Shingles is commonly thought of as something that affects older people. Indeed it is more common in those over 60 however younger adults can also suffer with it. I have even recommended a few children be taken to their GP over recent years as it appeared, and was confirmed, that they had shingles. Earlier this year I had what I thought was a mosquito bite above my eye. The next morning when I woke up with burning pain and a feeling like spiders crawling in my hair I knew I had shingles!
What is shingles?
Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella zoster virus. Shingles is also called herpes zoster. It appears as a rash of little blisters that is often painful but not always. The rash appears in a line over the nerves that are affected. It usually occurs on one side of the body or face.
What causes shingles?
Anyone who has ever had chicken pox can get shingles. This is because after having chicken pox the herpes zoster virus stays in our nerves where it doesn’t do anything unless it is activated. It can be activated if our immune system is low or weakened due to physical or emotional stress.
You cannot catch shingles from someone who has it. If you have never had chicken pox or the chicken pox vaccination you can catch chicken pox from someone who has shingles if you come in to contact with fluid from the blisters.
Treatment of shingles
It is important for shingles to be diagnosed within three days of it appearing so that antiviral medication can be prescribed by your GP and taken. After this time it is not effective and cannot be prescribed. Recovery is usually quicker and better if treatment is given.
If there is pain paracetamol and/or anti-inflammatories can be taken. If these aren’t enough your GP can prescribed something stronger.
As well as general pain shingles can cause itch and burning which is common in nerve pain. For me it felt like a sparkler touching my face as well as feelings of things crawling in my hair as the virus affected the line of nerves to my head.
Recovery from shingles
The rash can last up to two weeks. In severe cases pain can be present in the area where the rash was long after it has disappeared. Pain relief medication prescribed by your GP can help. There is also a capsaicin cream that can be used that can be effective for this type of nerve pain.
For me I find that if I’m tired or stressed I have very mild symptoms in the area where my rash was.
Vaccination for shingles
There is a vaccination for those over 50 years for shingles. For younger people the chicken pox vaccination provides protection from chicken pox and shingles.
Putting in eye drops can be a tricky thing to do on your own or even if someone is doing it for you. Most of us have a natural aversion to things coming towards our eyes! Read on for the correct use of eye drops and some tips.
Eye drop use
Step 1 Wash hands well with soap and water and dry.
Step 2 Lying down on your back to put an eye drop in is easier for some people otherwise tilt your head right back.
Step 3 Pull your lower lid out and down to make a little pocket to drop into.
Step 4 Bring the bottle over the top of your eye keeping it vertical. Squeeze the bottle until you feel the drop land.
Step 5 Gently close your eye and leave it closed for one minute.
Step 6 Using your pointer finger apply gentle pressure to the inside corner of your eye lid near your nose. You may feel the drainage duct being closed off when you do this. Do this for one minute then repeat from Step 2 for the other eye if needed. This step is important to prevent the eye drop from leaving the eye and running down the back of the nose. If you have ever used an eye drop and then tasted it this is why. If the drop leaves the eye it is not able to work.
The eye can only hold one drop at a time and as long as the first drop lands in your eye there is no need to use a second drop. Sometimes directions say to use 1-2 drops but only one drop is needed. If the first drop misses the eye by all means repeat the steps to get it in.
Don’t touch the eye drop bottle on to your eye. This is to prevent bacteria getting on to the bottle.
If you need to use more than one eye drop wait five minutes between instilling one and using the next. This allows the first one to be able to have its effect and not be washed out by the following drop.
Most eye drops should be discarded one month after opening with the exception of some lubricating drops that state they can be kept for 6 months. This is because the drops are not sterile after this time and can cause an infection if used beyond this time. I have seen a nasty eye infection caused by using eye drops that had been open for 7 years!!
Most of us have trouble sleeping at some stage. Some of us are unlucky enough to have ongoing trouble sleeping which is called insomnia. Lack of sleep can affect long term health by leading to overweight and obesity, poor concentration and conditions such as high blood pressure. I know myself that I have trouble staying focused and I crave unhealthy foods when I don’t get enough sleep. There are medications and supplements that can help with insomnia but let’s take it back a step and look at what else can be done first.
Wind down before bed
A lot of people use smart phones, iPads and laptops before bed and even in bed! This stimulation is not conducive to going to sleep. Firstly if we are doing work on a device there is no wind down/work free time to relax our minds and bodies. Secondly the stimulation from the light and WiFi does not send a “time to relax” message to our brains. In my house no devices or phones are allowed in bedrooms and there is to be “device free time” for the hour before bed. At least this is what we strive for! A warm bath and/or reading a book are great wind down activities before bed.
Stress and sleep
Stress is a big cause of insomnia. Eliminating stress is not usually easy. Insomnia often occurs in those who suffer with depression and anxiety. Treatment of the depression and anxiety as the underlying conditions often improves sleep. Medications and counselling are helpful here as are the general wind down for sleep suggestions.
Most people know that caffeine keeps us awake and this is often a reason for us to consume it. What you may not know is just how long the effects of caffeine can last. Caffeine consumed after 3pm can affect how easily we fall asleep at bedtime. In some people drinking tea or coffee or having soft drink after 10am can be a problem. Unfortunately chocolate also contains caffeine! Cutting back on caffeine, especially in the latter part of the day, is a good idea if you are having trouble sleeping.
A glass or two of wine has made me fall asleep many times. Unfortunately alcohol affects our sleep cycles so even though we may fall asleep easier and sleep for a while the quality of sleep is poorer and so we are not refreshed the next day. To prevent alcohol affecting sleep it should be consumed at least three hours before bed.
Don’t eat large, spicy or fatty meals close to bed time. These things can cause indigestion which can cause pain and discomfort. Eat three hours before bed at least. If you tend to suffer with indigestion try having a larger meal in the middle of the day and a smaller meal at night.
Medications and supplements
Certain medications and supplements can affect sleep in different ways. If you’re unsure when you should take yours ask your pharmacist so you can get the best out of your medication and a good night’s sleep.
Nasal sprays are available for allergies and colds and flu. Judging by what I’ve discussed with patients most people are not using nasal sprays correctly.
Steps to using a nasal spray
Step 1 Blow your nose before spraying if it is blocked with mucous.
Step 2 If it is a new spray or if you haven’t used it for a while the device will need to be primed. This means you will need to do a few sprays in to the air first to get it spraying as a fine mist. It is easiest to hold the bottle, for priming and use, by placing your thumb underneath the bottle and using your index and middle finger to push down on the spray part.
Step 3 Head position is important! Start with your head facing forward then tilt it down slightly so that you are looking towards your toes. A lot of people tilt their head back and so the spray just runs down the back of the nose and in to the throat where it does not help much.
Step 4 Nozzle aim is important! Aim the nozzle away from the middle of your nose. Insert the nozzle and aim it towards the ear on the same side of your head. That is for the left nostril insert the nozzle and aim it towards the left ear.
Step 5 Gently press on the other nostril to close it while you spray.
Step 6 Push down on the spray once per nostril and inhale gently as you do so. Don’t sniff too hard while spraying. Breathe out gently after spraying and repeat for the other nostril.
Corticosteroid allergy sprays can take a couple of weeks to build up to maximum effectiveness though some benefit may be seen when first starting.
Decongestant sprays for colds and flu should not be used for longer than 6 days as they can cause rebound congestion after this time. This means they can cause, rather than treat, nasal congestion.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to drink tea! After making some small dietary changes and huge exercise changes in my life recently I started looking in to health benefits of different teas. All teas actually come from the same plant camellia sinensis. So black, white, green and oolong tea all come from the same plant. Herbal “teas” are made from infusions of herbs, spices, fruits and other plant materials. As such these infusions are not technically teas and don’t usually contain caffeine. Tea generally contains less caffeine than coffee but it also depends on how long you steep it for.
This is made from young leaves and buds of the tea plant. There is not much processing done with this type of tea and so it usually has a higher antioxidant level and milder flavour with a lower caffeine level.
There are different types of green tea with different tastes and nutrients. Green tea contains high levels of antioxidants also. There are a number of studies showing how green tea is good for metabolism and can slow down aging and cancer growth as well as improve brain function and reduce heart disease and diabetes risk. Matcha green tea powder seems to be the latest craze for good reason.
- Matcha is made from ground tea leaves. The powder is bright green as the type of leaf it is made from is very high in chlorophyll and so very high in antioxidants.
- Sencha is a mild green tea and the most popular type in Japan.
- Gyukuro seems to be a cross between Matcha (high antioxidant levels) and Sencha (milder flavour).
- Bancha has a more bitter taste and a low caffeine level. It is one of the most common green teas as it is cheaper to produce.
There are not many differences in health benefits between the different types of black teas so it is really a matter of taste. Black teas have high antioxidant levels (though different antioxidants to green tea) and give a boost of caffeine.
A benefit of oolong is that it can help metabolise fat and assist in weight loss similarly to green tea.
Well I’m satisfied that my addiction to tea drinking can continue!