Tuesday 6 December 2016

'Tis the season for these ailments - prevention is key

Ask the GP...

Nina Byrnes

Published 15/12/2015 | 02:30

You can take steps to reduce Respiratory Syncytial Virus symptoms.
You can take steps to reduce Respiratory Syncytial Virus symptoms.

Our GP on treating Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and what you can do to help heartburn over the indulgent festive season.

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Question: My son has missed an entire week of play school due to a bad cough. My GP thinks he has an infection called Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Is this serious?

Dr Nina says: Respiratory Syncytial Virus ( RSV) is a common cause of infections of the lung and respiratory tract. It tends to peak this time of year.

Symptoms are similar to those of the common cold and include fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and general malaise. In more severe cases, there may be wheezing or noisy breathing.

A child may have difficulty breathing when lying down and may be more comfortable sitting up, and cough may be severe. Infections of the lung, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis, may occur.

RSV is a contagious virus that easily enters the body through droplets spread by cough or sneeze. It may also live for hours on countertops, toys or other surfaces and then spread to another person who touches these and then rubs their nose or eyes.

Those infected may remain contagious for days to weeks after the start of illness. Infection is normally mild, and passes without complication in most people. Those at risk of severe infection include: very young or premature babies, those with weakened or deficient immune systems such as those undergoing chemotherapy, and those who have had transplants or have HIV. Those with asthma or chronic lung disease are also at risk of more serious infection.

Severe infection may result in hospitalisation, pneumonia, recurring infection and possibly an increased risk of asthma in later life.

If your child has a mild infection, keep them at home. Treat the fever with paracetamol. Exposure to moist air from a humidifier may help.

The old remedy of placing the child in a steamy bathroom can help, but be very careful that the steam is warm but not hot. Saline drops and rinse may help clear irritating blocked nasal passages. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids. If the fevers are not settling or breathing becomes laboured and rapid, it is important to seek medical review.

General hygiene procedures can help limit the spread of infection. Cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Wash hands regularly and use hand sanitiser when out and about.

Limit contact with others when you are infected. Clean surfaces and toys regularly and don't share drinks or utensils with others.

Question: I'm looking forward to  Christmas. I really enjoy the food and festivities, but it comes at a price. I get terrible  heartburn after large meals. Is there any way to enjoy the festive fare and avoid stomach discomfort?

Dr Nina replies: We all indulge more than usual over the Christmas season. The combination of rich food, larger portions and increased alcohol can wreak havoc on even the strongest gut.

When a stomach is irritated or inflamed, it can lead to pain. Acid can also flow back up to the oesophagus, leading to familiar, uncomfortable acid reflux, more commonly known as heartburn.

Pacing yourself a bit over the Christmas season may leave you feeling more comfortable in the long run. Eat smaller portions frequently rather than loading up at one large meal. Try to include plenty fruit and veg, and drink plenty of water to keep the gut moving and avoid the discomfort and bloating that constipation can bring. Don't eat late at night before going to bed. Acid reflux is usually worse lying down.

Alcohol is well known to irritate the gut - spirits, in particular, are very irritating.

Smoking relaxes the oesophageal sphincter, making heartburn worse.

If, despite your best efforts, you still have some acid discomfort, there are a number of remedies you can try. Simple antacid liquids and tablets may provide short-term relief. Metoclopramide may help relieve that bloated, full feeling. Peppermint can also help.

For more severe heartburn, stronger acid-blocking drugs are available in your local pharmacy. These are not suitable for everyone and you should discuss your symptoms with the pharmacist before purchasing.

Short-lived heartburn is likely to be due to over-indulgence at Christmastime, but if your symptoms are not relieved by simple measures or are more complicated, then it is important to seek medical advice.

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