How do I treat sticky eye? Can pills help me?

CONJUNCTIVITIS AND ANTIBIOTICS

Q. Is it necessary to use antibiotic ointment to treat conjunctivitis? From time to time we get an outbreak of sticky, red eyes in our family. Sometimes we get chloramphenicol antibiotic ointment on prescription, and this seems to clear it up. But last week, on holiday, the conjunctivitis cleared up after cotton wool and boiled water.

A. Conjunctivitis is usually caused by a viral infection of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear, moist membrane that coats the inner surfaces of the eyelids and the outer surface of the eye. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, and, therefore, it is usually not necessary to treat conjunctivitis with antibiotic eye-drops or ointment. Simply keeping the eye clear by mopping it out with cotton wool and clean water is all that is necessary. If the eyelids become exceptionally red and puffy, or it the eye itself becomes very red, it may mean that a bacterial infection has developed on top of the viral infection. Even in this case, simple mopping out may be enough. But if the redness is worsening and spreading, antibiotic ointment will probably solve the problem. It is important to remember that not all red eyes are caused by conjunctivitis. If your vision is affected, or if the eye is painful, you should see a doctor quickly.

RUNNERS AND GLUCOSAMINE

Q. I am an urban runner, covering 25-30 miles a week. Although my knees are holding up well (I'm only 26), I know that running on hard surfaces is punishing to knees and hips. Some of the people I run with take glucosamine tablets. I wonder if I really should be taking sometime to prevent problems later in life.

A. Glucosamine tablets are not a guarantee of healthy knees and hips in the future, but there is certainly some evidence that they do help people who already have knee arthritis. The purveyors of glucosamine claim that it helps maintain the cartilage lining that covers joints and prevents bone surfaces from grinding against each other. The best scientific studies have shown that people who take 1,500mg of glucosamine a day maintain their cartilages better than those who don't. The pill takers (including people who took chondroitin sulphate) also experienced less pain and maintained mobility better. You are subjecting your knees to a lot of punishment. Have you considered varying your exercise? Perhaps you should include swimming and cycling.

Please send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182; or e-mail health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions

Readers write

AB from London has a solution for people who can't tolerate car seatbelts:

Go to any car accessories shop and buy a set of Klunk Klips (or Belt Clips). These attach to the spot behind your head where the seatbelts start. With them you can adjust the seatbelts to be loose enough not to feel them. Should you be in an accident, the clip releases as you move forward.

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