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Jamie Chung
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updated 11/24/2008 5:52:49 PM ET 2008-11-24T22:52:49

Q. Sometimes when I’m sick, my temperature drops to about 97 degrees. What’s the deal?

A. It’s probably not due to illness. Even when they’re well, most people fluctuate by about 1 degree between 96 and 100. You may notice your temp is on the low side when you’re ill because that’s when you break out the thermometer. Time of day also matters: We tend to have a higher reading during our most active hours and a lower one in the morning. A woman’s temperature is higher around ovulation, and chugging a cold drink can chill your mouth, bringing down the mercury. I wouldn’t worry unless your temperature drops to 95.9 degrees, which is bordering on hypothermia.

Q. Are there any diet pills that really work?

A. Yes — but even with those, you’d still need to exercise and cut calories to see a big change on the scale, and some can have serious side effects. For instance, Meridia, a prescription drug that acts on brain chemicals that regulate your sense of fullness, helped overweight people lose about 9 pounds more than those taking a placebo, but it can amp up blood pressure. Fat blockers like Alli (which the maker says can increase weight loss by 50 percent) can result in greasy, uncontrollable bowel movements from undigested fat.

And although some people swear by over-the-counter supplements such as hoodia, there’s little evidence of their safety and efficacy. My advice? Stick to what works: diet and exercise.

Q. Can I catch my husband’s poison ivy?

A. Yes

Q. Could a nose job mess up my sense of smell?

A. It could, but it’s rare. Post-op bleeding, swelling and drainage can impair the ability to pick up scents. These problems should resolve themselves in time. More worrisome is that rhinoplasty involves cutting bone inside the nose, which can permanently damage nerves. And because smell and taste are closely linked, patients with nasal nerve damage may notice that food flavors are muted. If you’re contemplating plastic surgery, be sure to ask your doctor about this and other possible side effects and complications.

Q. Does constipation increase the risk for colon cancer?

A. No.

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Q. Staring at my computer screen is making me queasy. What’s going on?

A. Your eyes are crying out for a break! Using your computer for long periods of time, especially when the room is inadequately lit or if the monitor has a glare on its screen, can strain and dry out eyes and result in headaches, fatigue and even nausea. To reduce screen glare, switch off harsh overhead lighting and use a desk lamp instead. Also adjust your monitor brightness so it’s balanced with the light in the room. Move the monitor 2 feet away from your face to allow a comfortable focusing distance, then angle the screen so you’re looking down on it at a 10- to 20-degree angle. If these tricks don’t help, have your vision checked — you may need glasses.

Q. Why do mosquitoes love me so much more than everyone else?

A. The annoying bloodsuckers are drawn to carbon dioxide, the gas we all breathe out. But research has also turned up more than 275 compounds that skin produces, some of which lure mosquitoes. Our individual genetics plus diet and exercise habits appear to play a role in how much of these we manufacture. The scent of sweat and alcohol may get the insects’ attention, which could explain why barbecues are always so buggy. While sticking to lemonade at that Labor Day picnic might help keep skeeters away, I usually use a bug repellent that contains deet, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus, all recommended by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Q. Does my body need a break from the Pill?

A. No.

Q. How long should I wait between pregnancies?

A. This decision is very personal, but I advise waiting two years before getting pregnant again after giving birth. Letting some time pass gives you a chance to replenish your store of important nutrients (such as folate, calcium and iron) that tend to get depleted during pregnancy. And if you’re short on key nutrients, your body’s ability to fully support a fetus may be compromised — which might explain why women who get pregnant less than 18 months after giving birth are shown to be at higher risk for complications such as preterm delivery. Health concerns aside, raising babies who are close in age is exhausting, so consider giving yourself a break.

Q. Which medications are most likely to make me gain weight?

A. The most common problem pills include corticosteroids (used to treat inflammation), certain antidepressants (especially tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors), insulin and some antipsychotics. Although some patients stop taking their prescriptions to avoid packing on pounds, staying slim isn’t worth sacrificing your health. If your doc prescribes a drug that’s linked to weight gain, don’t keep quiet: Ask if there are alternate meds or lower dosages that could still be effective.

Q. Sometimes I get a headache from cheese and wine. Is there a way to tell when one will hit?

A. It might help to track the types and brands of cheese and wine that cause you trouble. Aged and fermented foods and drinks such as these tend to be high in tyramine, an amino acid that can cause headaches in some people. As a general rule, ricotta, cottage cheese and other non-aged cheeses don’t contain tyramine, whereas aged cheeses do; white wine has lower levels of the amino acid than red. And people are more likely to react to trigger foods and drinks when they’re sick, so stick to those you trust when you’re under the weather.

Q. What causes those dark circles under my eyes?

A. They may be a hand-me-down from your folks: Dark under-eye circles can be due to excess skin pigmentation, a trait likely to be genetic. But all is not lost: Lifestyle changes can help minimize their appearance. For starters, cut back on alcohol. It can dehydrate skin, thinning it and making blood vessels more visible. Apply a cream that contains vitamin K to problem areas. The nutrient decreases blood vessel leakage, which can lead to staining under the eye. If under-eye shadows continue to bug you, see a dermatologist. Treatments such as laser surgery to tighten and thicken skin help some women get the refreshed look they long for.

Q. Can I catch a cold from my cat?

A. No.

Q. Since I started breast-feeding, I’ve experienced vaginal dryness. Why, and what can I do?

A. Many new mothers share your complaint, which is generally due to naturally lower levels of estrogen during nursing. Estrogen helps keep vaginal tissue elastic and lubricated, so when levels of the hormone drop, tissue becomes thinner and drier. Lubricants such as KY and Replens can deliver much-needed relief. If lubrication doesn’t help, don’t be shy about bringing up your concerns with your health care provider. She can help pinpoint other potential causes, such as a yeast infection, and help you find a solution.

Q. Does topless sunbathing raise my risk for breast cancer?

A. No. (Skin cancer, yes!)

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