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AARP The Magazine

9 Common Ailments That Drive You Crazy

How to manage leg cramps, dry eye, cold sores and more

Everyday Nuisances That Drive You Crazy

— Ryan Snook

7. Dry Eye

What it is: Gritty, tired and painful eyes that make it hard to read, work at the computer, watch television or drive. Symptoms typically worsen throughout the day. To compensate for lost moisture, the body may, paradoxically, produce excess tears.

The reason: Key culprits include aging; contact lenses; diabetes and thyroid disease; medications for colds, coughs and depression; and, in some cases, LASIK surgery.

The remedy: Apply warm compresses. Turn off fans and turn on a humidifier. Outside, wear wraparound glasses or eyeglass shields. You may want to try over-the-counter artificial tears, gels or ointments, but avoid products that "get the red out," since these are decongestants and will make dry eye worse. Oral or topical antibiotics may also offer help.

8. Urinary Incontinence

What it is: If a few drops or a squirt of urine leaks out when you cough, laugh or exercise, you could have stress incontinence. A strong, sudden gush may signal urge incontinence, or overactive bladder.

The reason: Stress incontinence is usually caused by weakened tissue and muscles, an infection, a hernia, prostate problems or obesity. Some drugs — including diuretics, antidepressants, blood pressure medications and even over-the-counter cold and cough remedies — are also possible culprits. Urge incontinence may be caused by prostate problems, nerve damage due to stroke, or illnesses such as diabetes.

The remedy: "Urinary incontinence may be common in older people, but it's not a normal, inevitable part of aging," says Anthony G. Visco, M.D., chief of the division of urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery at Duke University. "You don't have to live with it." For urge incontinence, prescription medications — Oxytrol, Ditropan and Detrol — have been the treatment of choice, but a recent study found that a onetime Botox injection in the bladder can be at least as effective. If you have stress incontinence, some simple lifestyle changes could make a huge difference. Limit fluids and gradually retrain your bladder to go every three to four hours. Eliminate coffee, tea, spicy foods, chocolate, alcohol and citrus fruits. You can strengthen pelvic-floor muscles by doing Kegel exercises. Losing weight and avoiding constipation (by using dietary fiber or a stool softener) can help, too. If nothing else works, some women find relief through sling surgery, an outpatient procedure in which doctors create a kind of sling that supports the bladder and urethra, thereby reducing the problem.

Everyday Nuisances That Drive You Crazy

— Ryan Snook

9. Nail Fungus

What it is: An infection that appears as yellow or white spots on your nail. As the fungus spreads, the nail can thicken and even pull away from its bed.

The reason: Fungus thrives in dark, warm, moist conditions — so you get it from closed, tight shoes, wet floors in showers or gym locker rooms, or unsterilized tools at the nail salon.

The remedy: Wear sandals or shoes at the pool or gym. Avoid cotton or wool socks; instead choose synthetics, which don't hold moisture. Dust your feet with antifungal powder after a bath or shower, and before bed. If you get professional pedicures, bring your own tools to the nail salon, or make sure the salon sterilizes theirs. For treatment, ask your doctor about prescribing Lamisil, an oral medication, or Penlac, a clear nail polish. Another new option is photodynamic therapy, which uses drugs and a special light to zap the fungus.

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