Question: My sister, 85, has dependent edema in her left leg, ankle and foot. It makes walking difficult. You've mentioned there are therapies besides the special stockings. Her podiatrist suggests a machine for venous compression. Would that help?

- Mrs. R.R.

Answer: Has your sister learned why her lower legs are swelling? A weak heart, kidney disease or liver disease can prompt swelling, and treatment varies depending on the cause.

If your sister simply has dependent edema, then fluid is seeping out of blood vessels because the legs have been in a "dependent" position too long - sitting or standing. In that case, avoidance of the cause and elevation of the leg while seated might be enough to discourage the fluid accumulation.

Compressive stockings help by squeezing fluid back into blood vessels. Cutting back on salt discourages fluid retention, which is often a factor in such problems.

Compression machines do work and are required in some cases of edema. For your sister, I'd suggest trying the things I mention first and also seeking some background information on the cause of her swelling.

Question: How is blepharitis treated?

- A.G.Y.

Answer: Blepharitis is a scaly inflammation of the lid margin, where the eyelashes emerge. Along with flaking of the skin, there may be loss of the lashes. It can come from seborrheic dermatitis, which when on the scalp we call dandruff. Or it can be from a staph infection, or a combination of both.

Try applying a warm, wet washcloth to the closed eyes for about five minutes. Then gently dab the lids with clean cotton wet with diluted baby shampoo - one capful to a cup of warm water. That should remove the crusts. Try it when you get up in the morning and again before going to bed.

You probably will need antibiotic treatment, for which you must consult your physician.

Question: My kid refuses to cover his mouth and nose when he sneezes. I think it is the reason our family has so many colds. Just how are colds passed on, usually?

- Mrs. O.I.

Answer: The subject is controversial. I'm glad your question included the word "usually."

One camp says the usual means is by hand contact. Fingers get coated with cold viruses and when they touch another person's hand, those viruses get transferred to the recipient's nose. And you'd be surprised at how many times in an hour you touch your nose. So the hand-transfer school says you stop cold spread by frequent hand-washing.

The other camp says the viruses spread through sneezed droplets. They advise people to sneeze into a tissue, then dispose of that right away. Short of that, the simple expedient of raising the hand to the nose and mouth during a sneeze is a good substitute. Then immediately wash the hands, which become laden with viruses.

Question: What about these anti-smoking patches? Can they be worn during pregnancy or when nursing? My wife wants to quit smoking, because she knows she can harm the baby she's about to have. She wants to try a nicotine patch, but her doctor says it is not a good idea. Do you agree?

- M.G.

Answer: I do agree with your wife's doctor. Pregnant or nursing women should not use the patch. The nicotine can get into the blood and into the baby's milk. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is promulgating warnings concerning use during pregnancy or while nursing.

The patches are not good for people with heart disease either.

I hope your wife can quit, at least during this sensitive time.

Troubled with varicose veins? To make sure you are doing all you can, send for a copy of "How to Deal with Varicose Veins." Mail your request to Dr. Donohue - No. 34, P.O. Box 5539, Riverton, NJ 08077. Enclose a long, self-addressed, stamped (52 cents) envelope and $3.

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 at P.O. Box 5539, Riverton, NJ 08077.

1993 North America Syndicate Inc.