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Wed, 28th January 2015
 

I sit here rubbing my foot. The damn thing is itchy. The more I scratch, the more it itches, the harder I rub and the more annoyed I become. Then all of a sudden say "Gee, I am a doctor, what am I doing scratching the top of my foot. I am nuts. I know the more I scratch the more I tear the upper skin lining, the greater chance it will turn red and probably become infected". So, I whip off my sock, apply a cold face flannel, and presently, five minutes later the itch has gone.

Why do I scratch my foot every now and again. Why does anyone scratch any part of the epidermis? Because it irritates, the mechanical rubbing gives temporary relief, but it is short lived - like two seconds and then re-starts.

In most cases the skin is trying to say leave me alone. I am in misery or do something about this. When something is irritating me most symptoms mean something. It is the bodys' inbuilt "alarm system", just as pain also means something is not right.

Skin irritation is often due to an immune response. This causes local blood vessels to dilate, bringing fresh blood. The part often turns red, and often leaves a raised read mark called "wheal". That is why cold applications help, or better, creams containing a small amount of cortisone is also effective as it is anti-inflammatory. Some inherently have dry skin. This also tends to itch. A blood sugar check is suggested, for it may be the first and earliest symptom of diabetes, currently suffered by two million Australians, half as yet undiagnosed. If blood sugar is above 7.0, treatment (usually diet modification) is recommended under your GPs supervision. Occasionally medication is needed.

There are millions of tiny fat or sebaceous glands in the skin, usually attached to a hair follicle. These give the skin its typical moist supple feeling. If they are low in activity or not there, dry skin follows. Try and avoid direct heated air conditioners, excessive washing, avoid harsh alkaline soaps. Use a non alkaline solution or bar. Dab dry with a soft towel.

Place a cup of oatmeal (rolled oats) in a sock, tie the top, and knead the milky stuff into the bath. Lie for a 10-15 minutes soak. It is very soothing. Then again dab the body dry with a soft towel. Do not rub, for this increases surface circulation and aggravates. Many are "allergic" to items they contact, called "contact dermatitis". This includes millions of allergens and chemicals often used in industry and everyday life. Perfumes, soaps, creams, chemicals, aerosols, paints and varnishes head the list. If itch follows their use, either avoid or wear protective gear (eg gloves, long sleeves, etc.)

Often a cool (ending in cold) shower is effective, probably a few times a day, specially in summer. Even some vitamins may cause itch, like large doses of vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid. Many were allergic to the contents of older type medicinal mixtures. Hives are another allergy type reaction. Foods are a common cause, specially in children. Finding the offending items was often difficult. Sometimes it is wheat products, sometimes Berries. Sometimes colourings in beverages, red and yellow being the worst. These can also lead to ADHD in some kids. So they climb around the ceiling as well as have rashes. There are many causes, many identified, others remaining a mystery. But ... try not to scratch. As itch travels along the same nerve pathways as pain, paracetamol may offer relief.

 
ZINC

Q: 

About six months ago I started taking 40 mg zinc supplement each day. Since then I have noticed a marked improvement in taste and smell sensitivity, which came unexpectedly. Also, my hair grows more rapidly, but worse, so do the hairs in my nostrils and ears. Any remedy?

A: 

No remedy, and who really wants one with such positive outcomes. Continue with the zinc, for Australian soil is zinc deficient (as are many other countries from which we import food.) Therefore the body must be zinc deficient. It is probably one of the most serious mineral deficiencies in the world. A bit extra each day is a good idea for most. My only complaint is that vitamin and mineral supplements are outrageously priced. After all 40 mg is barely noticeable if you sprinkled the active ingredient onto the table. Most tablet ingredients are inert fillers.

 
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WORRY

Q: 

For many years I had a series of serious mishaps which had a very adverse effect on my feelings. I became depressed, but eventually largely overcame this. Now however, I have absolutely no real worries. So I sit and worry about the fact that I have nothing to worry about. Am I slightly schizophrenic?

A: 

Not really, and this is a common situation for many, especially those who have been through the mill and suffered from major challenges and probably life shattering events. Become involved in activities, physical and mental ones. Go for good long walks if there is nothing else. Try gardening, listen to music and socialise as much as you can. The more you converse with others, the more extroverted you become, all of which is positive. Do not over indulge in food or grog. You will do well.

 
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MOISTURISERS

Q: 

Does the skin normally need moisturising creams and lotions?

A: 

The short answer is "No". If we did we would all have been born with a tube of it handing around our necks at birth. This did not happen, neither were we born with chimneys, which some say proves we were not meant to smoke! However, the harsh environment, daily brushing our skin, chances of diabetes or thyroid deficiencies, exposure to manufacturing conditions, chemicals, sprays, cosmetics, skin often becomes dry. Many like to apply a simple moisturiser say at bedtime. My old mum used glycerine and rosewater and had lovely supple skin until she died at 100. Sorbelene and glycerine is effective, as is any lotion or cream containing urea. There are heaps of cheap lines available. Do not spend huge amounts on "wonder cures" which are not much different.

 
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GENITAL MUTILATION

Q: 

I was circumcised at birth and now resent it. Is this not a form of parental genital mutilation.

A: 

It certainly is, and today there are world bans on "female circumcision", now widely called "female genital mutilation". It exposes the glans, or head of the penis to the environment, and cannot help but gradually destroy sensitivity over a period of time. It is claimed to reduce risks of HIV infection, but for most this is simply a non priority. In todays litigious society, we will soon have children suing their parents! Even though it was socially acceptable at the time and done with the best intention.

 
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FALSE LEG

Q: 

When walking recently by the beach on the concrete pathway, I was amazed to see a guy in shorts approaching . He had barely a limp, but amazingly a prosthetic left leg. I could not but be amazed with the aplomb and sense of carelessness he displayed which was admirable.

A: 

There are thousands of lower limbputees wearing prosthetics today. Many are due to accidents, smashes, diabetes. Adjusting to the situation can offer the person renewed life. It is also an example to others.

 
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This health advice is general in nature. You are advised to seek medical attention from your doctor or health care provider for your own specific symptoms and circumstances.

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