Health Page: Take a deeper breath
Q, Recently, I had a serious allergic reaction to the surgical tape used in a breast reduction operation. I was covered in hives, had breathing problems and my face and eyes became swollen. A ten-day course of steroids stopped these symptoms but I am left with numb, shaky hands, laboured breathing, intense tiredness and weakness, erratic sleeping and a fuzzy head. Food tastes strange and I feel like an invalid. My doctor says I just need time to adjust, but could it be something else? A. Based on the symptoms you list, Jonathan Brostoff, professor of allergy and environmental health at King’s College London, believes you are suffering from hyperventilation syndrome (HVS) as a reaction to what you have been through. HVS is largely brought about by over-breathing, where we breathe much more quickly and more shallowly than our bodies need. This brings about a range of physical and emotional changes.
Your symptoms are typical of HVS, which can also cause sickness and abdominal pain, palpitations and rapid heartbeat, tightness around the chest, frequent sighing, blurred vision and faintness. The symptoms are listed in full in an online leaflet produced by Derbyshire Community Health Services (www.dchs.nhs.uk/news).
Professor Brostoff recommends you ask your GP to refer you to a physiotherapist who can teach you to breathe well. Since you say you are improving slowly, this should maximise your recovery. The leaflet includes some breathing exercises too.
Regarding your allergic reaction, he suggests that your doctor should refer you to an expert allergy clinic where you can be tested to see what substance(s) you are allergic to, so that you can be aware in future and take appropriate measures. The Anaphylaxis Campaign (www.anaphylaxis.org.uk) has advice for patients who are newly diagnosed.
• PS I emailed this reader some weeks ago with this advice and she is now recovering well, following the breathing exercises online and also having acupuncture. Her GP has not so far agreed to refer her for physiotherapy or allergy testing. If they wish, patients can change their GP without giving a reason; see NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk) under ‘How do I change my GP?’. You can also consult your local Citizens Advice Bureau (www.citizensadvice.org.uk).
Many women need an iron boost. Common factors in low iron levels include heavy periods or other bleeding, low red meat consumption and dieting. Dedicated joggers may also need extra iron to encourage oxygen-transporting red blood cells. Telltale signs of iron depletion include pale lips, cheeks and eyelid rims, brittle or ridged nails, fatigue and also restless legs syndrome. Spatone is a gentle, naturally iron-rich mineral water, which comes in easy-to-take sachets and should not lead to constipation, unlike many iron supplements. Testers say they noticed the difference in energy levels almost immediately. Spatone 100% Natural Iron Supplement, £9.25 for 28 one-a-day sachets, www.boots.com
Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, which causes them to become inflamed. This may damage the nerves and brain and can be life-threatening. GP Dr Rob Hicks (www.drrobhicks.co.uk) recommends this free app, compiled by the charity Meningitis Now. It has a full list of the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia, information on aftereffects and links to find your nearest A&E or GP in an emergency, plus details of the charity’s free services. Download it from the App Store or www.meningitisnow.org.
Book of the week: The 22-Day Revolution by Marco Borges
Beyoncé, who wrote the foreword to this new diet book, cites nutrition expert Borges as her long-term ‘confidant’, who has kept her ‘on track,motivated and ahead of the health game’. After her daughter’s birth, she and her husband Jay-Z adopted Borges’s vegan diet, laid out here with 65 recipes. ‘The truth is,’ she says, ‘that if a Houston-born foodie like me can do it, you can too… you just need to try it for 22 days.’
• To be published on Tuesday by Hodder & Stoughton, price £13.99*