Rx for readers: Itchy scalp, mold

My five-month-old baby goes to a babysitter each morning.

baby profile 88 (photo credit: )
baby profile 88
(photo credit: )
My five-month-old baby goes to a babysitter each morning. I am disturbed by a very strong smell of mold in her apartment. How dangerous is this for my baby? (If it is relevant, I should tell you that there are respiratory conditions on both sides of my family.) -E.D., Jerusalem Prof. Meir Shalit, an allergy specialist and head of the clinical immunology department at Hadassah University Medical Center at Jerusalem's Ein Kerem, replies: The smell of mold means there is water that can't escape. This happens especially in bathrooms and showers and on shower curtains, and possibly in the kitchen. It is best for the babysitter to find the source of the water and eliminate the mold for esthetic and hygienic reasons. As for allergy, because of the family history, there is a high risk of the baby developing allergies to potent allergens such as the dust mite, grasses, trees and molds. One must remember that mold can be anywhere, including in the air that is inhaled, in varied concentrations depending on the humidity and weather. Theoretically, the increase in exposure to molds can increase the risk of developing an allergy to it, but I don't think this is a significant or determining factor. It is just not pleasant for adults and babies to be in an environment with an unpleasant odor, so it is best for the babysitter to take care of it. My 22-year-old daughter suffers from itchy scalp, peeling skin there and hair shedding. Naturally the same skin doctor said to use dandruff shampoo, but the condition has been going on for years and sometimes it's very bad. Some say stress induces this problem, but right now she isn't under stress. Is there a good shampoo or medication she can use to help this problem? -W.O., by e-mail from the south Dr. Julian Schamroth, a veteran Jerusalem dermatologist, advises: An itchy, scaly scalp may be a sign of various skin disorders; seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), psoriasis and fungal infection (tinea capitis) being the most common. With the exception of tinea capitis, the vast majority of these conditions are not associated with hair loss. In a 22-year-old female, the commonest cause of hair loss would be iron deficiency (which is not necessarily a low level of hemaglobin) and an overactive or underactive thyroid function. It is highly unlikely that stress plays any role in hair loss. The diagnosis of your daughter's scalp condition should be quite simple. Your dermatologist will examine the scalp, possibly send off scrapings for fungal culture, and may order some blood tests. Treatment would depend on the diagnosis, but generally speaking, shampoos containing coal tar are highly effective in treating scaly, itchy scalp. They are available over-the-counter from your pharmacist. I am on a weight-loss diet and have plans for going abroad this summer. I fear that with easy accessibility to hotel food, I will gain weight. Do you have any tips for avoiding it? -B.C., Ashkelon Rahel Granot, director of weight-loss workshops at the Herzliya Medical Center, advises: You don't necessarily have to gain weight on vacation, even though there are many temptations, and you feel you want your money's worth. When you go to the hotel dining room, first survey the food without taking a plate with you. Decide in advance how many times you will go back to the buffet for food - and stick to it. Take advantage of the large variety of vegetables and fibers to satisfy without adding a lot of calories. Try not to arrive at a hotel meal when you're very hungry so that you don't lose control. Be careful to avoid high-calorie sauces. Prefer water to fruit juices, which are often sweetened and very fattening. If you want dessert, have one scoop of ice cream; it has many fewer calories than gooey cakes and pies. Avoid sampling food in your room's minibar; save the expense and the unnecessary calories. And by all means take advantage of the sports facilities at the hotel. Swim in the pool, do sports and take walks to enjoy the scenery. Rx For Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx For Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to jsiegel@jpost.com, giving your initials, age and residence.