What to know and do about some common illnesses
1. Chicken pox
A highly contagious viral infection presenting as an itchy skin rash with red blisters.
Who gets it?
Children below the age of 10 (90% of cases), but adults can also be affected.
- body aches, fever, fatigue, irritability and headaches
- itchy, raised bumps across the body, which become fluid-filled blisters that burst, leak and scab.
What to do: All cases should be treated seriously. Consult your doctor if you or your child develop these symptoms.
While a “hamster-face” may sound cute, mumps is a not-so-cute illness. Well-known for its characteristic puffy cheeks and swollen jaw, mumps is caused by a highly contagious virus causing the glands in the face and neck to swell.
Who gets it? Typically, children between ages five and 15, however mumps is rarely seen as most children are vaccinated against the virus.
- swollen, painful salivary glands
- headaches, joint pain and fever.
What to do: Complications of mumps are serious. See your doctor if you or your child is presenting with symptoms.
3. Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis)
Itchy, dry and irritated patches of skin are tell-tale signs of eczema. The good news – you can get flare-ups under control. The bad news – it’s a condition you may need to manage for life.
Who gets it? Eczema affects all ages, but generally presents in early childhood and can often improve with age. It’s most common in people with a family history of an allergic disorder, which includes hay fever or asthma. Eczema is not contagious and cannot be ‘caught’. It is simply an inflammatory reaction which can flare and subside for no apparent reason. Certain triggers can also precipitate this, and these can include:
- heat and sweat
- dry skin and scratching
- irritants such as pollen, chemicals, artificial dyes, soaps, perfumes
- certain foods i.e. milk, soy, peanuts, eggs.
Symptoms: Flare-ups of dry, itchy and red patches of skin usually found in elbow, wrist, neck and knee creases.
What to do: Consult your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. Eczema may be a recurrent and a life-long condition, so understanding what is causing the flare-ups is important for long-term management.
4. Glandular fever (also known as infectious mononucleosis)
Glandular fever is an acute viral infection that mainly affects young adults. If you’ve been told that too much smooching could land you in trouble, it’s especially true for glandular fever. Commonly known as the ‘kissing disease’, glandular fever is transmitted through saliva.
Who gets it? Primarily young adults but can affect anyone.
- sore throat
- fever and fatigue
- swollen glands (lymphadenopathy)
- skin rash
- soft, swollen spleen.
What to do: Rest as much as possible, follow a healthy diet and avoid physical activity for three weeks. If your symptoms don’t improve, you should see a doctor.
5. Hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis)
Can’t smell the blossoming flowers in Spring because your nose is blocked? You’ve likely fallen victim to hay fever. This is an overreaction of your immune system to allergens such as pollen or dust.
Who gets it? Anyone can be affected. Symptoms can be seasonal or year-round.
- sneezing, sniffing and an itchy, runny nose
- head and nasal congestion
- watery, itchy and red eyes.
What to do: Identifying your triggers and reducing your exposure will lessen your symptoms. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about whether medication will also help.
That feeling when you can’t swallow because your throat is screaming in pain – tonsillitis is as unpleasant as it sounds. It occurs when your tonsils become infected by either a bacteria or virus.
Who gets its? Typically, children, although teenagers and adults can get it too.
- sore throat and difficulty swallowing
- white or yellow patches on the tonsils
- enlarged glands
- bad breath
- stiff neck and headache.
In young children, symptoms may also include drooling, nausea and stomach pain.
What to do: Treatment is largely dependent on the cause (bacteria or virus), which should be determined by your doctor. Most attacks of tonsillitis are caused by viruses where treatment is aimed at helping to relieve symptoms such as pain and fever. For tonsillitis that is caused by bacteria, antibiotics are prescribed.
Help your body recover by resting and staying hydrated. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about what you can take to relieve symptoms.
The main airways of the lungs (bronchi) become infected, causing irritation and inflammation – often resulting in a nagging cough and excessive phlegm (mucus) production.
Who gets it? Anyone can be affected, but this depends on the type of bronchitis:
- Acute bronchitis is short-term and is usually caused by a viral infection, commonly striking in winter. Sometimes, a bacterial infection may be the cause.
- Chronic bronchitis describes long-term bronchitis. Inhaling substances that irritate the lungs, such as chemical pollutants and dust can also be the cause.
- persistent cough which may bring up phlegm
- chest congestion
- shortness of breath
What to do: If symptoms do not improve, see your doctor. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat acute bronchitis and to manage flare-ups in people with chronic bronchitis. Pneumonia can be a serious complication of bronchitis (see below), occurring in five per cent of cases.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, caused by bacteria or viruses where the alveoli (air sacs) become infected, inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.
Who gets it? Anyone at any age. It ranges from a mild condition to a life-threatening one, and is typically more serious in infants, young children, people above 65 years and those with weakened immune systems.
- cough which may produce phlegm
- chest pain
- fever, sweating and shaking chills
- shortness of breath
- confusion (in adults over 65 years of age).
What to do: If you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, a persistent fever or cough, see your doctor urgently. In many cases antibiotics may be required if bacteria are the cause. Alarm bells should ring in high-risk groups (mentioned above) in which case immunisation should be considered.
Also known as ‘piles’, these are swollen veins in the lowest part of the rectum and anus. Sometimes piles can bulge out resembling a cluster of hanging grapes.
Who gets it? Commonly adults. Piles are associated with constipation and straining during bowel movements. Other risk factors include age (over 50 years), pregnancy and being overweight.
- bleeding during bowel movement
- pain, discomfort or itching around the anus
- noticeable lumps hanging outside the anus.
What to do: See a doctor to rule out serious conditions that could also cause rectal bleeding.
If you’ve ever woken up feeling like your big toe is on fire, you’ve likely experienced a ‘gout attack’. This common form of arthritis is caused by the build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. While the most commonly affected joint is the big toe, gout may be experienced in the feet, ankles and knees, and less commonly in the elbows, hands and other joints.
Who gets it?
- Anyone, although it is more common in men and older people. Other risk factors include:
- a diet rich in meat and seafood
- medical conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart and kidney disease
- certain medication such as diuretics
- consuming too much alcohol.
- sudden and severe joint pain (usually the big toe but any joint can be affected)
- tender, swollen, warm and inflamed joints
- lingering joint pain.
What to do: See a doctor as soon as you experience a gout attack as early treatment is important to relieve pain and prevent joint damage.
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Important things to know
This article is not intended to be a diagnostic tool. It’s a collection of common symptoms. It may not be representative for everyone and in any case we recommend you consult your doctor with any health concerns.
Information correct as at September 2018