Health: A Question of Health

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OVER THE years I have developed tiny skin tags around my neck and under my arms and breasts. They don't seem to cause any trouble, but I'd love to get rid of them - they are unsightly.

This is due to the ageing process, and also a genetic predisposition to form skin tags. The tags can be easily and painlessly removed by freezing with liquid nitrogen or burning them off. Small skin tags can also be "tied off" with cotton or silk, but this can be painful. Some GPs will perform these minor procedures. Alternatively, a hospital dermatology department would be able to do it. But some NHS departments may consider it to be "cosmetic" surgery, and suggest that you have it done privately.

I HAVE started walking to work and jogging, to improve fitness. How do I know if I am exercising enough to strengthen my heart and lungs?

Sports scientists and exercise physiologists recommend increasing your pulse rate to 60-70 per cent of its maximum for about 30 minutes, at least three times a week. To calculate your maximum, subtract your age from 220. A 40-year-old would thus have a maximum pulse rate of 180 beats per minute. Exercise to raise the rate to 60-70 per cent of this (108-126 beats per minute) would be good aerobic exercise to improve your fitness and strengthen heart and lungs. A huge body of evidence shows that regular aerobic exercise helps make you fitter, thinner and happier; it also lowers blood pressure, and may prolong life and make sudden death from heart attack much less likely.

RECENTLY I have developed a sudden, intense reddening of the skin, especially on the palms of my hands. I suspect this is caused by contact with geranium leaves, in particular attar of roses, with a rose-lemon fragrance. Is there any evidence of allergic reactions to plant leaves?

The medical literature is full of reports of rashes and dermatitis caused by plants. The list of offenders includes ferns, garlic, chrysanthemums, primulas, nasturtiums, cotoneasters and many others. There is even a disease called daffodil-pickers' rash. Florists and nursery workers who come into contact with large numbers of plants are at particularly high risk of contracting dermatitis.

Surprisingly, there do not seem to be any reports of dermatitis caused by geraniums. But I still think it is highly likely that your skin irritation is caused by the geranium leaves.

Please write to A Question of Health, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; or e-mail Dr Kavalier regrets he is unable to respond personally to questions