Eczema: The eternal itch
Beware of backache
Prostate cancer: check it early
Dealing with menopause
A healthy cuppa
Eczema: The eternal itch
The term eczema comes from ancient Greece and literally means 'to boil
over'. This is exactly how the skin feels for around 1 in 5 children and
around 1 in 10 adults who are affected with eczema.
Their skin becomes itchy, dry, flaky, and often red and painful. Eczema
can appear anywhere on the body but is found most commonly in the skin
creases of the elbows and wrists, and behind the knees. Babies are commonly
affected on their faces, in particular, the cheeks.
The commonest type of eczema is called atopic eczema. It tends to develop
in childhood, sometimes just after birth. Many children grow out of it
as they get older but it can flare up again when they are adults. This
type tends to run in families and is more likely if someone also has other
atopic conditions such as asthma or hayfever.
The other common type is contact eczema, which usually affects adults.
It's caused by contact with something that the person is allergic to -
for example, nickel - or something that irritates the skin, for example,
detergents. Many other common substances such as soaps and perfumes cause
Other less common types are seborrhoeic eczema, which commonly affects
the scalp and eye-lashes as a very severe form of dandruff; and discoid
eczema, which causes circular patches of eczema all over the body.
Many victims find that certain things will make their eczema worse.
These are called triggers, and the common ones include emotional or physical
stress,changes in the weather, in women, their periods and for some people,
certain foods. An important part of the treatment of eczema is to try and
avoid any triggers if you can.
If dry, itchy, eczematous skin is scratched and left untreated then
it not only becomes infected but the skin thickens and becomes unattractive
to look at. Although eczema cannot be cured, it can be kept at bay - and
it's very important to do this to keep the skin healthy and looking good.
The mainstay of treatment is keeping the skin moisturised. Even when
the eczema is under control the skin must be moisturised every day to prevent
it from becoming too dry. Otherwise the eczema will flare up.
Emollient creams or ointments keep the skin hydrated and can also be
used as a soap substitute since many soaps dry the skin by removing its
protective moisture layer.
Emollient liquids can be mixed in the bath water to achieve the same
effect. When the skin is itchy, rubbing some of these creams into the itchy
areas instead of scratching will soothe the itch without causing further
A steroid cream or ointment is usually used to calm flare-ups.
Since these are often triggered by the staphylococcus aureus bacteria,
an antibiotic cream can be combined with the steroid as a convenient combination
For healthy skin it's also important to get a good intake of Vitamins
C and E.
Beware of backache
Backache is among the commonest complaints of patients and yet doctors
are notoriously slow at treating it: in most cases, no exact diagnosis
is made, and no reliable treatment is given. There are many medical causes,
from arthritis to muscle tears, to abnormal curvature of the spine that
Seeing a doctor the first time you develop back pain may rule out treatable
medical problems, especially if the sufferer is young.
In the acute stages of backache following a sudden strain or injury,
some treatment will help most people. Regular and effective pain relief
is essential. Pain killers at fixed intervals and alternate hot and cold
compresses may also help relieve pain. Take the strain off the back by
lying flat as much as possible, in between periods of gentle mobilization.
If this is not enough to hold the pain, a doctor should be sought. It is
possible to prevent low back pain, or reduce the chance that it will recur.
As a general rule, being fitter and having a strong back and good posture
also helps. Two good types of exercise for backs, especially while recovering
from an injury, are cycling and swimming. Some sports put extra strain
on the back, such as golf and racquet sports and are best avoided. Making
the home and work environment "back-friendly" will help. Many back problems
are the result of, or aggravated by, poorly designed furniture, chairs
which slope the wrong way and don't support the lumbar spine, soft beds,
floppy pillows, work surfaces at the wrong height. Whatever the posture,
the spine should be as straight as possible.
And last but not the least, learn how to lift safely. Sudden lifting
of heavy weights is a common cause of precipitating or aggravating back
problems. Take the pressure off the spine by lifting with bent knees.
Prostate cancer: check it early
Prostate cancer is among the commonest cancers in men, as breast cancer
is in women.The cause of prostate cancer is unknown, although some studies
have shown a relationship between high dietary fat intake and increased
levels of the male hormone, testosterone. When testosterone levels are
lowered either by surgical removal of the testicles (orchiectomy) or by
medication, prostate cancer can regress.
Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of death from cancer
in men of all ages and is the most common cause of death from cancer in
men over 75 years. Prostate cancer is rarely found in men younger than
40 years. With the advent of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) testing, most
prostate cancers are now found before they cause symptoms. Urinary hesitancy
(delayed or slowed start of urinary stream), urinary dribbling, especially
immediately after urinating, urinary retention, pain with urination and
lower back pain are among the commoner symptoms. When these symptoms occur
frequently a doctor should be consulted and he will often do a rectal examination.
A rectal exam often reveals the hard, irregular surface of an enlarged
prostate if it is cancerous.
Treatment options vary based on the stage of the tumour. In the early
stages, surgical removal of the prostate (prostatectomy) and radiation
therapy may be used to eradicate the tumor. Metastatic cancer of the prostate
may be treated by hormonal manipulation (reducing the levels of testosterone
by drugs or removal of the testes) or chemotherapy. Surgical treatment
is usually only recommended after thorough evaluation and discussion of
the treatment options. A man considering surgery should be aware of the
expected benefit of the procedure, as well as its risks.
Dealing with menopause
Centuries ago most women died long before they even reached menopause,
and for the rest it was seen as a sign that old age had arrived. These
days, instead of marking the end of the road, menopause simply opens the
door to a new phase in a woman's life - a phase which will last at least
30 years in most cases.
But menopause can bring profound physical changes to the body and it
is extremely helpful to be aware of them. As a woman gets older the supply
of eggs in the ovary slowly runs out. Once she stops producing eggs, the
major supply of oestrogen is lost and levels in the body drop considerably.
The average age at which this occurs is 51, although it can begin as early
as 40 or as late as 60.
This drop in oestrogen causes short term problems as the body adapts
to low levels (hot flushes and night sweats, difficulty in sleeping, tiredness,
headaches, emotional problems such as depression, irritability and mood
swings), intermediate effects (thinning and drying of the skin, vaginal
discomfort, dryness and urinary problems) and long term changes to the
body ( an increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and cancers of
the reproductive tract).
At least 70% of women have some sort of short-term symptoms when the
menopause begins. It is best to try and accept the problem as just a temporary
phenomenon. If simple remedies such as taking a sedative to help sleep
bring relief , there is no harm in trying them as long as they are not
There are endless shelves of products in the pharmacy deal with the
intermediate changes of menopause - dry skin and vaginal dryness. However,
it is best that these are taken only on the advice of a doctor.
It is also important to look out for osteoporosis.
Menopause is also a time when the risk of heart disease increases, especially
if other risk factors (smoking, a family history of heart disease, high
blood pressure and being overweight) are present. If these risks are present,
it is best to ask a doctor for help. Menopause also increases the risk
of cancers of the female reproductive system: breast cancer, endometrial
cancer and ovarian cancer. Having the breasts examined, reporting any abnormal
bleeding or symptoms of vaginal discharge as soon as possible to a doctor
and a cervical smear test can help allay these anxieties.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) provides a supply of oestrogen to
top up the falling levels of the hormone. Some women swear by it, others
don't, but what the research does show is that HRT can dramatically reduce
your risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. There are different types
of HRT, but sadly many women don't persist long enough with treatment to
find one that suits them. This must be discussed with a doctor.
A healthy cuppa
By Dr. D.P. Atukorale
Tea is one of the healthiest beverages today due to its high content of
antioxidants, called flavonoids. Antioxidants can protect us from the harmful
effects of free radicals.
A free radical is an unstable substance which can disrupt and damage
molecules in the body and have been implicated in the slow chain reaction
of damage leading to heart disease, cancer and the aging process. The best
known antioxidants are Vitamin C,E and beta - carotene found in fruits,
vegetables, cereals and vegetable oils. The antioxidant capacity of tea
depends on how long you brew it. Within five minutes of brewing, 85% of
the antioxidant potential of tea was released and the other 15% after another
One should not drink more than 10 cups of tea per day. If consumed in
excess, tea produces undesirable effects.
At the Epidemiological Congress 2001, a joint meeting of Canadian and
American Scientific Societies, a new research paper on the health benefits
of drinking black tea was presented. The paper recorded that of 1764 Saudi
women studied, tea drinkers were 19% less likely to suffer from cardiovascular
disease. The women who consumed black tea had total cholesterol, triglycerides
and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels which were significantly lower
than in non-tea drinkers. The most marked reduction in blood lipid levels
was observed in women who consumed six or more cups of black tea per day.
Studies confirm the critical role of antioxidants found abundantly in
tea to prevent heart disease. Drinking tea can soak your brain in antioxidants
thus slowing down brain decline. There is evidence that tea can cut the
risk of strokes. Japanese researchers at Saitoma Cancer Center Research
Institute have found that in heavy consumers of green tea, the cancer spread
to lymph nodes was less frequent.
Green tea appears to improve prognosis and survival by suppressing the
spread and growth of breast cancer.
A little milk with tea actually boosts protection against breast cancer,
but, too much abolishes the anti-cancer effects. So take a couple of teaspoons
of milk in an eight ounce cup of tea. Tea also helps prevent tooth decay
as it contains a solid dose of fluoride. Black tea helps to keep plaque
from forming on your teeth. British researchers have found that female
tea drinkers have stronger bones than non-tea drinkers. Tea also helps
you to burn more calories and may stave off signs of aging.