DEAR DR. ROACH: I just turned 68. For the past couple of months, my ear canals have been very itchy. Also, my wife was constantly cleaning earwax out of my ears. Now for some reason I no longer produce earwax, but my ears itch a lot. Do you have any idea what may be causing this? How do I stop the itching? I have tried olive oil. It seems to work but not really that well. A doctor looked in my ear and said the ear canals look fine. — R.K.
ANSWER: Itching in the ear canals is common, but usually an exam is able to lead the examiner to at least suspect a diagnosis. An incipient ear infection is one common reason, but your issue has been going on for months. Skin conditions that itch, such as eczema, is another common one. The doctor might have seen this, but sometimes the findings are subtle. Just having dry skin is a common cause, especially in winter, and olive oil is one treatment, but if it isn’t working it’s time to stop. I often see people make their problem worse by using inappropriate therapies, especially peroxide, and also by putting objects in the ear to scratch it. This can lead to abrasions, lacerations and worse that I won’t horrify you with.
I would get the ear looked at again, and if there still is nothing to see, one treatment is a mild prescription steroid drop for a period of time. Your regular doctor or an ear/nose/throat specialist would be a good choice.
DEAR DR. ROACH: Are net carbs really a thing? I understand low impact on blood sugar, but not measuring net carbs. — H.C.
ANSWER: The “net carbs” number is normally calculated by taking the grams of total carbohydrates and subtracting the grams of fiber and sugar alcohols. It’s an attempt to look at the effect on blood sugar, and it has modest informational benefit. It can be misleading, because some sugar alcohols (ending in “-ol,” like maltitol and xylitol) do increase blood sugar somewhat, though not as much as sugars (which end in “-ose,” like glucose and sucrose). I don’t recommend using the term “net carbs.” I think it’s more important to look at ingredients. Avoid large amounts of added sugar and processed starches. Make sure the carbohydrates you take in come mostly from vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. These are the foundations of a healthy diet, and you don’t need to count numbers.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I recently was diagnosed with kidney disease and was advised to drink eight glasses of water daily. I can only get down three glasses. Is it OK to drink tea instead? Would vitamins help? — E.K.
ANSWER: From the standpoint of your kidneys, tea and coffee count as water. Having adequate fluid intake is important for your kidneys, but most people who aren’t exercising or living in hot or dry environments don’t need eight full glasses a day. Vitamins are not necessary for kidney health; however, people with very advanced kidney disease often need a special form of vitamin D called calcitriol.