Be prepared – Learn basic first aid

One of the advantages of being a nurse/mom is that I can tend to a wide variety of illnesses and injuries without seeking medical help. I have probably saved my family a lot of money over the years!

Anyone can learn the basics of providing first aid. I taught American Red Cross First Aid and CPR classes for years, and I highly recommend taking a class, whether you are a parent or not. Even kids as young as 13 or 14 can take the classes.

Spring is a good time to sign up for a class. Once schools are out … Continue reading

Lights out for better sleep

Light triggers chemicals in our brains that wake us up. That’s why it’s so much easier to rise and shine in the summer than in the winter.

But I used to dread the long summer days when light would sneak into my bedroom and wake me up before 5 am. I couldn’t find curtains or blinds for my bedroom window that adequately blocked the morning sun. Finally, I invested in some heavy, black-out drapes, the kind used in hotels. They aren’t very decorative, but they help me sleep longer in the morning.

Artificial light also disrupts our sleep. It mostly … Continue reading

Vitamin D – Yes, no or maybe?

The sunshine supplement

Last week I learned that my vitamin D level is slightly below normal. My physician recommended that I take a daily vitamin D supplement of 1000 to 2000 IU.

I didn’t want the test, but what’s done is done. Now I need to decide what the test result means to me, and if I should follow my doctor’s recommendation.

A few years ago, vitamin D was the new wonder supplement. Various studies associated a low vitamin D level with an increased incidence of all kinds of diseases, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, prostate cancer, breast cancer, … Continue reading

Welcome spring (and hay fever)!

I love that first warm touch of spring. But the red, itchy eyes and drippy nose I can do without.

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 16.9 million adults and 6.7 million children were diagnosed with hay fever. Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on prescription and over-the-counter allergy medications in the quest for relief.

I suffer from hay fever, too, but I am not a fan of most of the available medications. Prescription drugs are expensive, and require a costly visit to the doctor. Over-the-counter drugs (and there are dozens of them!) are pretty … Continue reading

Pass the salt

Two reports last week reminded Americans—again—that we are eating too much salt (sodium), and the media gleefully passed on the news—again—that what we eat is killing us.

Possibly. But it’s not helpful to focus the blame on salt, when it alone is not the problem.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reported that, on average, adults consume 4,000 mg of sodium every day, or about twice what’s recommended. The United States Dietary Association (USDA) recommends no more than 2,300 mg/day (about 1 teaspoon); the AHA advises less than 1,500 mg/day.

In a coordinated analysis, researchers from Harvard Medical School concludedContinue reading

Equal rights for vision!

For the last 15 years, my family has purchased an individual health insurance policy. Individual plans, as opposed to employer-based insurance, usually don’t cover vision. We could buy a separate vision policy, but in an average year the premiums would cost more than our annual eye exams, glasses and contacts combined.

Even Medicare doesn’t pay for routine eye exams and corrective lenses, except one pair after cataract surgery.

Of course, eye diseases and injuries (your mother always told you not to run with pointy objects, didn’t she?) are covered as medical care.

But I’ve always wondered why screening exams for … Continue reading

Boning up on calcium

Out of sight, out of mind

The other day I was cleaning out a kitchen cupboard and unearthed an economy-sized bottle of calcium tablets. Oops! I should be taking one or two of those every day.

Or should I?

Everyone knows calcium is necessary for bone health. Most women have been told by their doctors that they need extra calcium after menopause because without estrogen’s help, bones do not absorb it well. Low calcium leads to osteoporosis, which leads to broken bones, which lead to huge health care costs. Oh no!

Too much of a good thing—or the wrong thing

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Do you didgeridoo?

didgeridoo playerAs I was skimming through some of my favorite medical blogs the other day, I ran across a post by Dr. Synonymous, a family medicine doctor somewhere in middle America. His post referred to the time and place of his first “Didgeridoo Hullabaloo” session that he was offering for his patients that suffered from snoring and sleep apnea.

What is a didgeridoo? It’s a native Australian wind instrument, which can be up to 10 feet long! It works like a large kazoo, and produces a low, resonant sound something like an elephant.

And how does this help snoring? Snoring and … Continue reading

Pucker up

Did you ever stop to wonder how the skin of your lips differs from the skin on the rest of your face?

The skin over your lips is very thin and highly vascular, hence their typical “vermilion” or red color. Your lips also have more nerve endings, making them very tactile and sensitive.

These anatomical differences make our lips attractive and nice for kissing, but they also make our lips vulnerable to dryness, sunburn and chemical sensitivities.

Painful and unattractive, chapped lips are especially common in the winter because of the dry, cold air outside, the dry, warm air inside, … Continue reading

Avoidable risk?

Last fall saw a frightening outbreak of fungal meningitis that resulted in the severe illness of almost 700 people and, tragically, the deaths of 45 others. Contaminated steroid injections were found to be the cause.

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices now reports that 13% of pharmacists found contamination in their supposedly sterile, compounded (made in the pharmacy) drugs last year, and almost 75% fear that such a horrific outbreak could happen again.

Several agencies are swaming the compounding pharmacies in a belated attempt to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But will their efforts be enough?

Maybe, but there … Continue reading

The eyes have it

Do you suffer from chronically dry, red, itchy eyes? The eye drops you use might actually be making your eyes look and feel worse.

Like so many over-the-counter (OTC) products, there are dozens of eye drops from which to choose. How do you know which is best?

As always, ignore the front of the package and read the ingredients.

Oxymetazoline HCl and naphazoline HCl are decongestants. Drops that advertise “decreased redness”, such as Visine, contain a decongestant that constricts the small blood vessels in the eye. It works temporarily, but has a “rebound” effect; that is, the redness gets worse … Continue reading

Tincture of time

Flu season hit hard this year, and the normal, if unwelcome, after effect of many viral upper respiratory infections is a lingering cough.

A recent review of the medical literature found that, on average, a cough will last 17.8 days! Fortunately, most coughs are self limiting; that is, they will get better without special treatment, such as antibiotics.

If you have a question about when to seek medical attention for a cough, visit FamilyDoctor.org ‘Check Your Symptoms’. 

For home treatment, however, the drugstore shelves are filled with a dizzying array of cough products. Which one, if any, is best?

Before … Continue reading

The Seven Year Rule

With prescription drugs, newer is not necessarily better

If you think the prescription drugs advertised on television are the best treatments medical science has to offer, think again.

They are the newest, certainly, and the most expensive. But are they the most effective and the most safe? Possibly not.

Remember Vioxx (rofecoxib)? A wildly popular—and extensively and expensively advertised—pain reliever, it made billions of dollars for Merck Pharmaceuticals.

It also, by conservative estimate, contributed to 60,000 deaths during the 5 years it was on the market. And it wasn’t even much better at relieving pain!

Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine

Overdosed America: The Broken

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How to use a neti pot

Wash your nose?

I wrote in a previous post that frequent hand washing is your best defense against a cold virus; but what about washing your nose? The inside of your nose, to be exact.

You just need a neti pot.

The neti pot is an inexpensive device for saline nasal irrigation, which is a fancy term for nose washing.

It’s easy!

How do I use a neti pot? It’s very simple. I fill the pot—which resembles a small tea pot or Aladdin’s lamp—with warm saline (salt) solution. Leaning over a sink, I place the spout in one nostril and … Continue reading

Don’t overdose on acetaminophen!

Warning: Liver failure may occur

The other day I watched in horror as a friend with mild cold symptoms swallowed two extra-strength Tylenol tablets with a large swig of NyQuil.

If he had followed with a double whisky, I would have suspected a suicide attempt.

“What are you doing?!” I shrieked, and grabbed both bottles from him. “You just swallowed a massive dose of acetaminophen!”

“Really?” he replied, without much interest. “Hmm.”

Does anyone read the labels on over-the-counter (OTC) medications?

“Look!” I stabbed a finger at the warning label on the back of the NyQuil bottle.

Liver warning: This

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