General Health Wednesday December 24, 2014

Dr Hilary Answers Your Questions: Part III

Welcome to our new regular feature in which HealthExpress Medical Advisor, Dr Hilary Jones, answers your health questions. The questions can be on any subject you like, however for this post we have of course gone with a festive theme!

Read on to find out what Dr Hilary has to say about avoiding Christmas weight gain, steering clear of flu and whether making a New Year's resolution is worth the trouble.

1. Why does pinching my nostril make me sneeze?

When pepper gets up your nose it makes you sneeze. This goes for dust, pollen and other irritants as well.This is because they stimulate the fifth cranial nerve, the trigeminal nerve, which supplies sensation to the lining of the nose and makes it sensitive. A reflex arc to the brain instigates sneezing which is designed to clear the nose of foreign particles. Pinching the nostril effectively stimulates the nerve in the same way and that is why it makes you sneeze. Interestingly, many people find that by pinching the middle of your upper lip it can stop a sneeze from happening.

2. Occasionally, when i press down on the bottom of my right rib, I feel a crunching feeling. What could this be?

Your lower ribs are only connected to the bottom of the breastbone with cartilage. The cartilaginous junctions are more mobile and rubbery and they can sometimes move a little causing this crunching sensation. It is not uncommon and provided there is no pain you can simply ignore it.

3. What advice do you have to avoid overeating during the festive season?

Many people find that if they have a small breakfast in the morning and a mid-morning snack they are less likely to binge on huge quantities of food at Christmas lunch. So spread it all out a bit and give your digestive system a chance to recover between meals. Remember that alcoholic drinks will stimulate your appetite, so drink water in between to dilute the effect. Try to go out for a walk or get some other form of exercise to burn off some of the excess calories you are enjoying. There is an old saying that the more you eat the more you want to eat, so give yourself some time off in between large meals.

4. Is it worth having a flu jab if you are not in one of the vulnerable groups?

Yes the flu jab will give you a good level of protection against three of the more virulent circulating flu viruses this winter. You may not fit into one of the most vulnerable groups health wise but nevertheless you still get the same protection if you have a flu jab carried out on a private basis.

5. I have had a couple of illnesses in a row over the last month, tonsillitis and a cold, and now I've had a cough for two weeks. Should I visit my GP?

It isn't uncommon to be unlucky enough to be exposed to more than two or three cold viruses in a month, and at this time of year when people flock together for warmth in enclosed spaces it becomes more likely. It is quite likely that your cough is a follow-on from your most recent cold and provided you are not coughing up any discoloured phlegm or feeling short of breath you can afford to treat yourself symptomatically. However if it persists and you are short of breath or have chest pain, a visit your GP to exclude a chest infection and to check your immunity would not be a bad idea.

6. What would you say is the best thing any person can do to improve their general health and wellbeing?

Living a healthy lifestyle is vital. A healthy well-balanced diet is key as it provides all the nutrition and elements that your body needs. The avoidance of stress, plenty of sleep and regular exercise also boosts immunity and keep you in good shape. The benefits of a normal weight should not be underestimated either. Avoid smoking and drinking to excess and of course recreational drugs will take their toll. Avail yourself too of any health checks that are available either on the NHS or privately.

7. I don't usually drink but I am planning to indulge over the festive period. Is it worse for you to drink a large amount suddenly like this than it is to drink regularly?

Binge drinking and drinking heavily on a regular basis are both detrimental to your health. Current safe guidelines say that you should drink no more than 21 units per week if you are male and 14 units per week if you are female. Drinking double your daily allowance, i.e. more than six units a day for a man or three units a day for a woman, is considered binge drinking. Regular heavy drinking can cause a fatty liver or even cirrhosis and other changes to the body, whereas binge drinking is more likely to lead to social and psychological issues which can have all sorts of repercussions. Social, sensible and responsible drinking is by far the best way forward.

8. If you are otherwise a healthy eater, is it ok to tuck in at Christmas, or will this still be detrimental to your health and weight? How long does it take to recover from consuming all those excess calories?

Provided you eat healthily for most of the year it's fine to let your hair down as it were at Christmas and overindulge for a short period of time. A little treat now and again does no harm. Just remember how easy it is to get into bad habits. Just 1 pound of fat stored on your body equates to 3500 cal of energy that you have to burn off. That's an awful lot of brisk walking, jogging or sessions in the gym. Limiting your overindulgence will therefore reap benefits.

9. Is it possible to be allergic to Christmas trees? We always get a real one and I find it sometimes triggers my asthma.

Yes it is possible to be allergic to Christmas trees, in fact these reactions have been labelled Christmas tree syndrome. Your asthma could be triggered by any of the various moulds that tend to grow on these trees naturally but which flourish rapidly in increasing numbers once they get inside our centrally heated, comfortable homes. When you inhale the mould it can cause an allergic reaction, triggering bronchospasm and asthma symptoms. You can get around this either by having an artificial tree or by using your preventer inhaler more often.

10. Do you think health related New Years resolutions are a good idea? Do you make any?

Generally yes I do think New Year's resolutions are a good opportunity to take stock of where you've gone wrong in the previous year and resolve to change things for the better in the New Year. After all it's a new day and a new start, and you can begin as you mean to carry on. Start the New Year with a bang as it were! I used to make new year resolutions but now I try adopt a healthy lifestyle most of the time so that I don't need to change things on January 1st each year. If I make one this year, it's likely to be: find a bit more time for exercise and a little less time for stress.

Let us know what you made of Dr Hilary's answers by leaving a comment below, or if you have your own burning question to ask him, please get in touch!
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