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)


Is there a way to help your child avoid the common cold?

In the late 19th century Sir William Osler, one of the founding doctors of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, said that colds should be treated with contempt. It’s not known if Dr. Osler was suffering from a cold at the time, but this fact is known – we all get them from time to time and some kids get more than their share. It is nearly impossible for your child to avoid catching a cold. Adults average 2 to 3 colds per year and children 6 to 10, depending on their age and exposure. Youngsters are particularly susceptible to colds because of their close contact with other children, they have yet to learn good personal hygiene, such as hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes, and they constantly have their hands in their mouth and nose.

Yet, there are some things that can be done to reduce the frequency of colds in children (and adults, as well)
. First, parents should get to know their enemy, how we are infected, and if we can discover any weaknesses in our opponent. Second, parents should do all they can to keep their child’s immune system strong.

The enemy is one of over 100 different viruses, with strange sounding names like rhinovirus and adenovirus. The viruses first contaminate the hands of a child or adult with a cold as a result of nose blowing, covering sneezes, and touching the nose. The virus also contaminates objects (particularly toys) and surfaces in the environment of the cold sufferer. Casual contact transfers the virus to the hands of a non-infected child or adult, who then infects his or her self by touching their nose or rubbing their eyes (virus deposited in the eye promptly goes down the tear duct into the nose). Touching contaminated toys and surfaces, where they can survive up to three hours, can also pick up the virus. Less often, an adult or child can be infected when they breathe virus-containing droplets that were recently expelled in coughs and sneezes by an infected person (did you know that airborne droplets can travel up to 25 feet?).

Once infected, it takes only 8-12 hours for the viruses to begin multiplying and another 10-12 hours for cold symptoms to begin. Therefore, the only defense against the virus is to prevent this uninvited guest from entering the body in the first place.

Teach Your Kids to Wash Their Hands.
80% of all infectious disease could be eliminated by more frequent and proper hand washing with soap and water. This is the first line of defense against colds. It takes lots of soap, hot water, and 15 seconds of scrubbing to do any good. Remind your kids that they should never put their hands in their eyes or to their nose without washing them first.

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Encourage your kids to use tissue instead cloth handkerchiefs
Handkerchiefs catch and retain the viruses. Encourage your youngster to use paper facial tissue instead, and then throw them away immediately after each use. And remember to remind them to wash your hands after blowing your nose. Infectious disease specialists encourage parents to tell their kids to “blow, throw and wash” theory. After they blow their nose, be sure that they throw the tissue away…don’t carry it around… and then, wash your hands.

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Reduce your child’s social life. If you know that there is a high incidence of colds in your community, try to keep your child’s contact with other children to a minimum. Limit your youngster’s time they spend with infected kids.

Get some fresh air
During the cold season, kids tend to stay indoors and the germs spread faster this way. By opening windows and doors for a few minutes, and allowing air to circulate, you can push out airborne viruses. Viruses love stagnant air.

Help keep your child’s nasal passages clear Artificial heating tends to be very drying, so consider using a humidifier in the home to keep their air moist enough so as not to dry out the mucus membranes of the nose. Likewise, an air filter in an indoor environment, especially a HEPA type filter, can help remove airborne dust and germs.

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Eliminate Cigarette Smoke from Your Child‘s Environment Children exposed to passive cigarette smoke will get five times the number of colds when compared to youngsters who live in a smoke-free home.

Get Plenty of Sleep Our moms were right on when they encouraged us to get enough sleep. Although researchers have not directly proven that sleep deprivation causes more colds, some studies have sleep loss of three to four hours can cause a 50 percent decline in immune response.

When possible avoid closed-in spaces. Airplanes are virus-breading grounds. Cold viruses can’t escape these poorly ventilated areas. In addition, these areas are notorious for providing low humidity. This dries our mucous membranes that normally trap and dispose of viral invaders. A closed in space is just one more opportunity for the virus to spread to your child.