Dysfunction of the Burp Reflex (DBR) 2: The Cricopharyngeus Muscle

Apologies to all who have been awaiting more posts about the dysfunction of the burp (or belch) reflex (DBR). The sad truth is that I didn’t have anything new to write about! However, thanks to a couple of comments left in the previous post about this topic, there is a bit more I can add.

I had previously mentioned that the injection of botulinum toxin, commonly known under the brand name Botox, into the upper oesophageal sphincter was a new therapy to treat DBR (it has already been used for decades to treat other problems). Since my previous DBR post, a reader commented that her daughter had had the procedure done at the Bastian Voice Institute in Illinois, and that it appeared to have been successful. With other readers going for the same procedure at the institute and with the reassurance that they have had a 100% success rate out of 21 patients so far, it prompted me to try and find out more about this procedure.

Don't worry, it's not that scary! The injection is usually given under general anaesthetic.
Don’t worry, it’s not that scary! The injection is usually given under general anaesthetic.

Continue reading Dysfunction of the Burp Reflex (DBR) 2: The Cricopharyngeus Muscle

Cock-a-doodle-doooo! (or Happy Chinese New Year)

Rooster - Chinese New Year 2017
© Prop Door Illustrations

The 28th January is the start of Chinese New Year this year, and this time it’s the year of the rooster (in case the picture didn’t tip you off).

According to chinese-astrology.co.uk, people born in the year of the rooster are keen observers, sometimes with the gift of foresight. They’re also straightforward, sociable and like to dress to impress. Apparently they are also true and loyal friends and make great hosts – so if you have a rooster pal, it sounds like s/he’s worth hanging onto.

Unfortunately if you are a rooster, it’s thought that your zodiac year is actually an unlucky one as you’re more likely to incur the wrath of Tai Sui, the God of Age who resides on Jupiter. Bad times. To escape a terrible year, it’s recommended that you receive blessings and talismans of good fortune from your local Taoist temple, generally behave yourself and try to face away from Jupiter as much as possible. Got it..??

Or, if you’re like me, you’ll ignore all this superstitious mumbo jumbo and just get on with enjoying life. I definitely won’t have any form of astrology dictate what goes on in mine.

Have a happy and prosperous year, everybody!


International Coffee Day

International Coffee Day animation - Prop Door Illustrations


The 1st of October is International Coffee Day. What better an excuse to get your buzz on.

Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world. It raises the blood pressure and metabolic rate, which causes more oxygen to get to the brain. It’s well known for reducing fatigue and increasing alertness of course, so it can help in certain tasks – for example it’s been found to improve driving performance and reflexes. However tests have shown that it can have a negative impact on motor skill learning and perceptual memory, and can also cause anxiety and panic attacks. Not so great. If you’re properly caffeine-addicted and put away more than seven cups of joe (>300mg of caffeine) in a day, you might even end up hallucinating. If you manage to avoid hearing coffee overdose-induced voices, you could still end up being affected by irritability, muscle-twitching, insomnia, headaches and palpitations. Then good luck trying to give it up, as withdrawal can cause tiredness, depression and more of that anxiety.

So enjoy your brew! In moderation.

Paralympics 2016

I started suffering from withdrawal symptoms after the Olympic Games finished in Rio a couple of weeks ago. Luckily for me and Olympics fans everywhere, the Paralympic Games have started today! The Paralympics have taken a back seat to the Olympics in the past, but in London 2012 they were very much centre stage. From then on the Paralympians have been promoted as the “Superhumans” in the UK by Paralympics broadcaster, Channel 4.

Last year I created a short manga story called “Learning to Fly”, inspired by these Superhumans. It seems a fitting time to dig it out.

Good luck to all the Paralympians in Rio!

Learning to fly_01

Learning to fly_02

Learning to fly_03

learning to fly_04

Learning to fly_05

Learning to fly_06

Learning to fly_07

International Left Handers Day

Inky Knuckles Unite - Left Handers Day 2016


Today is International Left Handers Day. I didn’t realise that people thought there should be a day for this. As somebody who’s struggled with writing at a weird angle, a constant inky/graphite-covered little finger, righty scissor pain and can openers I feel I can appreciate it.

Inky Knuckles Unite! For today. Then go back to grumbling about struggling in a right-hander’s world quietly.

British Summer Time

It’s officially summer!! On paper. If you live in the UK and you’ve checked outside for the last couple of weeks, nobody could blame you for thinking otherwise. Welcome to the Great British Summer Time.

British Summer Time - Prop Door Illustrations
It’s up there somewhere.

This picture also seems to reflect the current political mood in the country (in about half of us at least). We’ll need to keep a large umbrella handy for the sh*tstorm that will be here for the foreseeable future.

Don’t forget to smile..!!

Oh, and happy Independence Day to those in the US. Not saying anything more about our so-called “Independence Day”…for now.

Oral Allergy Syndrome – When Fruit Turns Nasty

Oral Allergy Syndrome - Fruit Onslaught
© Tessa Cheung

Some who know me have remarked that I seem to like collecting rare health conditions. Sometimes I find it hard to argue, what with being unable to burp and also suffering from a myriad of allergies. Allergies are very commonplace in developed countries nowadays, but after becoming allergic to more and more fruits (and some raw vegetables) that I used to eat frequently, I decided to dig for information and found out that I have oral allergy syndrome. The condition is surprisingly not that well known, even though there is a fair amount of information about it now; a doctor I asked said that she’d never heard of it.

What the Heck is Oral Allergy Syndrome?

Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) is a result of cross-reactivity in hayfever sufferers. Allergies are caused by the body’s immune system producing an unnecessary response to normally non-harmful substances – in the case of hayfever, pollen. The immune response leads to itching and swelling in the areas exposed to the pollen, and hayfever sufferers will be all too familiar with the results: streaming eyes, endless sneezing and general misery. The protein structures of certain pollens are similar to the proteins found in various fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices, and if the immune system also recognises these as “hostile” then allergic reactions can also occur when these are eaten. These reactions tend to be limited to areas that have been directly exposed, and most often the mucus membranes of the mouth are affected – hence the term, “oral allergy syndrome”, although it is also known as pollen-food syndrome (PFS). Symptoms include itching, tingling and sometimes swelling in the lips, mouth and throat. Nausea may also occur after eating the offending item, which goes away after the stomach juices have had enough time to break down the proteins.

The types of foods which may cause a reaction depend on which pollen allergy or allergies you have. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) website has an brilliant table documenting what you can expect to react to if you’re allergic to birch, grass, ragweed or mugwort pollen. You can find out which one you’re allergic to through allergy testing at a clinic (in the UK this usually involves seeing your GP first for a referral to a hospital clinic). If you’re allergic to something in a particular family, you can often predict that you should avoid others in that family. For example: apples, pears, quinces, apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, raspberries, loquats, strawberries and almonds are all in the Rosaceae (or rose) family, any of which you might react to if you suffer from a birch pollen allergy.

Living with Oral Allergy Syndrome

OAS is caused by eating raw fruits and vegetables. This is because the food proteins are in their immune response-activating state when uncooked. Proteins are altered in shape, or denatured, by heat, pH changes, radiation, exposure to oxygen and mechanical agitation. After this occurs, the immune system does not recognise the proteins.

Protein denaturation

Ways you could continue to eat fruits and vegetables, as recommended by Allergy UK, include:

  • Cooking them – the heat distorts the proteins.
  • Peeling them – the proteins are often concentrated in the skin.
  • Microwaving them – this does not need to be done for so long that the fruit/veg is fully cooked, just long enough that most of it has been exposed to microwaves. In my experience 15 seconds is long enough for a small chopped and peeled apple. I actually got a nifty device that peels, cores and cuts apples into a spiral, making them much faster to prepare. I do miss the days when all I had to do was wash them.
  • Trying a different variety – you may find that you are allergic to some varieties of apples but not others, for example. You shouldn’t try this if you suffer from severe reactions to a particular fruit/vegetable/nut/spice, however – it would be better to avoid completely.

Other preparation methods that have worked for me include:

  • Cutting them up or juicing, and then leaving them in the fridge for about 6-8 hours or longer – this exposes the insides of the produce to oxygen, which begins the degradation of the fruit. It also activates enzymes that are present, some of which cause deterioration. Juicing fruit may cause denaturation mechanically as well.
  • Freezing them – this has worked for me with blueberries. I’m guessing that the water in the cells of the fruit forms ice crystals, which disrupts the protein structures.

Frozen blueberries

  • Drying them – the dried versions of some offending fruits such as apples, blueberries and figs haven’t caused any reaction for me thus far. This may be because some of them are dried using heat.

Dried appleUnfortunately cooking, juicing and cutting fresh fruits and vegetables does reduce the nutritional content as some vitamins are oxygen and heat sensitive. Resorting to the above methods is better than not eating them at all though, as they still retain some nutrients. You can’t use OAS as an excuse to cut them all out of your diet I’m afraid! During the height of hayfever season you might want to avoid the problem foods altogether though, as the reaction can be worse at this time.

If you have a reaction to nuts, a widespread reaction such as a rash or breathing problems or react even to cooked products then make sure to consult a doctor.

Hopefully this has taken some of the mysticism out of oral allergy syndrome. Now face those fruits!

Art 4 Eve – Art Auction in aid of The Eve Appeal

Art 4 Eve auction montageEve Appeal logo

If you fancy owning a unique piece of art and want the proceeds to go towards fighting women’s cancers, then it’s your lucky day. The Eve Appeal launched the Art 4 Eve auction last Friday. Pieces of artwork have been generously donated by world renowned artists and photographers including Sir Quentin Blake,  Sir Antony Gormley, Annie Kevans, Susanne Kuhn, Jason Martin, Grayson Perry and Paula Rego.

Art 4 Eve art_montage 2

Pieces of particular interest are Annie Kevan’s portrait of David Bowie; a unique ceramic horse sculpture by Grayson Perry; a painting from Lincoln Townley’s ‘The Hollywood Collection’; a drawing created by Sir Quentin Blake especially for the auction and based on The Eve Appeal logo, titled ‘Nude Woman In Water’. Also up for grabs are two signed boxsets by Gilbert & George and “mini libraries” of signed art and architecture books.

Art 4 Eve art_montage


The Eve Appeal was created in 2002, and promotes awareness about gynaecological cancers. It works to raise money to fund the research programme at the Department of Women’s Cancer based at University College London.

“Major breakthroughs are already being achieved towards improving survival rates of women with gynaecological cancers through the Department’s pioneering research into screening, early diagnosis and risk prediction. To build on these successes and save women’s lives, raising urgent and on-going funds is critical.” – The Eve Appeal

The Art 4 Eve auction will end on the 28th April, at a private dinner hosted by Viscount Linley and Helena Morrissey CBE at Christie’s, King Street, London. Tickets to the Art Dinner can be purchased from The Eve Appeal website.