Q: My eight-year-old son has frequent attacks of diarrhoea. The doctor always prescribes antibiotics. Are so many antibiotics needed?
A: Children often develop diarrhoea when they go to school. They may be sharing food with other children. They may run out of water and drink unhygienic water from any source they find. They may have a little money with them and buy eatables from roadside eateries.
The diarrhoea and vomiting may be due to food poisoning or a viral infection. It may not be an infective bacterial diarrhoea that requires and responds to antibiotics.
Before going to the doctor, try some home remedies. Stop all milk, sugar and wheat. Take equal quantities of rice and dal in a pressure cooker and cook it well. Mash it and feed it to your son, two teaspoons at a time every 10 minutes. If the vomiting and diarrhoea persist, or if he has not passed urine for eight hours, please go to the doctor. Otherwise this may be all the treatment he requires.
Too many pills
Q: Whenever anyone in the family has fever, our doctor prescribes two to three antibiotics. Is this normal?
A: A combination of two antibiotics may be prescribed for a life threatening infection, where a blood culture has grown more than one organism. This may be the case in individuals whose immunity is insufficient — as in cancer patients or those infected with the HIV virus. Most people need only a single appropriate antibiotic in adequate dosage and duration.
If you develop fever, wait for three days. Take paracetamol when the temperature rises above 100.5 degree F. If the fever persists consult your doctor, but ask for a diagnosis before taking any medication. Also, maintain a file with dates, diagnoses and a list of prescribed medications.
Q: I am 22 years old and have pain on the left side of my chest. It appears with exercise. I am scared I might have a heart attack.
A: At the age of 22, the chest pain you are experiencing is unlikely to be a heart attack, but stranger things have been known to occur. Take a plain X-ray of the chest as well as an ECG, treadmill and echo. The results are likely to be normal, but the tests will help put your mind at ease.
Chest pain can occur in a localised area of the chest wall owing to fibromyalgia or costochondritis. Press your chest and see if you can elicit the pain. If so, the diagnosis may be one of these two conditions.
Physiotherapy will help ease the pain. You can also apply a capsaicin containing gel to the area followed by application of ice.
Yeast for health
Q: I read that yeast is good for health. Can I eat bakers yeast?
A: Bakers yeast is used for fermentation, so that the bread rises and becomes soft before baking. The same yeast is sold as a medical supplement under the name Brewers yeast. It is a rich source of B-complex vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine and pantothenic acid. It is one of the few natural foods that contain folic acid and biotin. Brewers yeast also has essential minerals like chromium and selenium. It is available as powdered flakes and tablets. The usual dose is two tablespoons of the flakes or one 300mg tablet three times a day. It is a harmless food supplement which may confer some health benefits. But it should be avoided by people on psychiatric medications and those who are suffering from gout.
Q: My baby has developed redness in the groin area. It looks inflamed and pains when I touch it.
A: What you are describing is a type of diaper rash. You need to —
Bathe the baby with a non-irritating mild soap and not a medicated antiseptic one
Make sure the area is wiped dry with a soft towel
Apply a cream containing Clotrimazole as a single ingredient. It should not be combined with steroids
Avoid using talcum powder
Wash the babys diapers with a Neem-based washing soap. This is available in Khadi and Village Industries outlets. Avoid soaking the clothes in antiseptic solutions.
If possible, switch to disposable diapers.
Q: We live very close to a railway station. The loud sound of passing trains makes the whole house vibrate. We have had a baby recently. Will it affect her?
A: Children become accustomed to the noises they hear in the womb. And those sounds do not disturb their sleep.
Therefore, the trains and the vibration will not affect the babys sleep as she is acclimatised to it. But the disadvantage of living with loud ambient noise is that it causes progressive loss of hearing. This will affect you, your wife and eventually your child. It also produces stress in adults.
Dr Gita Mathai is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore. Questions on health issues may be emailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org