ASK THE DOG
Surgeon and lecturer Dr Sarah Rayne looks into migraine treatments, gives us the low-down on swine flu and suggests remedies for dry, peeling lips.
Q: A friend has been diagnosed with swine flu – hasn’t it been eradicated? How serious is it?
A: We often use the word ‘flu’ to describe a case of the sniffles, but if you’ve had real influenza, you’ll know that the combination of fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and runny nose can be a terrible experience. Happily, your body learns immunity to flu, which is why we don’t experience it all the time – but the virus can mutate to fool our defences. A new strain can cause a pandemic. In 2009, when swine flu first hit, no one was immune, so several people were affected and some even died.
But many have become used to this strain, and H1N1 ‘swine flu’ is part of the normal variant of flu included in the flu vaccine every year. So, we haven’t got rid of it – we’ve become used to it. Scientists at the World Health Organisation track outbreaks, on the lookout for the next world-threatening mutation. In the meantime, get a flu jab, particularly if you’re elderly, pregnant or have a weak immune system.
Q: I can’t find any information on the AtlasPROfilax or Atlas Orthogonal treatments. A Scandinavian friend said it cured her migraines. Do you know anything about them?
A: Both these techniques are manipulation and massage techniques of the upper spine. I don’t know much about these procedures, but having looked at the scientific (and lots of the non-scientific) information, I’ll try to tell you about them.
The atlas is the first joint in your neck and is a small ring-like bone that the skull (4–5kg) rests on. The bone encircles your spinal cord and the blood vessels supplying your head; other important structures surround it too. Protecting this area is crucial – it’s why we have high headrests in cars or car seats for kids. Doctors are also reluctant to ‘interfere’ with this area: one wrong move could be catastrophic.
Migraines, ear troubles and other general pains have been linked to pain in the bones and muscles of the neck. In some circumstances, practitioners of these techniques suggest this may be because these bones aren’t perfectly aligned. Commercial techniques like these (some of which are available in SA) have been developed, and it’s claimed they can decrease these problems through manipulation and massage.
Not many studies show that they work: some show that symptoms improve, but this may be due to an underlying problem that’s been corrected, or because massage and exercise help most people (like a placebo effect). Proceed with caution, and visit reputable practitioners who will consult with you before prescribing treatments. If you have migraines, see your GP, a migraine specialist or a physio as a first step.
Q: My lips are constantly peeling and dry. I don’t use matte lipsticks or overuse lip balms – could it be a sign of something else?
A: Probably not. Your lips don’t have the same sweat glands as the rest of the body and are very exposed, so are prone to dryness. Add to that a habit of biting your lips or picking at dry skin and you have a recipe for sore, broken lips! Try not to lick them (this can make them more cracked as the saliva dries) and use a barrier cream with sun protection. You can’t overuse lip balm but you can use the wrong ones. Avoid sticks that contain wax. Apply an emollient cream from a tube (not a pot – repeatedly dipping your finger into a pot can introduce germs). Moisturise your lips with a thick layer before bed – outside the lip line too.
Dry, sore areas at the sides of your mouth could be ‘angular cheilitis’ which may be due to ill-fitting dentures or a nutritional deficiency. Sudden redness or pain may indicate an infection, so have that checked out.