Readers offer useful additions to previous columns


Hello again, dear readers, and welcome back to our monthly letters column. Like many of you, we’re adjusting to shorter days and longer nights, and we are gearing up for the challenges of winter. This makes us even more appreciative of your staying in touch.

-- Regarding a column about older adults and falling, a reader from Wallingford, Connecticut, asked us to add an important risk factor to the list. “Distractions were not noted in the article,” he wrote. “Distractions can make a loose carpet, stairs and other obstacles even more dangerous. And distractions are spontaneous, which makes them even more dangerous. ‘Once you take your eye off the ball, get ready for a fall.’" Agreed, and thank you.

On that same topic, a reader asked why we said that even a minor injury from a fall can affect quality of life. Although straining a muscle or twisting an ankle aren’t in the league of a broken bone, they do cause pain, restrict movement and affect mobility. Each of those things makes getting through the day more of a challenge.

-- A reader from Virginia Beach, Virginia, who started a fitness plan with her husband, wonders what qualifies as water. “I don’t love having water early in the day, so I drink several cups of tea, all using the same teabag,” she wrote. “I count the tea as water, but my husband insists only plain water really counts. Do I need to switch?” Although caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, it’s not nearly enough to offset the hydration of a cup of tea. Plus, you’re stretching a single teabag to three cups of tea, so, yes, your morning beverage ritual counts toward your daily water total.

Elizabeth Ko, MD and Eve Glazier, MD

-- A recent column about vitamin D included guidelines for both vitamin supplements and sun exposure. “What about those of us who have had skin cancer, including melanoma, and need to avoid sunlight?” a reader asked. “How much vitamin D should we get from vitamin supplements?” This is important, so we’re happy to repeat our advice: People with any history of skin cancer, or who are at risk for skin cancer, should rely on diet and vitamins for their daily allowance of vitamin D.

-- In response to a column that referenced wigs for cancer patients, a reader from Nags Head, North Carolina, shared a discovery about medical expenses. “I was very surprised to learn wigs are a write-off on the annual returns!” he wrote. “Had we known, my wife probably would have gotten the more expensive natural hair wig she felt better in, rather than the cheaper wig she didn’t really like. Please let your readers know this very important fact.” You’re correct that the costs of a wig for hair loss due to a medical condition, such as alopecia or cancer treatments, are tax deductible.

We’ll close with a reminder that we can’t offer a diagnosis or a second opinion, and we can’t comment on specific treatments or medications. Also, we continue to get requests for previous columns. The good news is that a searchable archive is available online at

(Send your questions to [email protected]. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)