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All About Ear-Cartilage Pain

Dear Dr. Roach: Regarding your column on ear-cartilage pain, I asked my dermatologist about it, because I had a similar pain in/on both ears. She mentioned that old (I’m 67, and resented the age reference) cartilage often gets irritated like that, and suggested I get a pillow with a “well” for the ear. (I happen to always sleep on my right side, so that is easy.) The goofy-looking pillow isn’t too successful— it’s too fat and it doesn’t allow much movement in bed. A very soft down pillow with a satin pillowcase has done wonders for me. I hope I am not ignoring this rare autoimmune disease that is eating away at my other cartilage. — B.B.

Answer: I received more letters on this column than any I have written. One suggested it might be TMJ. Another suggested gout. Several readers recommended a foam pillow with a cutout for the ear. Many, like B.B., worried that they had relapsing polychondritis, as I had suggested the possibility. I would be more concerned about relapsing polychondritis if more than one area were involved, such as the nose or eyes as well.

A dermatologist suggested the diagnosis of chondrodermatitis nodularis helicis, which is a benign, painful inflammation of the cartilage of the ear. Small nodules are often found along the cartilage, but not always at the onset of symptoms.

Dear Dr. Roach: I have taken Aleve as needed for my constant aches and pains due to working in a factory for almost 20 years. At first, it was a wonder drug for me. Just one pill at the start of my shift would last the whole day. But a strange thing happened: I developed a worsening rash each time I took Aleve.

Could I have developed an allergic reaction? I do not have any issues with ibuprofen or Naproxen from my family doctor. — R.D.

Answer: It does sound like an allergy. People can develop allergies over years; indeed, allergies by definition must occur after at least one exposure. However, it could be an allergy to a component in the pill that isn’t the active ingredient, naproxen. Nonetheless, I would suggest a different medicine, since allergies can worsen over time, and yours is clearly worsening. I would suggest Tylenol, ibuprofen or a different anti-inflammatory.

Dear Dr. Roach: My doctor has prescribed me Flomax and Proscar, but I heard that Proscar causes cancer. Is this medication safe? My doctor also said that my frequent urination could be helped by surgery, but I have read that due to scar tissue, the surgery sometimes does not help. After looking at my bladder the doctor said that my problem is due to my prostate. If I neither take the Proscar nor have the surgery, will the frequent urination in itself cause more problems? — W.S.

Answer: The best scientific consensus right now is that Proscar does not cause cancer. In one study, Proscar reduced the overall cancer risk, but seemed to increase a type of aggressive cancer. In subsequent analyses, this concern didn’t hold up.

You are correct that sometimes surgery doesn’t work, and even rarely can make things worse. The major concern with enlarged prostate without treatment is urine infection and obstruction. Stay away from Sudafed and other cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, as they can prevent you from being able to urinate at all.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or write to P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.