QUESTION: Perhaps you have covered this infection before, but I missed it if you did. I had paronychia of the right ring finger, and it became unbearable. The doctor had to lance it. I am taking antibiotics for it. I soak the finger daily and dress it with antibiotic cream. It is improving. Where might I have contracted this? - M.M.

ANSWER: You may never know the cause. A paronychia (par-oh-NICK-ee-yuh) is an infection adjacent to the fingernail. It often spreads under the nail. The pain can be great.The antibiotic is to fight off bacterial germs, and most such infections are from staph or strep bacteria. Most such infections arise from tiny breaks in the skin that permit germ entry. The entry can be so minuscule that you can't see it readily. It can be microscopic, created from something as seemingly harmless as a vigorous manicuring.

I'm glad yours seems to be responding to treatment. Some paronychias are devilish to treat. I am thinking of those caused by viruses, like herpes or by such fungi as candida. I'm sending the nail infection report. Others can order by writing: Dr. Donohue/No.22, Box 830, Gibbstown, NJ 08027-9909, enclosing a long, stamped (52 cents), self-addressed and $2.

QUESTION: My daughter is 13 and just started to develop. She has just had her first period. The problem is that one of her breasts is smaller than the other. What can be done? Should this concern us? - J.M.

ANSWER: You need not be concerned. Disparity in breast size is very common, and eventually it does correct itself.

QUESTION: My husband is 72. He has always been cantankerous, but now because of his shingles pain he is unbearable. How long will this infection last, and can I pick it up from him? - Mrs. H.S.

ANSWER: You will not catch shingles from him. The only way you might contract the germ is from a combination of rare events. If you had never had the virus as a child (in the form of chickenpox) and were you then to contact fluid from the early and brief oozing stage of the shingles blister, you might get chickenpox. This is so rare that we hardly ever hear of it happening in adults.

As to the symptoms. In most cases, the rash clears in 10 days. Out of every 100 shingles patients, 10 will have pain lasting about a month, five for three months and a couple for a year or more. Older people tend to have longer-lasting shingles pain.

Ice packs and ordinary pain relievers usually suffice to ease pain. For persisting pain, medicines like amitriptyline and carbamazepine have been tried. Capsaicin cream, a newcomer, has helped some, but not all, shingles patients.

QUESTION: I take oral medicine for my diabetes. Can I drink alcohol? - A.W.

ANSWER: Even moderate amounts of alcohol can make blood sugar control difficult. If your blood sugar levels are jumping all over the place, you shouldn't drink at all. If you strictly check your blood sugar levels and find that an occasional drink does not affect them, you can use your common sense in the matter. I have to add that you should ask your doctor. He may have different views.

FOR R.R. - You are taking several arthritis medicines, four of them of the major league type. Were I you, I would see a rheumatologist. You need some guidance and perhaps an adjustment of drug therapy.

1990 North America Syndicate Inc.