Thursday, 28 June 2012

Your Health Dr James Le Fanu: 29 June

The adverse effects of modern technology, clearing night-time nasal congestion and soothing period pain

Written by Dr James Le Fanu
The memory, like any other faculty, is strengthened by constant use. This presumably accounts for the fact, often commented on by my contemporaries, that their parents' powers of recall seem to be so much better than their own. Certainly my father's struck me as prodigious – 70 years after his prep school days he could still recall all the names of the boys in his class. But then he also knew vast chunks of Shakespeare and the German Romantic Poets (learnt by heart when young) which he would, if prompted, eloquently declaim.

The practice of memorising poetry was in sharp decline by the time I went to school – but what of future generations who now no longer even have to memorise telephone numbers, as they are stored in their mobile phones and computers?

Nor is human memory the only casualty of our increasing reliance on modern technology, as it seems both punctuality and sociability are adversely effected. Certainly, there now seems less of an obligation to be on time or keep appointments, with many people admitting to being unreliable as they have the safety net of the mobile phone to fall back on if they are running late.

As for sociability, chatting on the mobile while on the bus or similar public places has displaced the traditional and ever-interesting pastime of 'people watching'; or as William Davies points out in the magazine Prospect, 'Mobiles allow us to escape from the here and now, to opt in and out of social situations in a particularly egocentric fashion.'

The final hidden adverse effect of modern communication would seem to be impatience. Now in this age of instant access to the internet, a survey suggests that people are reluctant to wait – whether at the bank, the dentist or the hairdresser. That quintessential symbol of British stoicism and order, the queue, is in sharp decline, with a fifth of respondents claiming they would rather abandon a full supermarket trolley than stand in a lengthy line at the checkout.

This week's medical problem comes courtesy of a reader from Oxford who is troubled by night-time nasal congestion that causes her to wake several times with a blocked nose and a coating of mucus in the mouth, that is also bone dry. Her family doctor has prescribed nasal sprays and antihistamines, but to no avail.

It would seem sensible in the first instance to make a habit of clearing the nasal passages every evening with a steam inhalation – place hot water in a shallow pan with a drop of menthol, put a towel over the head and inhale deeply. For some people catarrh is exacerbated by milk and dairy products, so it might be worthwhile cutting these foods out for a fortnight (or switching to, for example, skimmed milk) to see if this improves matters. Finally, these symptoms are most certainly exacerbated by a low grade infection in the sinuses, warranting a course of treatment with antibiotics such as clarithromycin, which that can often markedly reduce the symptoms of nasal catarrh.





Period pain is relieved by taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as Nurofen or the oral contraceptive pill. Recently, Dr Khalid Khan of London St Bartholomew's Hospital, writing in the British Medical Journal, has reviewed the efficacy of a range of alternative or complementary remedies, with disappointing results for spinal manipulation and acupuncture. More promising is relief from a hot-water bottle, and two dietary supplements taken daily: 60mg of thiamine, or fish-oil capsules. Chinese herbal medicine may offer better pain relief, though in his studies Dr Khan found that there were 'serious methodological deficiencies'.




HOME REMEDY: Wild flowers

James-Le-Fanu-Jun29-02-176As regular readers will know, I use many wild flowers for my Home Remedies, so the ability to identify them correctly is essential to anyone who wants to make their own remedies, as there are a fair few lethal plants out there.

I have several favourite books – from my well-thumbed, pocket-sized Collins Wild Flowers to Jekka McVicar's more in-depth herbal books.

And now I have another tome on my bookshelves. At the Hay Festival I heard Sarah Raven talk about her new book on wild flowers.

This is a large and expensive book, but it is truly beautiful and a joy to delve into. She gives a personal description, or vignette, of the flowers, which brings them to life and makes it easier to identify them as a result – much as the best bird-spotting books do. (OK, maybe I need to get out more.)

So now I can easily remember why navelwort is so-called – its circular leaves with a little indent look like a tummy button; and now I know just how strong wild garlic leaves (shown left) are, as a whole week's-worth of milk had to be thrown away after the cows ate a patch of wild garlic – the smell was so overpowering.

Wild Flowers by Sarah Raven (Bloomsbury Publishing, released on 30 August, £30).

Sof McVeigh: 

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