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Tips

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Colds and Influenza

Traditionally over winter we can catch viral infections which make us sick. This could be runny nose, headache and fever lasting 3 days (coryza, common cold) and including lethargy, body ache and prolonged coughing (influenza or flu, recent widely publicised strains have been “bird flu”, “swine flu”). Both colds and flu start very similarly and so makes influenza (the more serious of the 2) hard to diagnose in the beginning. Treatment for common cold and influenza is conservative with symptom control (for fever, aches, runny nose and cough). However, as we age the body does not cope as well and the damage to the airways can put people into hospital for supportive treatment. The best weapon we have against either of these viral infections is avoidance. This involves not catching the virus by avoiding coughing people (at least get out of the direction of cough and cover your nose and mouth), regular hand washing with soap and water. Cleaning hands and surfaces (door handles, phones, tables for example) regularly with alcoholic wipes or solution is useful to reduce viral exposure. If the virus has made it into the body, a chemical messenger called interferon is produced to make the body fight the virus. It is the interferon which gives the terrible symptoms. Immunisation (flu shot) before the flu season starts will assist your body to kill the virus before it spreads. Within 36 hours of exposure to influenza virus, 2 types of medications could help lessen the influenza infection. A course of nasal spray (“Relenza”) or a course of oral tablets (“Tamiflu”). These can help to stop the virus from spreading and allow the body to clear up the remaining virus. These medications are not subsided and can cost $40-70 a course.
Further reading:

http://www.fightflu.co.nz
http://www.moh.govt.nz/influenza-a-h1n1

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Allergy

Allergies are very common, unfortunately. These range from hayfever to life threatening anaphylaxis. The common skin rashes, blocked or runny noses due to contact with allergen (like pollen, grass, dust mite protein, chemicals) are a nuisance but rarely do they cause major problems. Some of these could trigger an asthma attack which could be life threatening but hopefully a good management plan can lessen the risks. The other increasingly common reactions involve food. Some people are intolerant (like milk lactose intolerance causing bloating and farting) and some people are allergic (like milk protein causing a severe reaction resulting in swelling of the airways and possibly welts on the skin). The cause is the body’s over reaction to certain proteins in the food which for some reason has become “the enemy”. There are many theories as to why and the treatment is usually symptom control and involves avoidance. Conventional treatment involves avoidance, maintaining skin and body health, and reducing the immune system responsiveness usually with medications. We can provide this management. I am aware of a variety of alternative therapies also, however these probably like conventional treatment may not cure the problem. .
Further reading:

ALLERGY NEW ZEALAND
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Sun exposure and skin damage

Overwhelming evidence for benefit of keeping out of the sun especially at peak times in summer (10am-2pm), by covering up with clothes or using sun block of as higher SPF rating as possible. Rates of melanoma (one of the most aggressive types of skin cancers known) in Australasia are among the highest in the world. This risk is increase if “burning” occurs in childhood under 14 year old. This potentially sets up a much higher risk in later life – this could be as early as the 20s developing melanoma. Damaged skin in later life will be dry, “baggy saggy”, irregularly pigmented skin and having moles. It is important to ensure regular checks if there is a high risk of melanoma especially if there are relatives who have developed melanoma at any age. Belmont Medical Centre is proud to be able to provide technology to enhance diagnosis and recording of suspicious moles. We can also provide a lesion removal service to treat and diagnose them.
Further reading: Clinical Guidelines for the Management of Melanoma in Australia and New Zealand – Ministry of Health 2008

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Antibiotics

These are relatively new agents developed in the 1940s as dyes for commercial use and also the original observation of antibacterial effects from Penicillium notatum moulds. The Antibiotic era started and new agents were developed for a long time until about the 1960s when development of new agents stagnated. The antibiotics have pretty much been the same until this new century when novel agents have been developed. This has largely been spurred on by the observation that resistant organisms have been on the increase causing higher death rates. We are still winning, as it were. With careful use of antibiotics for actual bacterial infection rather than viral infections (the most common “flu or cold” cause) will extend their useful life hopefully into mid this century. As useful as antibiotics are they cause side effects, the most common is gastric upset possibly leading to vomiting and or diarrhoea. Some people develop a condition call thrush. This is an opportunistic fungal infection which can be treated. Taking pro-biotics with your Antibiotics may reduce this if you are susceptible. Your chemist has a selection. Tip – chose those variety that are refrigerated and have the longest expiry date to ensure the maximum useful organisms.