What you asked our doctors this year

Each week we receive a number of questions from users on our Facebook page. These questions come from people from all over the world, and you’d be surprised to see how many people have the same problems. We took a look at 5 of the most commonly asked questions and had one of our doctors answer them. Take a look:

1. What will lighten or remove the dark patches on my skin? Is there something I can use?

Hyperpigmentation (the long word for dark patches on the skin) is tricky to treat, and the success of treatment also depends on the cause. There are 3 main causes for this condition:

  • Pregnancy. A dark discolouration occurs on the sun-exposed areas of the face during pregnancy –more commonly in darker skinned people- and we call this Melasma, or “the mask of pregnancy”.
  • After inflammation. Acne, eczema, psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions can leave behind darker areas of skin- again this is more common in darker skinned people
  • Sun damage. This is the most common cause of dark skin areas in lighter-skinned people. Sun can also worsen Melasma.

The first recommendation is that you wear at least a factor 30 sunscreen all year round, even if you have darker skin. Secondly, there’re a number of medical treatments that can help improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation, but they will never fully remove dark skin patches . You’ll need to see a dermatologist to discuss skin-lightening creams or other facial procedures used as treatment- and do not use over-the-counter or unproven methods – they could worsen the problem.

2. How do implant contraceptives work, and what is the best family planning method for a woman?

There is no universal “best contraception” for everyone as each person is different and has different requirements. The good news is that there are many options offering their own pros and cons.

3. If someone needs to do a DNA test on a child, how can they get it done, and is it very expensive?

DNA testing is useful when the paternity (father) of the child is in question. There’re a number of companies in South Africa providing this service, and even home test kits that can be bought. It’s pricey – testing can cost between R1000- R2000 per person tested (remembering that the father, the child and any other “potential” fathers may need to be tested.) We at Hello Doctor suggest that if you need assistance with this, it is best for you to go and see your GP to discuss all the ins and outs in more detail.

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4. Is there Ebola in South Africa? What are the symptoms and treatment for Ebola?

No, to date there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola reported in South Africa. Ebola is a severe and often fatal disease – fatality rate is around 50%.

It’s transmitted from animals to humans (through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.)
Human to human infection via direct contact through: broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids is also possible.

The incubation period for Ebola (from the time of infection to the time symptoms start) is anything from 2-21 days and the person is only infectious once symptomatic. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, fatigue, body aches and a sore throat. After this, vomiting, diarrhoea, a rash and internal/ external bleeding (oozing from the gums or blood in the stool for example) occurs.

Treatment involves what we call “supportive” treatment – intravenous fluids and treating other symptoms, but there is no specific treatment for this infection. There are a couple of vaccines in trial for safety and efficacy at the moment, but none licensed or in use.

5. I have a problem with pimples and acne – can it be cured?

Acne can be treated yes! There are a number of prescription medications (tablets/ topical creams) on the market that are very successful.

If you are struggling with acne please go to see your GP/ a doctor at your clinic to discuss which treatment will be suitable for you.

The important thing is that we treat it early if needed to prevent skin scarring and hyperpigmentation.

Author: Dr Lynelle Hoeks