Q: I don’t believe in immunisation and I do not want to immunise my child. I think immunisation is useless. My doctor keeps shouting at me for this.
A: In many countries laws regulate immunisation. You have to produce proof of immunisation if you want to send your child to school. Education is compulsory, so you have no alternative other than complying with immunisation. India’s laws are not that stringent. However, immunisation protects children against dangerous and debilitating diseases. You child is unable to make decisions. So you have to protect your child in the same way as you would not let him / her loose alone in a shopping mall or on a crowded road with heavy and fast traffic.
Q: My ring finger snaps when I try to bend it and then will not straighten on its own, no matter how hard I try. I have to force it straight and this is very painful. I was prescribed medicine for this but there is no improvement.
A: Such a condition is called trigger finger. It can occur unexpectedly or after an injury. It can be part of the spectrum of symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis. It is due to the narrowing of a tendon sheath.
Try soaking your finger in hot water for 10 minutes morning and evening, passive physiotherapy and anti inflammatory medication. If these don’t help, the next step is injecting steroids locally. Surgery is the last option.
Q: Do I need to remove underarm hair?
A: Underarm hair needs to be removed if the hair follicles have developed an infection, with painful pus filled follicles. If there is strong body odour, it is best to remove underarm hair as deodorant or perfume will stick to the hair shaft and not help with the smell. It can be removed for cosmetic reasons too, especially if you plan to wear sleeveless clothes. Visible hairy underarms are socially accepted, so the choice is yours.
Q: I have been put on atorvastatin for high cholesterol. When I take the tablets my cholesterol is normal. If I discontinue, the levels increase.
A: If your cholesterol is elevated, try a low-fat diet and regular exercise for two months. If the level is still high you need medication (usually atorvastatin), which your physician has already started. The medicine will reduce your cholesterol. Once you discontinue the medication the levels will rise again. This is because your body now needs help for adequate fat metabolism.
Q: I took emergency contraception twice and had the abortion pill once. My periods are now irregular.
A: Emergency contraceptive pills contain hormones. The abortion pill contains prostaglandin like compounds. None of these is good for your health. They should be used only when unavoidable. You should not rely on them to prevent pregnancy. You could use condoms, oral contraceptive pills, insert an intrauterine contraceptive device or take regular progesterone injections (once in 28 days).
If your periods are irregular, see a gynaecologist to determine the cause.
Q: I ran a temperature every day for two months and lost a great deal of weight. Initially, I went to several private clinics and they gave me antibiotics. There was no improvement so I went to a corporate hospital. They diagnosed tuberculosis and AIDS. I think I picked up the infection by accident a year ago.
A: How and where you got the infection is now immaterial. You have to move forward and proceed with treatment to keep the disease in check. This combination of AIDS and TB is common. The HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) depresses your immunity. You become susceptible to various infectious diseases like tuberculosis. You need to get help from a centre that treats AIDS. The government supports much of the treatment. The first line drugs for both diseases are free. You need to be regular with treatment. You should not miss a single dose.
Q: I work out in the gym and was told that I need to take sports drinks so that I do not get dehydrated, whether I feel thirsty or not.
A: The sports drink market is a lucrative one. Athletes are advised to use isotonic sports drinks to hydrate adequately before and after the event. Sports drink manufacturers sponsored most of these studies.
The best guide to hydration is thirst. If you are thirsty, drink fluids such as water, homemade buttermilk or lightly salted lime juice. (This is a lot cheaper than readymade sports drinks). Let your thirst regulate the amount of fluid you take in.
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