Q I had labyrinthitis last winter, which was extremely debilitating. Is the condition likely to return?
Labyrinthitis is an infection on the inner part of the ear known as the labyrinth. The labyrinth is the part of the ear that controls balance, so when it is inflamed and infected, your balance is affected dramatically.
It causes people to suffer tremendous dizziness, where the room spins and often people have to hold on to firm objects just to walk across the room. It also makes people feel nauseated and sick, with relief only felt when you lie still.
The symptoms are very dramatic, worsened by the fact they can often come on out of ‘nowhere’. It is caused by a viral infection so, usually, like any other virus, lasts two to three weeks which, as you say, is very debilitating.
Sometimes sufferers find the unsteadiness may persist for a month or two, but usually once it has cleared it has gone completely.
Very rarely in some people it never clears and symptoms sadly persist for years. There are medications a GP can prescribe for the condition that go some way to ease the dizziness: the response to these are varied. It is equally important to explore what else can help, such as time off work, rest and help at home.
Dizziness can be a dangerous symptom, for example when you are driving, or it can cause people to fall, so this needs to be considered. If in your case the symptoms have gone completely, there is no reason to think it will come back.
Q My nine-year-old gets a lot of tummy aches. Our GP thinks it’s just a phase and nothing to worry about, but could we be missing something serious?
Abdominal pain is a really common symptom in children and can be a result of any number of issues. Regular tummy aches are a well-recognised emotional symptom in children; rather than having a physical cause, they can be a way of a child expressing their anxiety and worry.
Many children go through phases of these emotional/physical symptoms causing symptoms such as tummy aches, difficulty sleeping or problems going to the toilet. So the first issue for you to address is what that could be, whether it’s a school or family worry causing the tummy aches.
Rather than dismissing it as a phase, it is best to find out what is causing it and start talking about it. The second issue is what else could be going on. Tummy aches could be the result of constipation, bladder infections, food intolerance or other bowel diseases such as Crohn’s. None of these are issues you want to miss so, at the very least, your child should have been examined and possibly sent for some investigations.
This is a hard balance. It is not fair to put a child through invasive tests they may not need, but likewise you don’t want to miss a serious diagnosis. Have a second chat with the GP and tell them what you’re worried about so you can be reassured properly. It may be worth agreeing a time with him or her when you will start investigations if the aches haven’t gone.
Q Should Jewish women go for earlier screening for breast cancer? It seems that so many women in the community are affected by the disease.
You are right to say there are many women within the community affected by breast cancer. Having Jewish ancestry is recognised as a risk for breast cancer, along with many other factors. Screening in this country starts at 50, with women having mammograms every three years into their 70s.
Certain groups of higher risk women will be referred earlier for early screening: there are many criteria but, to simplify things, it involves having more than one close relative diagnosed or cases in women younger than 40 in the family.
For Jewish women, because it is a risk factor in itself, they can be referred to specialist clinics for risk assessment with only one first or second degree relative diagnosed with the disease.
This does not mean you will necessarily have earlier screening, but rather a full risk assessment taking into account many factors – not just your heritage – to see how early screening should start for you. The other important issue as far as breast cancer is concerned is the BRCA gene.
Three mutations of the BRCA genes, which cause early-age and aggressive breast cancers, are found at higher rates within the Ashkenazi community. Therefore testing for BRCA may be an option for Jewish women even if you have no breast cancer in the family. If you are eligible, you can participate in breast cancer research at BRCA Protect. www.brcaprotect.org