QUESTION: What causes boils? I have had them on and off for 10 years, most often on my buttocks, armpits, etc. I shower daily. I saw a doctor and he gave me a prescription, but I wasn't ready to continue to pay the price for it. I am 25 and don't have a lot of money. Can you help? I'm really tired of this. No one else in my family has them. - R.B.
ANSWER: Boils are infections of hair follicles by staph germs. So eradication calls for limiting this follicle invasion by attacking those germs.Special skin hygiene is important. First off, you need a good anti-bacterial soap, like Hibiclens (chlorhexidine). Wash your body with this soap twice a day, paying special attention to the boil-prone areas. In between these general cleansings, wash your hands frequently. Most of the time, boils result from transfer of staph from one body area to another via the hands.
Antibiotic ointments come into play. Be sure to apply a light coating on the lower nasal passages, favorite staph hiding places. Bacitracin, an ointment you can get at the drugstore, should serve for this. Laundering bedding and underclothing in very hot, even boiling water is important.
You may still need a course or two of antibiotics to totally eradicate the boils. For that you need a prescription, of course. Yes, it's all quite expensive, but probably not too much to pay for relief at last. Boils are every bit the trial to folks today they were to Job in biblical times.
QUESTION: Please discuss for me a sore tail bone. This bone causes great problems, both sitting and sleeping. Is there treatment for this? An egg crate mattress helps somewhat. Should I see an orthopedic doctor? - Mrs. L.P.
ANSWER: The tail bone is the coccyx, the very lowest spine section. Pain there gets the impressive name coccygodynia. It's a vexing and difficult problem.
Coccyx pain doesn't yield easily to even the tried and true treatments, but begin you must. Of course, you avoid hard sitting surfaces, and your egg crate mattress is, I'm sure, of some comfort. Have you tried to use an air cushion for sitting? One of the donut-shaped ones helps relieve direct pressure under the coccyx.
I like to recommend the hip wraparound belt. It can be difficult to visualize, but of great help to those with the problem once they get the hang of it. You have to make or acquire a 3-inch-wide belt, which you wrap around the hips snugly, from midway to just above the lower buttocks. Drawn up snugly, this belt creates a natural buffer cushion of flesh around the tail bone. It also minimizes pulling against the coccyx by area ligaments. Wear it during the day.
Should such measures fail, you might need a cortisone injection in the pain area. Meanwhile, other anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin, indomethacin and ibuprofen, also help. Yes, an orthopedic doctor would be the specialist to see for this.
QUESTION: Can an elderly person donate his eye for reuse purposes upon death? - Mrs. L.L.
ANSWER: Yes. Age is seldom a consideration in corneal transplants. Check with a local Lion's Club officer or a local medical center for donation details.
Dr. Donohue welcomes reader mail but regrets that, due to the tremendous volume received daily, he is unable to answer individual letters. Readers' questions are incorporated in his column whenever possible.