Blog Posts

Children’s Dental Health: Starting Off Strong

February 10th, 2021

Children have 20 baby, or primary, teeth – 10 on the top and 10 on the bottom. The primary teeth begin to come in at around 6 months of age, and by the time your child is 2 to 3 years old, all of the primary teeth should have come in. On the flip side, most adults have 32 permanent teeth, including four wisdom teeth, which are often removed for lack of space in the mouth.

Primary teeth are technically called deciduous teeth because they eventually fall out just like leaves fall from deciduous trees in autumn. Generally, the primary incisors, the middle front teeth, begin to loosen and fall out by around age 6. The molars in the back of the mouth are typically lost between ages 10 and 12, and are replaced with permanent teeth by about age 13.

Primary teeth may be in the mouth for just a short time, but they play a vital role when they are there. They reserve space for the permanent teeth, give the face a natural appearance, assist in the development of clear speech, and help the children get good nutrition by enabling them to chew foods effectively.

The primary teeth act as place-holders for the permanent teeth. But if they become infected or decay and fall out too soon, the permanent teeth can come in early and be crooked due to limited space, which often makes braces necessary. Orthodontists report that 30 percent of their cases are the result of the premature loss of primary teeth.

Further, healthy primary teeth give the permanent teeth a healthy start. Decay or infection in the primary teeth can cause damage to the permanent teeth developing beneath them. That means how we care for our children’s primary teeth affects the health of their permanent teeth, as well as their overall oral health.

Unfortunately, 40 percent of children in the United States have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. Tooth decay is the result of poor oral health, which can lead to gum disease and cavities. Cavities are caused by the breakdown of the tooth by acids produced by bacteria. Cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood in the US.

But cavities in children can be prevented by teaching them good dental health habits right from the start then modeling those behaviors to show our children the importance of a good daily routine. It’s essential to establish a proper oral hygiene routine early in life to help ensure the development of strong and healthy teeth later in life.

The foundation for healthy permanent teeth is formed during the first years of life, and caring for your baby’s teeth begins before the teeth even show up.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you wipe your baby’s gums twice a day with a soft, clean cloth in the morning after the first feeding and right before bed. Doing this eliminates any bacteria and sugars that can cause cavities in the teeth that are sitting just under the surface.

Once your child’s teeth begin to come in, start brushing twice a day with a soft, small-bristled toothbrush and plain water. When there are two or more teeth next to one another, begin to gently floss between the teeth. The American Dental Association recommends that children see a dentist by their first birthday. Consider a dentist who specializes in children. Pediatric dentists are trained to handle the unique issues associated with children’s dental health.

At around age 2, as your child gets more teeth, you can begin using a small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice. Children ages 3 and older should use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.

These limits are necessary to keep your child from swallowing the fluoride toothpaste when they brush. Many cities around the US fluoridate their water, and ingesting too much fluoride can lead to dental fluorosis or skeletal fluorosis, which can damage bones and joints.

Continue to brush your child’s teeth until they insist on brushing themselves, but supervise closely to ensure that they don’t swallow a lot of toothpaste. At around 6 years old, children are generally able to brush their teeth using the appropriate technique. Still, supervise your child’s daily toothbrushing task until the eruption of the second molar at around the age of 13.

For long-term dental health, your child should follow the ADA’s recommendations for home oral care: brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, clean between the teeth daily (floss), eat a healthy diet that limits sugary drinks and snacks, and see a dentist regularly for prevention and treatment of oral disease.

Improve your child’s chances for keeping their teeth for life. Start them off strong with good oral care.

Playing for Keeps

February 1st, 2021

February is observed as International Recreational Therapy Month. Also known as therapeutic recreation, recreational therapy incorporates a definition of health that goes beyond the “absence of illness.” It includes efforts to enrich physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual functioning as well.

Recreational therapists are integral members of the health care team. They use sports, games, crafts, animals, and other fun activities to help individuals experiencing injury, illness, or disability participate fully and independently in daily living routines. It also enables them to be more involved in their community. Ultimately, this leads to a greater quality of life.

And there’s a ton of research showing that people who live active, satisfying lifestyles are happier and healthier. Here are 44 ways being active makes you happier. The ways being active makes you healthier are well-known. For one thing, it can lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels, which reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke.

While the treatment tools employed by recreational therapists include enjoyable activities, recreational therapy isn’t all fun and games. The activities chosen are specifically targeted to the patient’s injury, illness, or disability. By teaching patients to participate in the chosen leisure activities, they learn to live fully with their condition, and be more social.

In essence, recreational therapists help their patients develop the skills, knowledge, and behaviors for living and community involvement, which improves quality of life.

After consulting with a patient, the recreational therapist develops a treatment plan based on where patients are in their care, their abilities and disabilities, and their interests. The therapist will chose activities that address functional skills for recovery and maximize skill development. The goal-oriented activities chosen can range from dancing to wheelchair sports, horseback riding to bowling, and others.

Once patients master those functional skills in the therapy setting, they can be transferred into real-life situations. When patients are ready to return to leisure interests, recreational therapy has addressed the changes in their lives resulting from their illness and helped them find new ways to enjoy life that also positively impacts the recovery process.

Recreational therapists work in a variety of settings. These include acute care hospitals, pediatric hospitals, inpatient and outpatient physical rehabilitation centers, inpatient and outpatient mental health centers, skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, and adult day centers. They also provide services for park and recreation programs, sports programs, and school systems.

In most states, recreational therapy is provided by Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRSs). CTRSs are certified through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). Some states also require licensure for recreational therapists to work in their state.

To become a CTRS, you must have a Bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited university and complete a formal clinical internship. You must also pass a national certification exam. Most academic programs in therapeutic recreation emphasize the physical and behavioral sciences, and include course work in recreation and leisure theory.

The US Department of Labor reports that there are currently more than 19,000 recreational therapists in the United States. Last year, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that the field would grow 8 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster growth than the average for all occupations.

As America ages, the need for recreational therapists is increasing, with more skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, and adult day centers seeking their services. Continued growth is expected in other community facilities as well, such as day care programs for individuals with disabilities.

Blood Donors Rock!

January 26th, 2021

Are you one of the estimated 6.8 million people in the US who donate blood each year? If not, have you ever thought about becoming a donor? January is National Blood Donor Month, so I’m dedicating this blog to the facts about blood donation, to salute current blood donors and encourage more people to donate.

According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the US needs blood. They  need it for surgery or cancer treatment, or to treat a chronic illness or traumatic injury. But blood and blood products cannot be manufactured. In the US, our blood supply comes from volunteer donors, who give 13.6 million units of whole blood and red blood cells each year.

While that might sound like a lot, consider that a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood. An estimated 1.8 million new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the US this year, and many of those people will need blood. About one in seven people entering a hospital needs blood. In all, 4.5 million Americans need a blood transfusion each year.

Looking at these facts, it’s clear that the need for blood far surpasses the supply, which is even thinner this year as many blood drives were cancelled due to COVID-19. More donors are drastically needed. I assure you, the strict regulations on blood donation centers today make donation safe. And it’s a simple process.

To donate blood in most states, you must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and feel healthy. If you meet these criteria, you can donate one pint of blood, which is the most common form of donation, every 56 days. One pint of blood can save up to three lives.

Before you donate, staff at the donation center will take a medical history and perform a “mini-physical.” They take your pulse, temperature and blood pressure. They also check the hemoglobin level in your blood to test for anemia. My donation center makes my test results, which include my cholesterol level, available to me a few days later on a secure website.

Donating whole blood takes about 45 to 60 minutes, but if you’re donating platelets or plasma, which is done through a process called apheresis, that can take one and a half to two hours.  Afterward, you remain at the center for a short time to be sure you suffer no side effects such as dizziness or nausea. Center staff will give you something to eat and drink while you wait.

You should avoid caffeine and alcohol after donating blood, and avoid heavy lifting and intense exercise for a day or two. You may experience slight bruising around the donation site. Apply ice or cold compresses to prevent this.

Blood donation can save the lives of the blood recipients. It benefits people with internal or external bleeding, those who have sickle cells disease or other illnesses affecting the blood, people undergoing cancer treatment or surgery, those with an inherited blood disorder, and those undergoing organ transplantation. It truly is a “gift of life” for these individuals.

But there are also benefits to blood donors. For one thing, the mini-physical can offer excellent insight into your health. It can detect problems that could indicate an underlying medical condition or uncover risk factors for certain diseases.

Donated blood is tested for a number of diseases including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, West Nile virus, and syphilis. It is also tested for the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease. If left untreated, Chagas disease can lead to congestive heart failure.

In addition to benefiting your physical health, blood donation benefits your emotional wellbeing as well. According to a report by the Mental Health Foundation, helping others through blood donation can reduce stress, help get rid of negative feelings, and provide a sense of belonging  and reduce isolation.

When you donate blood, you provide a vital service to your community and make a difference in the lives of others. Won’t you consider becoming a donor today. If you’re already a donor, thank you for your gift of life!

A Brief Overview of COVID-19 Testing

January 18th, 2021

As the number of COVID-19 cases in this country continues to surge, there has been a rush of Americans seeking to get tested for the coronavirus that causes it. If you’re considering testing but are confused about the various types of tests and what they do and when to get them, here’s a brief overview that might help.

The first thing you need to understand is that there are different types of tests that are used at different times. Certain tests are used to detect if you are currently infected with SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and there are different tests that can determine if you’ve already had the virus.

If you want to know if you are currently infected, there are two types of tests: molecular tests and antigen tests. Molecular tests are typically performed using nasal swabs or throat swabs, but some test saliva or another bodily fluid. Molecular tests look for genetic material that can only come from the virus, which will be present if you are infected.

Antigen tests, which are done using nasal or throat swabs, identify antigens from the virus. Antigens are protein fragments that initiate an allergic response in the body. Antigen tests are more likely to miss an active COVID-19 infection compared to molecular tests. It may be recommended that you get a molecular test if your antigen test is negative but you have COVID-19 symptoms, which include cough, shortness of breath and fever.

You can get these tests from your doctor or state or local health department. Most states have set up testing centers throughout the community to provide easy access for residents. Many centers offer the rapid COVID-19 test, which is an antigen test that provides results the same day as opposed to the 3-5 day wait time for most nasal swab tests. The FDA has also approved a COVID-19 home testing kit.

On the other hand, antibody tests look for antibodies to the virus in your blood, which may indicate that you’ve previously been infected by the coronavirus. Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system that help fight foreign invaders such as viruses. They may help ward off future attacks by the viruses and keep you from getting the diseases they cause a second time.

Unfortunately, researchers are uncertain about how much immunity antibodies to the coronavirus provide against getting COVID-19 again. Research suggests that coronavirus antibody levels may wane over just a few months. Confirmed and suspected cases of reinfection have been reported, but remain rare. Researchers are working to better understand this phenomenon.

Antibody tests are not a good way to determine if you are currently infected with the coronavirus because it can take 1-3 weeks after infection for your body to make antibodies. You may test negative but have an infection in its early stages. Further, you can test positive for antibodies even if you had an asymptomatic infection.

Antibody tests are available through your doctor or a verified laboratory. Typically, results are available within a few days.

The tests for COVID-19 are new and it’s unclear how accurate they really are because there are no “gold standard” tests to compare them to. In addition, these tests were made available by Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA. Under an EUA, the makers were permitted to market the tests even though they didn’t receive formal approval due to a public health emergency.

Studies show that the rate of false negative results with molecular tests vary depending on how long the infection has been present but ranged from 20 percent when testing was performed five days after symptoms began to up to 100 percent when testing was done earlier in the infection. False negatives are more common with antigen tests, which is why they are not favored by the FDA as a single-use test for active infection.

The reported rate of false negatives with antibody tests ranges from 0 to 30 percent depending on the research study and when in the course of the infection the test was done. Having an antibody test too soon after infection can lead to false negative results.

Most people who develop COVID-19 have a relatively mild form of the disease and don’t need any special treatment or hospitalization. In addition to symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, they may also experience a sore throat and tiredness that may last one to two weeks. Other people who are infected may be asymptomatic.

But for some people, COVID-19 is a severe illness that requires hospitalization, sometimes in an intensive care or special COVID unit. The risk for this is higher for people who are older and have chronic health conditions such as diabetes.

Whether you test positive or negative for the coronavirus, take steps to protect yourself and others. Wash your hands often, avoid close contact with others, cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others, cover coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect, and monitor your health daily. And follow CDC guidelines if symptoms develop.

Raise Your Glaucoma IQ

January 11th, 2021

Glaucoma is a group of progressive diseases that can damage your eye’s optic nerve and cause vision loss, even blindness. There are many theories, but the exact cause of glaucoma is unknown. It is most often related to a build-up of pressure inside your eye. When this pressure, called intraocular pressure, or IOP, remains high over time, it begins to harm optic nerve fibers.

IOP increases when the fluid inside your eye, called aqueous humor, which normally flows out of your eye through a mesh-like drainage channel called the trabecular meshwork, gets blocked and cannot leave the eye. As a result, the fluid builds up and IOP increases. In some case, however, glaucoma can occur in people who have normal IOP.

Another theory suggests that glaucoma is caused by an inadequate amount of blood flow to the optic nerve.

About 3 million Americans have glaucoma. It’s expensive and damaging to vision. It costs the US economy $286 billion every year in direct costs and productivity loses, and it’s the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world.

There are two main types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.

Open angle glaucoma is the most common type, affecting approximately 95 percent of patients. In this type of glaucoma, fluid does not drain properly due to changes in and along the drainage passageway. There are typically no early symptoms of open-angle glaucoma, so you can have it for years and not know it. It is often called “the silent thief of sight.”

With angle-closure glaucoma, your eye doesn’t drain like it’s supposed to because the drain space, or angle, which is located between your iris and cornea, becomes too narrow and can become blocked. This can occur suddenly, which is called acute angle-closure glaucoma, or over time, called chronic angle-closure glaucoma.

Anyone can develop glaucoma, but there are certain factors that increase your risk for developing it. You are more likely to get it if you are over age 40, have a family history of glaucoma, have diabetes, take certain steroid medications such as prednisone, have had an injury to your eyes, have high eye pressure, or are nearsighted or farsighted. There are other risk factors as well.

Glaucoma-related damage to the optic nerve generally starts with a loss of nerve tissue in a specific pattern called cupping. This is when the center of the optic disc, called the cup, becomes larger, leaving less room for the remaining optic nerve fibers. It’s common for you to experience blurry spots in your peripheral, or side, vision when this occurs. This is often the first symptom of glaucoma.

As your glaucoma progresses, it may begin to affect your central vision, which is needed to see details and for activities such as driving and reading. Advanced glaucoma can lead to permanent blurred or dimmed vision or even to blindness.

Your eye doctor may use several painless tests to diagnose glaucoma in addition to a dilated eye exam and visual field test. Tonometry measures eye pressure; gonioscopy examines the drainage area of the eye, and optical coherence tomography (OCT) creates a three-dimensional image of the optic nerve and retina to evaluate the degree of cupping and ocular damage.

Glaucoma is treated using medications, laser therapy, and surgery. Medications, which may include eye drops or pills, lower eye pressure by reducing the amount of aqueous humor produced in the eye. They also help increase the outflow of fluid from the eye..

A laser procedure called trabeculoplasty opens clogs in the trabecular meshwork so fluid can drain out of the eye. Laser iridotomy, which is used for angle-closure glaucoma, creates a tiny opening in the iris to allow the drainage angle to open.

During a glaucoma surgery called trabeculectomy, the doctor creates a new channel in your eye to allow the fluid to drain, which eases IOP. Another surgical procedure your doctor may choose involves implanting a tube to help drain fluid from your eye.

Glaucoma treatment cannot restore vision you may have already lost, but it can help prevent any further vision loss.

Because glaucoma has no early symptoms, people at high risk should see their eye doctor for a dilated eye exam and visual field test at least every one to two years or as directed by their doctor. Don’t let glaucoma steal your sight. See your eye doctor today!

Be Aware of Birth Defects

January 6th, 2021

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, birth defects affect one in every 33 babies born in the US, which is about 3 percent of all babies. The CDC also reports that birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in the US, accounting for 20 percent of all infant deaths. This blog takes a closer look at birth defects and offers a few strategies to prevent them.

A birth defect is a problem that forms when a baby is developing in the womb, so it is present at birth. Every 4½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the US. A birth defect can affect how the baby’s body looks, works, or both. Some birth defects are relatively harmless and require little or no treatment. Others require immediate surgery and a lifetime of care.

The March of Dimes notes that birth defects can occur at any time during a woman’s pregnancy, but most happen during the first three months, or the first trimester. During that time, the baby’s organs are developing. But birth defects can occur later in pregnancy as well as the organs continue to grow and develop.

In many cases, birth defects are the result of genetics, as mutated genes get passed from the parents to the baby. The mother’s behavior during pregnancy, such as smoking, using illicit drugs, or drinking alcohol; exposure to certain medications or toxic chemicals; having certain types of infections during pregnancy, including sexually transmitted infections; or a combination of these factors, can also lead to birth defects. The cause of some birth defects is unknown.

Being 34 years old or older may put you at an increased risk for having a baby with a birth defect, as can having certain health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and seizure disorders.

Birth defects can be structural or developmental. Structural defects include conditions involving body parts that are missing or malformed. Common structural birth defects include:

Heart defects – The walls, valves, or blood vessels of the heart form abnormally. This affects how well the heart can pump blood through the body.
Cleft lip and cleft palate – If the tissues of the roof of the mouth or lip don’t merge properly during development, an opening or split can result.
Spina bifida – This is a neural tube defect, which involves the brain and spine. With spina bifida, the spine does not form and close properly, affecting the spinal cord and nerves.
Clubfoot – A shortened Achilles tendon causes the foot to point inward and under instead of forward.
Sickle cell disease – The normally round red blood cells are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. These sticky cells get stuck in the small blood vessels, which blocks blood flow and oxygen delivery to organs and tissues.

Down syndrome is a common developmental birth defect. Down syndrome, in which an extra chromosome 21 is present, causes delays in physical and mental development. Another developmental birth defect is cerebral palsy. This condition is most often caused by abnormal brain development before birth. It affects movement, balance, and posture.

Some birth defects can be detected during pregnancy using prenatal ultrasound. Your doctor may employ a more sensitive test such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS) to look for birth defects before your baby is born. Most birth defects can be positively diagnosed through a physical exam and newborn screening test after birth, but some defects are not detectable until the child is older.

If something is detected on your baby’s newborn screening test, more in-depth testing, called diagnostic testing, will be needed to determine if there’s a problem. If the diagnostic testing is positive for a defect, your doctor will guide you through the next steps. When a birth defect, such a heart defect, is found early, it can often be treated and more serious problems can be prevented.

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but there are steps you can take before and during pregnancy to reduce the risk. The CDC suggests that women Commit to Healthy Choices to Help Prevent Birth Defects. Here are some of the CDC’s tips:

• Manage health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and adopt healthy behaviors, including quitting smoking and stopping alcohol, before becoming pregnant. Continue these behaviors during pregnancy.
• Strive to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Women who are obese before pregnancy are at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy. Obesity also increases the risk of several serious birth defects.
• Take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day one month before and during pregnancy. Folic acid can help prevent major birth defects of the developing brain and spine.
• See your health care provider regularly when planning a pregnancy and begin prenatal care as soon as you suspect that you are pregnant. Be sure to tell your provider about any medications that you are taking.
• See your provider regularly throughout your pregnancy. Talk to your provider about any vaccinations you may need. The flu vaccine and the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine are specifically recommended during pregnancy to protect women against infections that can cause birth defects.

Holiday Drinking: Time for Wisdom and Moderation

December 22nd, 2020

The holidays are marked by festive celebrations with family, friends and coworkers. Typically, alcohol flows freely at these celebrations, and it’s not uncommon to drink more at these events than you do during the rest of the year. But binge drinking has negative physical and emotional effects, and puts you – and others – at risk.

Most people know that drinking too much is bad for your liver. Consistent heavy drinking causes different types of inflammation in the liver, such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. And any damage to the liver, including damage caused by alcohol, can lead to liver cancer.

Drinking affects other parts of your body as well. A single episode of binge drinking can damage your heart and throw off your heartbeat. In fact, the rate of deadly heart attacks spikes during the winter holiday season. This phenomenon is known as holiday heart syndrome. Binge drinking can also lead to high blood pressure and even stroke.

Further, a night of binge drinking can impair your immune system’s ability to fight infection for up to 24 hours, putting you at increased risk for colds, flu and other infections. Too much alcohol can also worsen medical and psychiatric conditions. Alcohol is a depressant and can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also affect blood sugar levels in the blood of people with diabetes.

And that’s not all. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and for some people, drinking too much releases pent-up anger and frustration. After drinking, these people may act on the their anger, which can result in violence and physical injury. And with lowered inhibitions, you’re more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, which can result in contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

Drinking too much can also be deadly. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes annually. That makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the US.

In addition to having negative effects on your health and wellbeing, binge drinking is expensive. NIAAA notes that alcohol misuse costs the US $249 billion a year, and 75 percent of those costs are related to binge drinking. These costs include lost productivity, health care costs and criminal justice costs.

Another serious concern related to holiday drinking is the increase in people drinking and hitting the road. NIAAA reports that drunk drivers play a role in 40 percent of traffic deaths over Christmas and New Year’s. The institute notes that this figure is an increase of 12 percent over the rest of December.

The US Department of Transportation elaborates on NIAAA’s statistics. They report that 300 Americans die each year in the handful of days surrounding the Christmas and New Year holidays. They go on to report that an average of 27 people die each day in December due to drunk driving accidents. NIAAA notes that there is a 155 percent increase in DUI violations on New Year’s Eve alone.

One thing you should know about alcohol; it sneaks up on you. Typically, people don’t realize that their critical decision-making abilities and driving-related skills are already diminished long before they show any overt signs of intoxication. You may think you’re “okay to drive,” but you’re just fooling yourself. Your reflexes and judgment are impaired by the alcohol even if you don’t “feel” it.

Impairment is not determined by what you drink, but by the amount of alcohol you drink over time. Binge drinking is when you drink enough alcohol to bring your blood alcohol level up to the legal limit for driving, which is 0.08 in most states. Generally, this works out to about five alcoholic drinks for men and four drinks for women in less than two hours.

And don’t think that you’ll sober up and be able to drive once you’ve stopped drinking and had a cup of coffee. In reality, alcohol continues to affect your brain and body long after you’ve finished your last drink. The alcohol in your stomach and intestines continues to enter your bloodstream, resulting in impaired judgement and coordination for hours.

Coffee isn’t the answer. Caffeine may help with drowsiness in the short-term, but it does nothing to counter the effects of alcohol on decision-making and coordination. And then, when the caffeine wears off, you’ll feel post-caffeine sleepiness, which only compounds the depressant effects of the alcohol. Then, you can easily nod off or lose attention if you get behind the wheel.

You don’t have to skip the holiday party or abstain from alcohol altogether, but consider these tips for safer drinking:

• Have a snack before you leave for the party. When you drink on an empty stomach, the alcohol quickly passes from your stomach into your small intestine, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream and begins to affect your body.
• Make your first drink nonalcoholic. It keeps you from gulping down your first alcoholic drink.
• Alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. Nonalcoholic drinks help counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
• Eat throughout the night. Food can slow the absorption of alcohol and reduce the peak level of it in your body by about one-third.
• If you are in an awkward situation, don’t escape by making a beeline to the bar. Walk around the room, mingle with other guests, check out the decorations, etc.
• Establish a designated driver who isn’t drinking or take a ride-share home and to the party.

You can still enjoy alcohol during the festivities, just use wisdom and moderation to keep yourself – and others – safe this holiday season!

Handwashing for a Healthy Life and Community

December 14th, 2020

When it comes to staying healthy, it helps to remember your mom’s advice to, “Wash your hands.” And the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up your mom. They maintain that, “Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.” Let’s explore why the CDC’s statement is true.

First, consider these germ facts, courtesy of Tri-County Health Care in Minnesota:

• There are between 2 and 10 million bacteria on your fingertips and elbows.
• The number of germs on your fingertips doubles after using the toilet.
• One germ can multiply into more than 8 million germs in one day.
• Nearly 80 percent of illness-causing germs are spread by your hands.
• Germs can survive for up to three hours on your hands.

Here’s another fact: Feces from people or animals, which can get on your hands after you use the toilet, change a diaper, or handle raw meat or pet waste, is a huge source of germs, including Salmonella, E. coli and norovirus. These germs cause diarrhea and can also spread certain respiratory infections such as adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease.

According to the CDC, a single gram of human feces, which is about the weight of a paper clip, can contain one trillion germs! If you get these germs on your hands and you don’t wash them off, you can pass them to other people and make them sick. Washing your hands with soap and water clears these germs from your hands and prevents their transmission to others.

In fact, research has shown that proper handwashing can prevent about 30 percent of diarrhea-related illnesses and about 20 percent of respiratory infections, such as colds and flu.

In addition to limiting the transfer of germs to other people, there are other great benefits to keeping your hands clean. It keeps your workplace healthy, decreases the number of food-borne illnesses and keeps kids healthier. It also helps combat the rise in antibiotic resistance because it reduces viral infections that are often incorrectly treated with antibiotics, which causes the germs to become resistant to the antibiotics.

In addition to the millions of bacteria that accumulate on your hands every day, many illness-causing viruses find a home on your hands as well, and frequent handwashing remains the number one tip for preventing the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19. But handwashing must be done properly, using soap and water.

Proper handwashing requires five simple steps:

• Wet: Put both your hands under clean running water.
• Lather: Apply a generous amount of soap to the inside and back of your hands, as well as your fingertips. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Skip the antibacterial soap. Studies show it’s not any more effective at killing germs than regular soap.
• Scrub: Rub both hands together and move your fingertips around both hands and up to your wrists. You don’t need a scrub brush, and you don’t need to make harsh, scrubbing movements.
• Rinse: Return both hands to the running water and gently wash away the soap.
• Dry: Completely dry the water from both hands.

If you don’t have ready access to soap and water, you can clean your hands using a hand sanitizer. Make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Sanitizers that contain ethanol alcohol and isopropanol alcohol are acceptable types, but those containing methanol have been recalled by the FDA after reports of adverse and even serious side effects.

When using a hand sanitizer, apply a generous drop to the palm of your hand, enough to cover all surfaces of your hands. Rub the sanitizer across both hands front and back, and your fingertips, until they feel dry,

Remember, hand sanitizers are good in a pinch, but they shouldn’t replace frequent handwashing as the primary method for keeping your hands clean.

We know that frequent, proper handwashing can protect you from COVID-19, as well as from respiratory infections such as colds, flu and even pneumonia. It can also protect against gastrointestinal infections that cause diarrhea. And we can pass on the germs that cause these disorders to others, even if we’re not sick. For many older people, babies and children, and those who have weakened immune systems, these disorders can be deadly.

So what the CDC maintains is definitely true. Keeping our hands clean protects us from getting sick as well as from passing on potentially deadly germs to others. It’s a small price to pay for a healthier life and community, don’t you think?

Handling Holiday Stress

December 7th, 2020

The holidays are a happy season for joyfully celebrating with family, friends, and coworkers. But for many people, this season is also a time of heightened anxiety and stress. Often, people get worked up from the increased responsibilities, lofty expectations and soaring financial pressures that go along with the holidays, and that causes them distress.

If you get stressed out during the holidays, this blog is for you. In it, we explore some helpful suggestions for staying calm during the upcoming holiday season.

It’s impossible to avoid all stressful situations. Chances are there will be increased traffic – and maybe bad weather, road closures and delays – at this time of year. But you don’t have to add to that stress by trying to accomplish everything this holiday season and expecting to be perfect. Tell yourself that you don’t have to be perfect and repeat it until you believe it.

No Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other holiday celebration is going to be perfect, so don’t set unrealistic expectations for your family activities. Don’t get overwhelmed by the pressure of creating holiday events that resemble a Norman Rockwell portrait. Keep in mind that as families grow and change, their holiday traditions and rituals change as well.

Instead of trying to fit in all of your holiday traditions, identify your most important traditions and take small steps to make them a reality. Be open to creating new traditions as well. For example, if your adult children can’t be with you, make them part of your celebration by sharing emails, photos, and videos.

And when your family is gathered together, set aside any differences you may have. Accept your family members as they are, even if they haven’t lived up to your expectations. Be understanding if others become distressed when something goes wrong. They’re probably feeling the stress of the holidays just like you are.

Be proactive. The holidays are about bringing people together, not driving them apart. Focus on good memories and what family members have in common. Don’t debate differences of opinion during your holiday dinner. There are more appropriate times and places for those discussions.

Keep things in perspective. It helps to remember that the holiday season is short. If something goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world. That situation will quickly pass. To recover, think of the good things in your life and accept that there’s time after the holidays to do more of the things you didn’t have time to do during the actual holiday season.

Remember what’s important. Our consumer culture has a way of robbing the holiday season of its authentic meaning and cashing in on a time that once had personal significance to us. For you, that significance may surround family, community, or faith. Take time to re-establish what made the season significant for you in the first place. Volunteer in the community or help someone in need to reaffirm what the season is all about.

Many people spend excessive amounts in pursuit of perfect holiday gifts for family and friends, but that can intensify stress. Remember, you can’t buy happiness with expensive gifts. Before you go shopping, determine how much money you can really afford to spend on gifts and stick to your budget. Try online shopping to avoid crowded malls and the stress that goes along with that.

As an alternative to buying expensive gift for everyone on your list, consider donating to a charity in a loved one’s name, giving homemade gifts, or starting a family gift exchange.

Accept that there’s only so much time during the holidays and you cannot attend every party and event. Your friends will understand if you can’t make their get-together. They’re in the same boat with similar limits on their time. Skip seeing the Nutcracker, even if it’s a holiday tradition. The ballet will run again next year when you may have more time to see it.

Skip the alcohol. Drinking alcohol is a big contributor to holiday stress. A drink or two in moderation probably won’t hurt, unless you’re a recovering alcoholic, but drinking heavily can lead to serious problems, including an arrest for driving under the influence. Consider drinking something festive and nonalcoholic. It’s a safer choice and will reduce your stress level.

Make sure to take care of your health. Get adequate sleep and don’t forget your regular workouts, even when your time is consumed by holiday preparations and activities. Your body needs sleep to recharge and renew its cells. Even with the crunch on your time, try to get 8 hours of sleep each night.

Exercise is a natural stress reliever. It rids the body of stress hormones and releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good neurotransmitters. Exercise has been found to reduce anger, tension, fatigue and confusion. Studies show that when regular exercisers become inactive, they begin to feel depressed and fatigued after just one week.

If you’ve tried multiple stress relieving tips and still suffer, consider seeing a professional for help. A therapist can teach you additional strategies for easing the stress of the holiday season and anytime.

United Against HIV and AIDS

November 30th, 2020

World AIDS Day, which is observed on December 1st, was created to unite people worldwide in the battle against HIV and AIDS. It’s also a time to show support for people who have the virus and commemorate those who have died from it. World AIDS Day serves as a perfect opportunity to review what we know about HIV and AIDS.

HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks your body’s immune system, specifically its infection-fighting CD4 cells. If your CD4 cells are depleted, you become more susceptible to other infections and diseases. Your body cannot eliminate HIV and there is no cure for its infection, so once you get the virus, you have it for life.

HIV is spread through contact with the body fluids of someone who is infected with HIV. These body fluids include blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breast milk. In the US, HIV is spread mainly by having anal or vaginal sex without a condom, or sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs with someone who has HIV.

Some people develop flu-like symptoms within two to four weeks after HIV infection, which is considered stage 1, or the acute infection stage. The common symptoms during this stage, which include fever, chills, skin rashes, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes and mouth sores, may last a few days or several weeks.

If you experience any of these symptoms and suspect that you’ve been exposed to HIV, see your health care provider and get an HIV test to determine for sure if you’ve been infected.

If you have HIV and don’t begin treatment right away, your condition can progress into stage 2: the chronic, or clinical latency, stage. During this stage, your HIV is still active, but is reproducing at a slower rate, so you may not experience any symptoms. Without treatment, this stage can last for a decade or longer. But in some people, it progresses more rapidly.

The third and most serious stage of HIV is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. You are considered to have AIDS when your number of CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood  (a healthy count is between 500 and 1,500 cells/mm3) or when you develop one or more severe illnesses called opportunistic infections even if your CD4 count is above 200.

These opportunist infections, which include recurrent pneumonia, tuberculosis, brain and spinal cord disease, various lung infections, chronic intestinal infection, cytomegalovirus, salmonella and toxoplasmosis, remain a major cause of death in people with AIDS.

Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about three years. But if they contract a dangerous opportunistic infection, their life expectancy without treatment drops to about one year. Treatment with HIV medication at this point can still help and may even be life-saving, but beginning treatment as soon as you learn you have HIV gives you the best possible outcome.

There’s only one way to know for sure if you have HIV and that’s to get tested. There are several  types of tests, such as tests that look for antibodies and antigens in your blood, that you can get through your health care provider. Tests are also available at most medical clinics, community health centers and hospitals. Further, home testing kits are available at your pharmacy or online.

Home HIV testing is an especially valuable tool today, as many people are unable to visit their providers or an outpatient clinic due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Treatment for HIV is a combination of medications called antiretroviral therapy, or ART. People on ART follow a regimen of certain medications every day. ART works by preventing HIV from multiplying, which reduces the amount of the virus in your body, which is called a virus load. A lowered virus load protects your immune system and prevents the progression of HIV into AIDS.

A main goal of ART is to reduce your viral load to an undetectable level, meaning the amount of HIV in your blood is too low to be detected on a viral load test. If you maintain an undetectable virus load, you will have virtually no risk of transmitting HIV to an uninfected partner.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were 1.2 million people in the United States with HIV in 2018, the most recent year with available statistics. Of those people, the CDC estimated that about 14 percent, or 1 in 7, did not know they had the infection. Fortunately, the outlook for people with HIV has continued to improve over the decades.

In the 1990s, a 20-year-old individual with HIV had a life expectancy of 19 years. By 2011, it had improved to 53 years. Today, life expectancy is near normal if ART is started soon after contracting HIV.

If you don’t have HIV, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself against it. Practice safe sex. Use a condom each time you have anal, vaginal or oral sex. Don’t share needles or other equipment to inject drugs. If you think you’re at risk for HIV, consider pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. That involves taking certain HIV medications every day.

If you’re HIV-negative and are exposed to HIV, post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, is an emergency medication you take after exposure that can stop HIV before it infects your body. PEP consists of three antiretroviral medications given for 28 days. It should be started as soon as possible after exposure, but before 36 to 72 hours have passed.

 

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