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Q: My son lives for basketball. He practices two to three hours every day and has become very good, which is all the more amazing as no one else in the family has any athletic ability.

The only problem is his height. He is short for his age and probably will not be able to play varsity ball in high school, even though that is his dream.

He has started begging us to look into growth hormone shots, which he says will make him grow taller. We know nothing about this treatment and wonder if it is like steroids.

Our son is so desperate, we would like to help him. Will growth hormone really help him achieve extra height and is it safe?

A: Human growth hormone (HGH) is a natural substance made by the body to help regulate growth until adulthood. Extracts made from human cadavers have been used for decades for children whose short stature is caused by a deficiency of thishormone.

In 1985 a synthetic version of HGH was created through biotechnology, making this scarce substance readily available. Undoubtedly, some parents have been tempted to boost their children's growth even though they may have normal levels of the hormone.

Current research shows that giving HGH to healthy short children makes them grow faster. No one knows whether they will actually end up taller as adults, however, because the hormone causes growth to stop sooner.

Concerns about safety have not been settled. Children taking HGH become skinny and experience a dramatic change in body metabolism. Researchers do not know how children can handle this kind of stress, and questions about a possible increased risk of cancer should discourage casual use.

The cost is also a factor. At up to $15,000 a year, are you prepared to pay as much as $100,000 for an extra few inches? You might do better to invest in basketball camps and help your son to develop into a great ball handler and three-point shooter.

Be prepared next time

Q: Can condoms go bad? My wife and I went off for a romantic weekend to celebrate our 20th anniversary. In the middle of a passionate interlude I discovered that I had forgotten to bring along any condoms.

When I checked my travel kit in desperation, I found an old one that I used. Now I'm worried it may have been too old to trust.

A: Condoms may indeed deteriorate, though shelf life may be up to several years. Some brands are starting to put expiration dates on the label. Next time, plan ahead so you won't have to worry about an outdated prophylactic.

In addition to preventing pregnancy, condoms can help to protect against sexually transmitted diseases. For a free brochure describing proper use, call (800) 342-AIDS.

Tricks for eye drops

Q: My mother just had cataract surgery and the doctor prescribed eye drops four times a day. She has a hard time getting the drops into her eyes. Is there any special trick?

A: If she must put the drops in herself, the easiest way to do it is to pull out the lower lid gently into a little pouch. Put the drop in there, and close the eye for two minutes.

If someone else is administering the drops, there is a neat technique. Have her lie down with her eye closed. Put the drop in the corner of the eye near the nose. Then have her open briefly and then close the lid. It is still important to keep the eye shut for two minutes after the drop is put in.

Joe and Teresa Graedon answer questions from readers in their column. Write to them in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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