I am 72 and was recently in hospital for two weeks with pneumonia.
After I’d completed the antibiotics I was on, I got another chest infection. I seem to suffer from them constantly.
Is there anything I can take to boost my immune system?
A countless list of foods and supplements seem to be marketed as immune-boosters, but in reality there is little to suggest they do much at all.
At best they may help to keep an immune system working as it should, but no more than eating a healthy diet would.
There are lifestyle factors linked to a well-functioning immune system: good sleep and low stress levels, and a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Exercise is also thought to be good for the immune system.
I am 72 and was recently in hospital for two weeks with pneumonia. After I’d completed the antibiotics I was on, I got another chest infection. I seem to suffer from them constantly. Is there anything I can take to boost my immune system? (stock photo)
When these are lacking, people suffer with more infections – particularly those linked to weakened immunity.
Some underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, can make you more susceptible to infections.
A GP should check for this and other conditions, such as lung disease, or medications that may make you vulnerable to chest infections.
Smoking or being an ex-smoker could also be a factor. A chest X-ray and lung-function tests would be sensible.
Take heed of listeria warnings
Pregnant women have been warned about an outbreak of listeria from smoked fish and told to avoid eating mackerel and uncooked salmon.
Listeria is a bacteria which can cause a serious bout of food poisoning, known medically as listeriosis. For most people, the illness is unpleasant but goes away after a few days.
But for pregnant women, food poisoning can cause major problems, leading to miscarriage or stillbirth as well as serious infections in newborns.
Listeria is usually associated with sliced meats and shellfish, meaning many people are unaware it can also be found in smoked fish.
Since 2020, only 12 cases of listeriosis have been linked to smoked fish in the UK. Although this is a small number, six of them have occurred since January, and this is enough to be classed as an outbreak.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2016 and suffer a persistent stinging or creeping sensation under the skin on my upper body.
My doctor has tried three different pain medications, to no avail.
It’s affecting my sleep – and my wife’s, too.
People with Parkinson’s, which is a brain disorder, often experience movement problems, shaking and muscle stiffness.
But there are more than 40 other symptoms, including loss of sense of smell, balance problems, dementia, and swallowing difficulties.
Nerve pain is another – this is a very specific type of pain, sometimes called neuralgia or neuropathic pain.
People describe sensations including burning, numbness, coldness and a prickling like electric shocks.
If there is a skin tenderness with a creeping sensation in someone with Parkinson’s, it could be related to the disease.
Neuropathic pains and sensations require specific pain treatments, as the standard type of painkillers don’t usually work.
We use nerve painkillers called gabapentin, pregabalin, duloxetine or amitriptyline with varying degrees of success. They are not without side effects, so they have to be offering a good level of help to be worth taking.
Capsaicin cream is a nerve painkiller made with extracts of chilli peppers – it can warm or slightly burn the skin. It’s worth giving it a try, four times a day for two weeks, and if there is no reduction in pain, it should not be continued.
It can cause a rash, which is another reason to stop. If it is helpful, however, it can also be ‘taken’ via a patch stuck to the skin, which slowly releases the active drug.
Pain that affects sleep is more debilitating than most, and this has to be considered when choosing a painkiller.
It may be that something else to help sleep, such as melatonin, needs to be used in combination with nerve treatment. Good sleep is vital for those with Parkinson’s.
Over the past three weeks I’ve been getting terrible headaches. I never used to suffer. I recently went for an eye test, as I thought my prescription was perhaps no longer strong enough.
I was told I should have a scan called an OCT to check for any serious problems that might be causing my headaches. It cost an extra £50, so I declined.
Was that a bad idea?
Do you have a question for Dr Ellie?
Email DrEllie@mailonsunday.co.uk or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London, W8 5TT.
Dr Ellie can only answer in a general context and cannot respond to individual cases, or give personal replies. If you have a health concern, always consult your own GP.
OCT scans are offered by opticians to fully evaluate eye health, particularly in people suffering from diabetes or glaucoma, or who have a family history of eye disease.
They are specifically used to look for sight-threatening problems with the retina and eye structures rather than headaches.
But for a full headache evaluation, an appointment with the doctor is needed.
We all suffer headaches from time to time, but new and persistent ones for a month or so would be a reason to talk the issue through with a doctor.
It could be migraine – regular one-sided headaches, typically associated with feeling sick and vision disturbances.
There are also tension-type headaches. Sufferers say it is like having a band around the head, with pressure on both sides. This usually happens during periods of stress.
There is also an unusual condition called cluster headaches, where people get excruciating headache attacks every day, typically for between one and three months. This is a debilitating condition with very intense pain often on one side.
Other reasons for a new and regular period of headaches may not originate from the head at all. They can be due to bad posture – repeatedly bending the neck to look at a phone is a common issue – as well as poor eyesight.
Too much alcohol or high blood pressure will cause regular headaches and, oddly, taking painkillers for the headaches can itself cause worsening headaches.
This is called ‘medication overuse headache’ and can happen with many different painkillers including codeine, migraine treatments and even paracetamol, if it is taken often enough.
Regular headaches are also associated with fluctuating hormone levels at menopause.
Calorie counts on menus target the wrong diners
The latest of the Government’s anti-obesity measures is now in force and large restaurants and cafes have to display calorie counts on menus.
I have long supported public health measures that aim to reduce the burden of lifestyle diseases by helping people lose weight and keep it off, but I do not support this.
For one, there is no data to prove that calorie counts on menus will reduce Britain’s levels of obesity.
The US has had similar measures for years and its obesity rates have continued to climb. Most importantly, the potential harm is immense.
In my experience, obese people are unlikely to look at or obsess over calories. But the 1.2 million Britons who have eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are.
We’ve already seen a 50 per cent rise in the number of people hospitalised with these illnesses since 2019 – do we really need to add fuel to the fire?