Monday, 30 November -0001

YOUR HEALTH Dr James Le Fanu: 11 May

A lesson learnt from a dog, itchy feet at night, and a painless ‘magic’ method of removing a splinter

Written by Dr James Le Fanu
James-Le-FanuIt cannot be every day that taking the dog for a walk provides a major insight into the workings of the brain. But it happened to neurologist Theodore Brandt after his golden retriever Tessa woke one morning looking decidedly groggy.

'She veered to the left when walking, staggered about in counterclockwise circles and fell repeatedly,' he writes in The Lancet. This was clearly an acute attack of vertigo due to the inflammation of the balance mechanism of the ear. In humans this condition is known as vestibular neuritis.

To Dr Brandt's surprise, however, once Tessa was outside and running around, 'she was obviously much more confident, as her raised, wagging tail indicated,' he adds. 'But whenever she stopped running she promptly started falling over again.'

He wondered whether the same phenomenon might be detectable in humans – and asked four of his patients with vestibular neuritis to walk, and then run down a corridor while he videotaped the results.

'When walking, they all had gait deviation towards the affected side and had to hold on to the wall for support,' he writes. 'But when running, they maintained their direction and felt much more secure.'

He had, he realised, stumbled upon a previously unrecognised mechanism involved in staying upright – with considerable implications. Those with balance problems are usually advised to take things slowly and carefully, but clearly they could be a lot better if they actually speeded up.

This week's query comes courtesy of a lady from Leigh-on-Sea who for some years now has been troubled by a 'terrible itch' on the soles of her feet. 'It feels as though there is an electric worm burrowing around the ball of my foot,' she writes.

No amount of scratching or rubbing brings relief. The itch always starts around the same time – between 3am and 5am – and lasts for about half an hour.

This nocturnal foot itch is not unusual, although its cause remains obscure. It can be helped by massaging the feet with lavender oil or horse-chestnut extract before retiring. The further possibility is that this might be a variation of those curious sensory disturbances of the lower limbs at night – such as restless leg syndrome. This is often markedly improved with a low dose of the anti-Parkinson's drug ropinirole – and it would be worthwhile considering a trial of this medication to see if it improves matters.

Finally, the conventional method of removing splinters with a sterilised safety pin inevitably causes some discomfort. This can be avoided with an ingenious remedy used by the family of a reader for several generations: 'You cover a piece of lint with some soft soap from the undersurface of a soap bar. Then, add a small amount of brown sugar, place over the site of the splinter and stick down firmly. Leave overnight and hey presto, the splinter will be there on the lint in the morning'.


Recent surveys have confirmed, as might be expected, that the aerodynamic noise generated by wind turbines can have a seriously adverse effect on people's lives. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Christopher Hanning, honorary consultant in sleep medicine, reports that a fifth of those living in close proximity complain of disturbed sleep. This in turn has an adverse effect on their general mental wellbeing. 'Robust independent research into the health effects of wind farms is long overdue,' he argues – as is a review of existing guidelines on acceptable noise levels.

Health-James-02-176HOME REMEDY: Traumeel

Since I mentioned Traumeel cream and drops in my column a few weeks ago, I've had many requests from you wanting to know more. It was my motherin- law who first got me on to it after she used the cream on her foot while she was recovering from a minor operation – she was amazed at how quickly it got better.

The cream is a mixture of homeopathic remedies – some well known like arnica (left), for bruises; hypericum, for nerves; and calendula, for skin; along with other less-well-known ones like Symphytum officinale, the common plant comfrey – traditionally used for bone injury. The cream works by regulating the inflammation response that is triggered by a minor injury, such as a sprain or strain. I spoke to Sarah Bell who sells Traumeel products in the UK. She enthuses about its use on humans and horses. Most owners of horses are open to trying alternative methods, and they won't mince their words if it doesn't work. Please give her a call if you want to find out more.

Sarah Bell: 01747-813901,

Sof McVeigh:

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