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     Volume 10 |Issue 02 | January 14, 2011 |

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Winter Blues


Winter vegetables... yum!
Photo: zahedul i khan

Winters in Bangladesh are shorter than we'd like, and sometimes not as cold as we'd prefer, but it's almost everyone's favourite time of the year. Winter means cultural festivals, delicious food like kheer and pitha and of course weddings. While we are busy enjoying the festivities, we often forget that changing seasons may bring with them, seasonal illnesses as well.

You may have noticed that wintry days are not as chilly as they used to be thanks to global warming, climate change etc etc. People don't dress as warmly as they used to because when we get around to midday, what with the warm rays of the sun shining brightly down on us it is easy to forget we have reached mid January. We decide to shed our shawls and sweaters when we leave our homes, but by the time the evening rolls around we realise that probably wasn't the best idea.

Enter: The Common Cold. The root of all evil. This is probably the most annoying form of ailment one can suffer from. All the coughing, sneezing, sore throats, headaches and runny noses can really get on your nerves. To top it all off,there is no medication to shorten the duration of this suffering. There are drugs that can provide temporary relief ( the operative word being temporary) but it really doesnt make it better any faster. There are over 200 viruses that can be responsible for this miserable condition, the rhinovirus, the coronavirus and the respitory syncytial virus (RSV) being the most common. The coronavirus is the culprit of all winter colds.

If the common cold wasn't bad enough in itself, it also leads to slightly more serious (possibly deadly) afflictions such as Influenza or more popularly known as "the flu." This particular viral infection attacks your respiratory system, as in your nose, throat and lungs. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with weak immune systems and people who have chronic illnesses are at a higher risk of being infected. During the early stages, the flu may seem like the common cold, with a runny nose, sneezing etc, but the difference is that while colds develop slowly, the flu just jumps out at you out of nowhere and feels much, much worse. You will know if you have the flu when you have a fever over 100 F (38C), you break into chills and sweats, you have headaches, a dry cough, aching muscles (back, arms and legs), fatigue, weakness and nasal congestion. Influenza viruses are extremely contagious and travel through the air in droplets, which you can inhale, or even pick up from objects you touch, such as a telephone or a keyboard, and then transfer them to your nose, eyes or mouth. There are new strains of influenza appearing regularly, and can even be transfered from animals to humans (the infamous bird flu and the swine flu). Getting vaccines is probably the best way to fight this disease.

Influenza can often lead to Bronchitis and Pneumonia. When the tube that brings air into the lungs (bronchial tubes) become swollen, this condition is known as bronchitis. The inflammation of bronchial tubes can be caused by viruses, bacteria, smoking and breathing in certain kinds of chemicals. The cells around the bronchi get irritated causing the tiny hairs (cilia) which normally trap and destroy these viruses, to stop working. This leads to an increase in the swelling, causing the air passages to become clogged. You think that's bad? Well you should know that currently, there is no cure for bronchitis. Most of the treatment involved is focused on reducing the severity and trying to prevent further damage. Some of the treatment involves, making major lifestyle changes, such as quitting the smoking habit, or switching jobs and moving to a location where there is less congestion, dust and chemicals in the air. Medication is available to reduce the swelling, relax the muscles around the airways, reduce coughing and antibiotics to fight bacteria being brewed in the phlegm (yes it is disgusting) that is accumulated. Changing one's diet, drinking more water to cleanse the system, taking hot showers or breathing steam to provide the airway the moisture it needs to stay clear can also help. Lung excercises such as blowing up balloons can also reduce the suffering. As the disease progresses supplemental oxygen may be necessary to help the patient breathe normally, but lets hope it doesn't get to that.

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of your lungs,
caused by germs such as bacteria, fungy and viruses. This infection can cause your lungs' air sacs (aveoli) to become inflamed (ouch). They then fill up with fluids or pus resulting in symptoms such as cough, fever, chills and breathing problems. Pnemonia can range from mild to severe and is more serious for children, adults over the age of 65, people with other problems like heart disease, diabetes etc, people who have weak immune systems such as AIDS patients will also be affected severly by pneumonia. Pneumonia is also extremely contagious and you can catch it simply by breathing the same air someone has coughed in. Bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, but these won't work if the pneumonia is viral. In this case, doctors usually prescribe antiviral medicines to treat it. The treatment of pneumonia depends on it's severity and the most common types can be treated at home. However, if your symptoms are severe, you may need to be hospitalised.

Cold and flu viruses that cause upper respiratory infections, may be triggers for asthma, causing severe attacks. During an asthma attack, bands of muscles around one's airways tighten. There is an increase in swelling in the linings of one's airways and these airways start to produce mucus or plegm which further narrows them. This makes it difficult for air to pass through and difficult to breathe. This causes that wheezy sound you hear when someone is having an attack, although if it is a life threatening attack, you may not hear this sound. These attacks can happen at any time, but there will be signs beforehand, such as an increase in the use of inhalers and trouble breathing at night. The treatment for asthma is to find the best way to keep it under control so you can lead a hassle free life. Doctors tailor your asthma to fit your lifestlyle. It is important to be aware of and avoid all triggers that may cause attacks.

Well that's it for the winter diseases; hopefully you aren't too queasy (or horrified) to continue reading. The good news is, some of these ailments can be cured/prevented using natural remedies. Eating winter vegetables for example would be a good way to go about it. The most popular winter veggies available in Bangladesh are cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, brinjal, radish, hyacinth bean and bottle gourd.

Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin A, B-complex, E, carbohydrates, protein, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and dietary fibre. It can help prevent cancer, heart disease and hypertension. Tomatoes are also extremely nutritious and can help reduce the risk of and prevent a variety of illnesses, such as prostate cancer, rectal, colon or stomach cancer, lung cancer, heart attacks and hemorrhages. The vitamin K present in tomatoes helps keep bones strong and healthy.

They also improve the texture of your skin and add a glow to it. Tomatoes have blood-purifying properties and are beneficial for the congestion of the liver, protecting the liver from cirrhosis and dissolving gallstones as well. It is a natural anticeptic and protects the body against common infections. It helps reduce blood cholestrol, heart diseases, macular and degenerative diseases. If applied topically, tomato pulp can heal sunburns, wounds and sores. It can also prevent diarreah and soothe eye irritations. It also helps reduce constipation, diabetes, indigestion, jaundice and intestinal disorders, morning sickness for pregnant women, liver disorders night blindness, urinary tract infection and even obesity. They also taste delicious and make fabulous snacks.

Brinjal can cure phlegm, congestion and reduce the formation of gas. It can also increase appetite and digestion and if taken regularly, it can even reduce insomnia if consumed regularly. Raw brinjal can cure enlarged spleen caused by malaria, if consumed with raw sugar early in the morning.

Who knew right? Well, maybe you did but this is just a reminder– make sure you dress warmly, eat your greens, get plenty of exercise and sleep this winter. Stay Healthy and Safe!



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