Health Problems & Solutions

Few Health Questions & Answers

Few Health Questions & Answers by Dr Gita Mathai is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore. If you have any questions on health issues, please write to

Q: Can I pierce my bellybutton?

A: Body piercing is now popular. If you are 21 years old, you are free to pierce your nose, ears or belly button. However, make sure your immunisations are up-to-date so that you do not develop tetanus or Hepatitis B from the procedure.

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Also ensure the shop is clean, the person washes his hands, uses disposable gloves and has disposable and sterile instruments. Check the type of metal being used in the jewellery.

Can I eat honey?

Q: I read honey is better and safer than sugar. Can I eat honey and give it to the rest of my family?

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A: Honey is sweeter than sugar and has a palatable flavour. This is why some people to prefer it to sugar and other sweeteners. The honey used should, however, be pure and not sweetened with sugar or jaggery.

Most bacteria do not grow in honey. However, it can be contaminated with dormant spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. In children these spores can be transformed into toxin-producing bacteria. It can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and even death.

Abnormal movements

Q: My eight-year-old daughter suddenly started writhing and sticking out her tongue. We took her to a neurologist. After blood tests, a CT scan and an MRI scan, he said it is chorea. His treatment, however, hasn’t helped.

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A: Sydenham chorea occurs in childhood, is commoner in girls and results from an infection by the same bacterium that causes rheumatic fever. It is characterised by rapid, irregular and aimless involuntary movements of the arms and legs, trunk and facial muscles.

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for chorea. If it is mild, bed rest may be sufficient. In more severe cases, sedative drugs or seizure medication may be needed.

However, most children recover completely in three to six weeks, although some may have symptoms for several months. In a third of the affected children, it can recur one or two years after the initial attack.

Painful knee

Q: My son has pain in his right knee. My doctor said it is apophysitis and that he will grow out of it. I am upset and confused.

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Your doctor has probably diagnosed tibial apophysitis. This is commoner in athletic boys and manifests itself during the adolescent growth spurt. It is due to overuse and typically causes pain, swelling and tenderness of the bony prominence of the upper shinbone. It does not cause any permanent deformity or complications. It needs only rest, warm fomentations and mild analgesics.

Lurching gait

Q: My son, 36, has developed severe headaches. He also lurches towards the right when he walks. He has a red birthmark on the left side of his face. The doctor says these are connected and has asked for a scan.

A: A red birthmark is a haemangiona, an abnormal collection of blood vessels. A similar malformation may be present internally, near the brain. Your doctor probably wants to rule that out as part of the investigations for the lurching gait.

Infectious diseases:

Q: My seven-year-old daughter developed typhoid. A few months later she developed jaundice. She has become thin and weak. Is anything wrong with her immunity?

A: We live in a tropical country with a high incidence of infectious diseases. Both the diseases you have mentioned (if the jaundice was Hepatitis A) are food or water borne.

Boil or purify the water before drinking it. Wash fruits and vegetables, if eaten raw, in the same purified water.

Immunisation is available against both these diseases. Typhoid can be prevented with a single vaccine injection. It costs between Rs 200 and Rs 300. It is given after the age of two years and repeated every three years. Hepatitis A and B can also be prevented. Immunisation for hepatitis A consists of two injections four to six months apart. It costs between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,300. No booster doses are required.

Your child’s immunity is probably normal. There seems to have been a breakdown in hygiene and immunisation.


My grandfather is a smoker and asthmatic. He gets frequent attacks of bronchitis. The doctor has asked us to immunise him. It sounded silly to us and so we changed doctors.

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A: Asthmatics are prone to exacerbations owing to infection or exposure to an allergen. If it is due to a bacterial infection, the sputum will be purulent for 48 hours. Among the organisms that can cause frequent infections, H Influenzae and S pneumoniae can be prevented by immunisation. Both can be given before the age of two years. As they are fairly recent vaccines your grandfather would not have received them.

The polyvalent pneumococcal vaccine can be given after the age of two years as a single injection against S pneumoniae. It provides a lifetime of protection. It is offered to adults over the age of 65 years who are at risk for pneumonia.

Source: The Telegraph (India, Kolkata)

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