Hello, dear readers, and welcome to a bonus letters column. We'll begin with the latest data that show this winter is shaping up to be another “tripledemic.” Influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are surging throughout the United States, and new cases of COVID-19 are not far behind. Please protect yourselves and the people around you by getting this year's flu vaccine and the updated COVID shot. It's not too late for either of these, and there is evidence that getting both at once boosts immune response. For people who are most at risk of RSV, a monoclonal antibody injection is available. And now, onward to your letters.
-- We have, over the years, fielded several questions about bug bites and discussed the immune response that often accompanies them. This includes pain, swelling, itching and a sensation of warmth at the site of the bite. A reader who recently ran afoul of some ants developed small blisters and asked how best to manage them. "I got little bumps around an ant bite," he wrote. "Should they be burst, or will this dry up on its own?" You don't want to break open the blisters that may form after an insect bite. That creates an open wound and puts you at risk of infection. As the immune system does its work, the blisters will gradually lessen and fade on their own. If the blisters bother you, cover the area with a bandage that allows air circulation, but protects it from inadvertent damage.
-- Another topic that gets a lot of mail is macular degeneration. This is a condition in which certain age-related structural changes in the retina affect central vision. We heard from a reader diagnosed with drusen, which are deposits of debris within the layers of the retina. "Are there any new treatments for drusen, and also to prevent me from developing macular degeneration?" she asked. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for drusen at this time. But it's important to note that although drusen can contribute to macular degeneration, having them does not make the condition inevitable. Be sure to see your retinologist regularly to track the progress of the drusen. It's also a good idea to ask your doctor about AREDS2. This is an over-the-counter vitamin supplement that clinical trials have found to be effective at slowing the progression of existing macular degeneration.
-- We are receiving a lot of requests for updates about the newest research into long COVID, which is the collection of symptoms that continue for weeks, and sometimes months, after an initial coronavirus infection. We have been following developments in this area closely and will devote a column to it soon. Several studies have found that being vaccinated significantly lowers the chances of developing long COVID.
As always, thank you for taking the time to write to us. We read all of your letters and respond to as many as we can. Please remember that we cannot offer a diagnosis or a second opinion, and we cannot comment on specific treatment plans.
(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)