Some Common Ailments

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Some Common Ailments was written by Anil Aggrawal in 1993, in response to a tremendous demand in India for a book which could explain basic facts about some common ailments to the layman in non-technical terms. National Book Trust, India, approached the popular science writer Anil Aggrawal for this work.

Areas dealt with

The author received a demand to write a book on 20 common ailments. But due to book length constraints, only ten ailments were chosen to be dealt with in the book. These ailments are Allergies, Backache, Bronchitis, Common cold, Pink eye, constipation, diarrhoea, headache, mumps and sinusitis. It was decided that the rest of the ten ailments namely Arthritis, Asthma, Convulsions, Diabetes, Eczema, Gall stones, High Blood Pressure, Nausea & Vomiting, Thyroid Problems and Worms would be taken up subsequently in another book tentatively to be called "Some More Common Ailments".


The main significance of this book is that the subject matter is explained in a very light-hearted, interesting way. The essays are full of jokes, stories, anecdotes and catch phrases related to each of the ailments. The style of the book can perhaps be easily gauged by the cover page itself, which shows a funny cartoon, relating to the title of the book. Each chapter was illustrated by funny cartoons, as can be seen in the sample below. Some Common Ailments proved a fairly popular book and was ultimately translated in 16 Languages.


Here are sample two pages from chapter 8 entitled "headache".Chapter 8 : HeadacheEveryone of us has had headache sometime or the other in our life and some have it as a regular feature. The medicine kit of every home contains aspirin for relief from this problem. Sometimes the headache is mild, at other times more severe, and at yet other times, it can be so excruciating as to compel one to seek medical attention. So commonly is headache equated with discomfort and inconvenience that we frequently dismiss a disturbing and an unpleasant person by saying, “He is a headache”.Headache occurring once in a while is quite alright and one may take aspirin for it (perhaps even without medical advice), but a headache recurring again and again might be a pointer to some serious trouble. It may prove dangerous to suppress this headache with aspirin without medical advice. As a general rule, headaches occurring more than twice a week, for more than three months, should be taken seriously and a doctor’s opinion sought.Perhaps the most common type of headache - and also the most innocuous - is the one called tension headache. As the name implies, it occurs as a result of excessive tension, anxiety, worry or even overwork. Thus, of all the headaches, at least tension headache can be termed a disease of civilization. It is doubtful if ancient man ever suffered from the tension headache. The affected person feels quite irritable and does not like anyone to talk to him. There might be problems at work with the boss or maybe other worries such as how to pay the next installment of the newly-built house. When a person ‘overworks’ his brain in this way, it may get filled with an excess of blood, to cause the headache. The muscles of the scalp also ‘tighten up’ and may aggravate the headache. Such a headache is often seen towards the end of the day and is easily relieved by mere relaxation. Aspirin might help to some extent, but tranquillizers are much more effective in relieving the basic cause - tension. Gentle massaging of the scalp area as well as the region near the temples may also help to relax the ‘tensed up’ scalp muscles. Some people prefer using balms over the forehead, which are harmless, especially for pregnant ladies who cannot take any medicine. By and large, the general rule during the pregnancy is to take as few medicines as possible, as these can cause undesirable effects in the growing fetus. Balms contain an irritant substance which irritates the skin. This is a very mild type of irritation and can easily be endured, but it causes a barrage of sensory impulses to go to the brain - a process which blocks all other impulses, including those of headache, from reaching the brain. The situation could perhaps be compared to a swarm of bicyclists preventing the smooth flow of buses and trucks. Thus, very little or almost none of the pain impulses reach the brain and in effect the headache vanishes. This interesting phenomenon is known as counter-irritation and the irritating substance present in balms is known as counter-irritant. Most common counterirritants used in balms are turpentine oil, methyl salicylate, and menthol. Heat is a very good counter-irritant and that is why hot fomentations and infra-red light, which produces heat, are so popularly used to counter the pain of arthritis.Sometimes a child may complain of a headache, especially on return from school or after reading for sometime. Many may think it to be a tension headache but, more often than not, the cause is a refractive error of the eye, which in effect means that the child may be needing glasses. If the child sits on a back bench, he might also complain of not being able to see the blackboard clearly, which is an important indicator of a defect in the eyesight. Such children must be taken to an optometrist, or preferably to an ophthalmologist, who will test the ‘strength’ of the eye by asking him to read a chart, hung at a certain distance. Most of us are aware of this chart with English or Hindi letters in decreasing size in several successive rows. These charts were first invented in 1843 for eye-testing by Heinrich Kuchler and were later improved by von Jaeger of Vienna in 1854. Shortly afterwards, Herman Snellen of Utrecht, Netherlands, invented his own chart of square-shaped letters, which was very much like the one we use today. These charts are known as ‘Snellen charts’ named after him. If the doctor finds some defect in the eye, he prescribes spectacles and the headache disappears promptly.Old people often experience a throbbing recurrent headache which feels as if something is pulsating within the head. This headache is often worse in the mornings and on stooping. The parts that are affected are usually the front of the head and temples. The headache is often accompanied by giddiness. With such symptoms, blood pressure needs to be checked because the chances are that the blood pressure is high. And if it is so, the doctor prescribes drugs for lowering the blood pressure, which would then have to be taken for the rest of one’s life, perhaps.By now it must be becoming clear to us as to what harm we can do to our bodies by not understanding the messages which the headache is trying to convey. Headache in most of these cases is not a disease in itself but merely a messenger of some graver disorder, and nothing could be more foolish than to kill this messenger with a tablet or two of aspirin. A king who repeatedly kills his messenger, coming from across the borders with messages of enemy attacks, does not prevent the attacks in any way. The only thing he manages to do by these actions is to remain in the bliss of ignorance for a little more time. As a result, sooner or later the enemy catches up with him, and then the results are disastrous.Which other messages might the headache be trying to convey? Well, women may sometimes get a headache about a week before their periods. This is aptly known as premenstrual headache. This could be caused by excess fluid that is stored in the body at this time. Altered hormonal levels may also have apart to play. The doctor might prescribe a diuretic drug, which flushes out excess fluid from the body via the urine.Sometimes babies cry quite fretfully and the crying may not stop even when the child is lifted and cuddled. Such children may be crying for a variety of reasons of which headache could be one. Your doctor in such cases would routinely look down the throat and in the ears of the baby to check for infections. Sometimes infections in these sites may be a cause of headache and pain in children.Dull, severe headache at the front of the face, which gets worse in cold weather and when one bends down is usually accompanied by a pus-like discharge from the nose. All these could point towards sinusitis. We shall have more to talk about it in our last chapter. This type of pain may be quite troublesome and like an unwanted and obstinate guest refuses to go out until something really is done about it.

Other Books by Anil Aggrawal

  • Release details

  • 1993, National Book Trust, India ISBN 81-237-0193-4, Pub date 1993, paperback

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