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On being common

Mismatched research

"The Lord prefers common-looking people. That is why he made so many of them." So apparently, said Abe Lincoln. Well, someone made a whole lot of common health problems as well. Some of those common, but serious, conditions, like heart disease or diabetes, deservedly attract a lot of attention. But there are common conditions that do not. Bandolier has tried to make a habit of looking for those common, but overlooked, conditions.

Much in these columns this month is devoted to the common, starting with a useful review of treatments for earwax, a topic of great interest to Bandolier. Earwax is probably a good idea, but perhaps not in abundance. The review tells us that there is little known to be better than simple remedies, and there are few trials. Another systematic review, of constipation prevalence in North America, claims to be the first of its kind.

Mismatched research

What do people want from research? Answers to things that affect them might be one answer. Given that earwax is a problem that affects many, how come there is no super-whizzo ear drop that is simple to use, safe, and effective? Just think of time saved by doctors and nurses syringing ears if there was something we could buy ourselves.

Often research hits the right buttons. Two observational studies are worth a read because they hit the spot. One charts how people with hip or knee problems in the UK are handled, while another, from Germany, demonstrates how the problem of latex allergy in healthcare workers can be overcome by simple interventions well implemented. Another systematic review of (mainly) observational studies on surgery for obesity shows how useful this can be. Pride of place, though, to a superb randomised trial of intravenous immunoglobulin in one form of MS, that answers the question of whether or not it works.

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