Blog Posts

Holding Off Heart Disease

February 22nd, 2021

It’s February, and you know what that means – it’s American Heart Month. It’s that annual opportunity to review what we know about heart disease. And it’s our chance to be sure we’re doing everything we can to prevent or manage it in our lives.

After all, heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women in the US. About 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

What’s more, almost half of all Americans are at risk for developing the condition. The good news is that heart disease is preventable in most people.

Heart disease encompasses a wide array of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. These conditions include arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, congenital heart defects, heart infections, and the main form of heart disease, coronary artery disease (CAD).

Heart disease is often grouped with stroke and related conditions under the more global term cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD involves a number of diseases of the heart and circulatory system. Other conditions that fall under CVD include heart attack, heart failure, and heart valve disorders.

While stroke, heart attack and the other CVD disorders are serious conditions, we’ll concentrate our discussion today on heart disease and primarily on CAD, its most prevalent form.

CAD is a disorder of your coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply your heart muscle with fresh, oxygenated blood. With CAD, the coronary arteries become blocked with a fatty material called plaque, which prevents oxygen and nutrients from getting to your heart. This can lead to a heart attack and to the death of heart muscle tissue.

One common symptom of CAD is a type of chest pain called angina, which may feel like a tightness, heaviness or pressure in your chest. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, weakness, nausea, and rapid heartbeat. It may also feel like your heart is pounding hard and fluttering or skipping beats. These feelings are called palpitations.

Symptoms of heart disease can differ in women. They may feel classic angina in the form of chest pain or pressure, but more often feel chest tightness, squeezing, burning, and general discomfort. Women are also more likely than men to experience discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, throat, or back.

There are certain risk factors for CAD. These factors increase your chances for developing the condition. They can also make it more likely existing heart disease will get worse. Some of these risk factors, such as age, gender, and having a family history of heart disease, cannot be changed.

Age is a big factor. Your risk increases if you’re a women over age 55 or a man over 45. The same is true if your father or brother had heart disease before age 55, or your mother or sister had it before age 65. These are all things you can’t do anything about.

There are other risk factors, however, that you can control. These include having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, having diabetes or prediabetes, smoking, being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, eating an unhealthy diet, and drinking a lot of alcohol. These are the risk factors you should be putting your energy into changing.

The best way to determine your risk for CAD or another type of heart disease is by partnering with your doctor. He or she will evaluate your blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood glucose to check for diabetes, weight, personal and family medical history, and lifestyle.

Your doctor can then recommend steps to lower your risk for heart disease or treat the condition if you already have it.

If you are at risk for heart disease or have already been diagnosed with it, there are some actions you can take to reduce the chance of getting heart disease or keep it from getting worse. Your doctor may recommend simple lifestyle changes and/or drug treatments.

Among the steps you can take to lower your heart disease risk or slow its progression is to control your high cholesterol and high blood pressure. This can often be done by adjusting your diet and getting more exercise, but it may require medication. Be sure to have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly.

Lifestyle changes are pretty much common sense. They including eating a heart-healthy diet that is rich in high-fiber foods and low in saturated and trans fats; becoming more active; getting and staying at a healthy weight; quitting smoking; drinking alcohol in moderation, and managing stress, which can have a negative effect on your heart.

If you’re at high risk for heart disease or already have it, your doctor may recommend that you take an aspirin every day to reduce your chances of having a heart attack. But don’t take aspirin on your own without talking to your doctor first. It isn’t the best course of action for all people.

Now that you’ve been reminded about the basics of heart disease and CAD, you can better take care of your heart health – during American Heart Month and the rest of the year as well.

Florida COVID-19 Vaccine Information

February 17th, 2021

The staff at Florida Health Care News aim to provide our readers with the latest information on the spread of the coronavirus and vaccine information.

The state of Florida is providing COVID-19 vaccines to eligible persons at sites throughout the state. For eligibility, registration and scheduling information, visit

MyVaccine.FL.gov

The statistics reported here are collected from multiple trusted and reliable sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and national and state public health departments. The data are updated approximately every 10 minutes. Continue to visit this site for an up-to-date report on pandemic cases.

 

Common ENT Disorders

February 15th, 2021

According to the American Academy of Otolayrngology’s Division of Head and Neck Surgery, ear, nose, and throat disorders are one of the main reasons children see a physician, and ear infections rank as the number one reason. February is Kids ENT Health Month, so this blog reviews a few of the more common ENT disorders that affect children.

Just about every child will experience an ear infection at some point. My child was no exception; he had his share. Acute otitis media is a painful ear infection that occurs when the middle ear, which lies between the eardrum and the inner ear, where the cochlea and vestibular system are located, becomes inflamed and infected.

With acute otitis media, your child’s Eustachian tube becomes swollen or blocked, and fluid gets trapped in the middle ear. That fluid can become infected and cause symptoms. Symptoms of otitis media include unusual irritability, difficulty sleeping or staying asleep, tugging at one or both ears, fever, fluid draining from the ear, loss of balance, difficulty hearing, and ear pain.

Treatment begins with home care, which includes applying warm, moist compresses over the ear and using over-the-counter eardrops and pain relievers to ease pain. If over-the-counter products don’t do the trick, your child’s doctor may prescribe stronger eardrops and pain relievers. If your child’s symptoms persist after that, the doctor may recommend antibiotics to treat the infection.

Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are also common in children. Tonsils and adenoids are collections of lymphoid tissue that help the body fight infection, but they can become enlarged if they become infected or irritated.

Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are actually normal in some children. But in other children, the enlargement is due to a bacterial or viral infection, allergies, exposure to irritants, or possibly even to gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Usually, there are no obvious symptoms when the tonsils and adenoids are enlarged. But the condition can cause difficulty breathing or swallowing, and can cause your child to sound like they have a stuffy nose when they talk. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids can also cause nosebleeds, bad breath, and cough.

In some cases, enlarged tonsils and adenoids can cause recurring ear or sinus infections, or sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which the upper airway becomes blocked, causing the child’s breathing to stop and star during the night.

Treatment for enlarged tonsils and adenoids begins by treating the underlying cause, such as the allergies or infection. If this treatment fails to achieve results, your child’s doctor may suggest removing the tonsils and adenoids. Surgery may be recommended if your child has sleep apnea or extreme difficulty when talking and breathing, or if they experience multiple throat infections.

Another common ENT issue in children is sinusitis. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the skull behind the face that are lined with mucus membranes. Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses near the nose.

Sinus infections often develop after a cold or upper respiratory infection. These infections cause inflammation of the nasal passages that can block the opening of the sinuses into the nose. Allergies can also cause sinusitis due to the swelling of the nasal tissue and increased mucus production.

Treatment for sinusitis may include a course of antibiotics, acetaminophen for pain, a decongestant and/or mucus thinner, and a nasal spray to reduce inflammation. Your child’s doctor may recommend that you run a cool humidifier in your child’s room to keep the air moist.
In extreme cases, surgery on the sinuses may be needed.

Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is another ENT problem that is common in children. Allergic rhinitis, which is a reaction that happens in the eyes, nose and throat, can be seasonal or year-round. The most common causes of allergic rhinitis in children include pollen from trees, grass or weeds; dust mites; mold; cockroach waste; and animal dander. These substances are called allergens because they trigger an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include sneezing, nasal congestion, nasal discharge, fatigue, and skin rashes. Treatment generally involves giving your child antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays. If your child also has asthma, their doctor will treat those symptoms as well.

Consider allergy shots if your child has severe allergic rhinitis. The shots are a type of immunotherapy that helps your child’s body get used to the allergens so that they do not react when exposed to them.

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!

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