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Treating eye infections

Q: I had a case of pink eye, or that is what I thought it was because my eyes suddenly became red, watery and itchy and the eyelids were stuck together in the mornings. My doctor said it was acute conjunctivitis and it would clear up on its own in a few days. It did but I wonder why he did not suggest any antibiotic eye ointment like Polysporin?

A: The doctor probably thought the infection was from a virus rather than a bacterium. Antibiotics would not help in this case. Most cases of conjunctivitis or pink eye are due to the same virus, the adenovirus, which causes the common cold. Even in bacterial cases, about two-thirds of them clear up without treatment in a few days. Doctors are reluctant to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics because overuse has been associated with the emergence of more treatment resistant bugs.

Bacterial conjunctivitis causes a thick, purulent, green or yellow discharge and can be due to Staph. aureus, Strep. pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae or M. catarrhalis.

Some cases may require treatment. You can try over-the-counter ointment such as Polysporin or drops that contain the antibiotics Gramicidin and Bacitracin, or you can get prescription antibiotics from your family doctor.

Treatment lessens the length of suffering, prevents complications such as scarring and limits the spread of infection to other people.

The drops or ointments are generally applied for seven days, several times a day.

Cold and flu

Q: There are advertisements on TV making fun of men who have colds. I have found that my husband seems to get more severe symptoms than I do when he has a cold or flu and he does complain a lot. Is this a difference in temperament or do men really suffer more than women?

A: Amanda Ellison, author of Getting Your Head Around the Brain and a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Durham University, has discovered that men suffer more than women when they have colds and flu.

Part of the brain regulates body temperature. Ellison said it can be influenced by the male hormone testosterone and is larger in men than women.

She thinks this could be the reason that men tend to have a higher fever when they get a cold. The increased temperature is one way in which the body fights and kills the viruses, so men may suffer more but get over the illness more quickly than women.

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