this related to gallstones? - B.B.

ANSWER - Itching might be linked to gallstones if the stones were blocking bile flow. I'd think you would have other symptoms. For example, the bile backup would bring a jaundice. You would have some sign of pain below your ribs on the right side. Gallstones sitting there silently are very unlikely to cause itching only.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE - Is it true or not that calcium after menopause is useless? - Mrs. T.T.

ANSWER - That's a tough one. To be sure, the calcium supplement matter has been overblown in recent years. But certainly, since bone building goes on throughout life, there is always the need for adequate amounts in the diet to prevent onset of bone thinning (osteoporosis). Calcium deficiency doesn't pop up suddenly, but arises from years of mineral deficiency. It is only most noticeable in later years when estrogen levels drop, estrogen being important in calcium utilization.

The conclusion from studies is that calcium supplements alone are not sufficient to overcome deficits for older women. The answer is to add estrogen supplementation when that is permissible. We don't know enough yet to say how helpful calcium alone is for such women.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE - About once a year, after I've had a bad cold, I drink lots of liquids to wash it out of my system. I took a blood test and it came back saying I had low sodium, so the doctor put me in the hospital. They had to restrict fluid. Please comment and tell me how to prevent this in the future. I am 79 and in good health. - Mrs. E.S.

ANSWER - Stop trying to wash the cold out of your system. We both know that's never going to happen. You need fluids, but you don't have to drown yourself.

You drank so much water that you diluted the sodium in your body. That can cause muscle weakness, slow thinking, drowsiness, and, of course, frequent urination, another way to lose even more sodium.

Stop trying to treat your body the way you would a car radiator. It doesn't work.

FOR J.J. - A cervical rib is an extra rib at the neck (cervical) level. This sometimes causes pain depending on the degree of bone projection, whether on an artery or nerve. Traction halters and certain exercises may help. Surgical removal can be required in some cases.

DR. DONOHUE'S BOOKLET NO. 23, "Osteoporosis: Prevention and Treatment," explains this debilitating disease and what you can do about it. For a copy, write Dr. Donohue/No. 23, P.O. Box 19660, Irvine, CA 92713-0660. Enclose a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope and $2.00.

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