Q. This concern has plagued me for 21 years, and I need to know once and for all if I can stop worrying. My son is now 27 years old; when he was about 6, he had a fever, and while I was taking his temperature with an old-fashioned mercury thermometer, the bulb tip broke, and he ingested the mercury.
He's grown into a fine, normal young man with no obvious problems.
Can I assume no damage was done and nothing will surface down the road due to this incident?
A. Stop worrying! Swallowing a small amount of mercury from a broken thermometer does not pose a poisoning problem. Virtually all the mercury passes through the digestive tract and is not absorbed.
Breaking a thermometer and failing to clean up the mercury very carefully is another matter entirely. The gray liquid vaporizes readily. Mercury fumes are absorbed through the lungs and are highly toxic.
People should dispose of old thermometers like toxic waste instead of throwing them out in the trash.
Some states now conduct exchange programs so that old-fashioned mercury thermometers can be traded in for newer and safer electronic models.
Q. After several days with a high fever, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, and my doctor prescribed doxycycline. This antibiotic worked great at first. The fever subsided, and the aches in my joints let up.
After a few days, I came down with a horrendous headache. I couldn't get out of bed.
My doctor told me to go to the emergency room. He was afraid I might have meningitis. That scared me!
A spinal tap came up negative, though, and no one could explain my headache.
The pain got worse. My husband found some information online that suggested such a headache might be a reaction to doxycycline. When we told the doctor that, he gave me a prescription for a different antibiotic, and now I am recovering.
Why didn't he warn me about this problem?
A. You may have experienced a rare but dangerous side effect called pseudotumor cerebri. Doxycycline and certain other medications can cause increased pressure inside the skull, leading to severe head pain or visual problems. Your doctor may not have warned you because the condition is so uncommon.
Q. I have suffered with constipation for years. It became so upsetting that I began using a senna laxative every night. Even with that, I sometimes had to resort to a suppository to get relief.
I've recently discovered inulin (Fibersure). It helps me stay regular but causes gas and bloating. I am pleased to be done with my laxative habit, but this gas is a real problem.
A. Inulin is a type of soluble fiber, made up of simple sugars combined in a way to make them indigestible. It occurs naturally in foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, jicama and chicory root.
We are not surprised that it has caused you gas and bloating. This is not uncommon, because the fiber is fermented by bacteria in the colon.
We are sending you our Guide to Constipation with a dynamite bran muffin recipe and our 10 tips for promoting regularity.
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or e-mail them via their Web site: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.s).
& copy; 2006 King Features Syndicate Inc.