What to Know About Spring Allergies

AllergiesWhile springtime means warmer weather and beautiful blooms, it also means allergy season. With the trees and flowers popping up all around us, pollen becomes a major player when it comes to allergies.

Types of pollen

At the beginning of the season, tree pollen is most common, and as the season moves to mid-spring, grass pollen comes into play. Eventually, as we approach summer, we see weed-related allergies added to the mix.

Signs of pollen season

Common indications that pollen season has arrived include not only the trees and flowers in full bloom, but also the yellow-colored residue we see on our cars and other places. That is actually pollen itself and a clear sign that the stuffy nose you have may not be a cold-it could be allergies.

A cold vs. allergies

Many people have frequent colds and struggle distinguishing between a cold and allergies. However, fevers, chills and discolored nasal mucus are clear signs of a cold-not allergies.

Allergies are commonly distinguished by nasal itching, ear itching, throat itching, clear nasal discharge and sneezing. All of these are more likely to be seen with allergies than with the common cold, although the symptoms can overlap in some cases. Common sinus infections are also an indication of an individual with allergies.

Providing relief

There are over-the-counter medications available for allergies. Allegra, Claritin, Zyrtec and Xyzal are common medications you can purchase at a drug store. These are all 24-hour, non-sedating medications known as second-generation antihistamines. These are safe to take daily for relieving chronic allergy symptoms. It is typically safe to switch between antihistamines if one isn’t working for you.

First-generation sedating antihistamines include Benadryl and Diphenhydramine, which work short-term for about six hours and aren’t recommended for chronic allergy symptoms.

If nasal congestion or drip continue to be a problem for you, consider adding a nasal steroid (brand names like Flonase, Fluticasone and Nasacort) along with your antihistamine. Some of these are available over-the-counter. One spray per nostril is recommended while your symptoms persist.

Other nasal sprays, such as Afrin, aren’t intended for allergy relief and are recommended to relieve cold symptoms only. Ask your allergist or primary care physician which is right for you.

Immunotherapy

Not all patients find relief from antihistamines or nasal sprays. If this is the case for you, you may want to explore immunotherapy. There are two kinds of allergy immunotherapy: allergy shots, or subcutaneous immunotherapy, and sublingual immunotherapy, such as tabs or drops taken orally. Allergy shots are known to be more effective, but if you aren’t fond of shots, the sublingual treatments are an alternative. The long-term goal of immunotherapy is to alter your immune system in order to relieve your allergy symptoms for good.  This result can’t be guaranteed and is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Other culprits

Because we live in the Sunshine State, many pollen sources can bloom year-round along with other allergy culprits. Some wide-spread factors causing allergies all year include dust mites, mold and pet dander.

If you have any questions about your allergies, visit an allergist who can test you to find out exactly what you are allergic to and work with you to find relief.

Source: UCF College of Medicine

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What Can You Do to Avoid the Flu?

Flu PicThis year has been a particularly tough flu season.  The strain going around this year has infected many people and has been more severe than recent years.  The flu is a contagious virus that spreads through droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.  It can also live on surfaces and be introduced into the body when a person touches his or her eyes, mouth, or nose.

How do you know if you have the flu?  Some people can easily mistake it for a cold.  Flu symptoms often come on very suddenly and can include a fever, sore throat, body aches, cough, headache, and fatigue.  If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is recommended that you visit your doctor.  Though antibiotics will not help the flu since it is a virus, your doctor still might be able to prescribe you a medication that can lessen the length and severity of the illness.  It is also important to stay home from work or school if you think you may have the flu to avoid spreading it further and risking getting others sick and then possibly getting infected again yourself.

Of course, none of want to have to deal with having the flu!  What are the best ways to protect yourself?

  • Get the flu vaccine. Even though this year’s vaccine is not as effective due to the type of strain, it still offers some protection.  It is not too late to get the vaccine and many insurance companies will cover it as well.  Each year, doctors recommend getting the flu shot since it is your best protection against contracting the flu.
  • Wash your hands regularly. Try to scrub your hands with soap and water often, especially after being in contact with someone that is ill or touching common surfaces. If no soap is available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid contact with sick people if possible. Sometimes this may not be practical if you are caring for a sick family member, but try to limit unnecessary contact with those that are ill with the flu.
  • Sanitize surfaces. Keep common areas in your home, work, and school space clean.  Disinfect things like door handles, desks, and don’t forget your technology!  Keyboards, phones, remote controls, etc. can often harbor a lot of germs since they are touched so often.  Wipe them down with a sanitizing wipe often.
  • Protect others. If you are sick and must be out, cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue and then throw the tissue away.  This will help protect others and also keep you from risking infecting yourself again.

These precautions can help keep you well during this flu season as well as future flu seasons.  Stay well!

Four Swaps To Upgrade Your Diet

Healthy SwapA healthy diet consists of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts and lean proteins such as chicken, fish and eggs. It is possible to switch to a healthier diet without making a dramatic change. Here are a couple of simple food substitutions that can transform your diet:

Have a protein smoothie or shake for breakfast

Sometimes, with our busy schedules, we do not have time to make breakfast. Instead of skipping breakfast or choosing bad options, try a protein smoothie. Ingredients like peanut butter, oats and Greek yogurt are natural ingredients that provide a protein boost. They will help you burn more calories all day, keep your energy high and balance your blood sugar. Smoothies from many retail outlets are loaded with sugar. When making your own, opt for fresh or frozen, no-sugar-added fruits which make your smoothie sweet. Sneak in some greens – like spinach or kale – to add to your veggie intake. (You’ll never taste them.)

Eat quality meats

When it comes to meat, try to avoid antibiotics, pesticides, hormones and mercury from grain-fed eggs and meats. Swap them for products from grass-fed, pasture-raised and free-range animals. If you are looking for fish, shop for wild-caught varieties.

Increase Healthy Fats

Some fats are good for you! Foods such as avocado, wild-caught salmon and olive oil are healthy. So are nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios. Try increasing these foods in your diet.

Cut the coffee

The caffeine in coffee can rev up your stress hormones. Try reducing your caffeine intake by switching to green tea. The caffeine is less, and you get the added benefit of healthy antioxidants. You can also try cutting down caffeine by mixing your regular coffee with decaf, or look for lower-caffeine varieties.

Source: UCF College of Medicine

Three Natural Therapies for Falling Asleep Easier

iStock_72421373_LARGE-500x333Not being able to fall asleep can be very frustrating, especially when you consistently struggle to get a good night’s rest. Insomnia and other sleep disorders can affect your health, and while sleep medications can bring on the zzz’s, you should not be relying on medications to help you sleep in the long term.

Try these techniques to help prepare your body for sleep:

Mind-body Therapies – Techniques such as yoga, meditation, tai chi and deep breathing techniques can help you relax and calm your thoughts. These techniques foster a greater mind-body awareness.

Natural supplements – Certain natural supplements and herbs can help reduce anxiety and help your body prepare for sleep, with less risk of developing a dependence on using them than if you were to take sleeping pills. Some popular natural sleep aids include melatonin, magnesium, chamomile tea and L-theanine. Try not to take the supplements every day, and only take them when you need extra help falling asleep.

Get On A Sleep Schedule – When you stick to a sleep routine, your brain learns these patterns and can better prepare you to fall asleep (kind of like the famous Pavlov’s dog experiment). Stick to the same bedtime every day (weekends included) and wake at the same time every day to set your biological clock. Also, develop a routine to help train your brain that it is time for bed: put on pajamas, drink some chamomile tea, read a book and brush your teeth. Your brain will learn these cues and prepare for sleep.

Source: UCF College of Medicine

How to Make it Easier to Spring Ahead

Over the weekend Daylight Saving Time took an hour of sleep away from us.  While many people enjoy the extra light in the evenings, it often takes people a few days to adjust to the change.  Here are some tips to help you ease into the time change.

  • clock-alarm-clock-bell-dial-38297If you feel sleepy in the afternoon after the time change, go ahead and take a short nap if possible.  Just do not time this too close to bedtime.  Try to avoid sleeping in an extra hour in the morning and give your internal clock some time to adjust.
  • Now is a good time to start a habit that will help you far beyond Daylight Saving Time – try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.  While getting some extra sleep on weekends is tempting, regulating your sleep schedule will help you get the most out of the time you are asleep and help make falling asleep and waking easier.
  • Dim lights in the evening and open curtains when you wake up.  You can also take advantage of dimmer switches to keep your light level less bright in the evening.  This will help relax you in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  •  Exercise at some point during the day.  Even something as simple as walking can lead to better sleep.
  •  Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.  Though alcohol may make you sleepy, it can interfere with your sleep cycle.  Also avoid large meals too close to bedtime.
  • Come up with a bedtime ritual to help you relax and get sleepy before bed.  This might include a warm bath, reading, or soft music.

Following these tips will not only help you ease through the Daylight Saving Time transition, but they are good practices to follow all year long to promote better sleep quality.

How to Find Reliable Health Information Online

We’ve all done it, you have pain or a symptom that you’re concerned about and the easiest laptop-small-500x333resource to go to is at your fingertips- Dr. Google.  The internet has so much information it’s difficult to know what to trust.

What websites can you trust?

  1. Sites that end in .gov like cdc.gov or cancer.gov. These are linked to federal agencies that address research and training needs for health care topics.
  1. Non-profit sites that end in .org like familydoctor.org are often powered by a reputable organization, such as the American Academy of Family Physicians, so you know your source is credible.
  1. Websites from trusted medical institutions, like Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, have detailed information about many health conditions, symptoms, treatment options and more.
  1. Look for the HON code symbol at the bottom of the website which means the website has been certified for its credibility by the Health On the Net Foundation, a non-governmental organization that certifies health and medical websites.

Red flags to look for:

  1. Websites that are not authoritative sources and don’t cite their facts
  1. One-sided, biased or outdated information
  1. Claims of a miracle or secret cure based on testimonials

If you have a medical concern, the internet can provide useful background information to help you make informed decisions, but always consult a physician to be diagnosed. Don’t base your medical decisions solely on what you find online or what friends tell you.

Talk to your physician before making any changes to your medications or treatment.

Source: UCF College of Medicine

Three Myths About Sleep Aids

Sleep plays a vital role in your health and overall quality of life. The amount of sleep you get can impact your relationships, job performance and overall happiness. Insomnia is fairly common. Nearly 50 percent of Americans report occasional insomnia, and almost 20 percent struggle with it every night.sleeping-man

In our quest for some shut-eye, we sometimes sabotage our own sleep. If you are relying on any of the methods below, you could be inadvertently robbing yourself of sleep.

Having a “nightcap” before bed

It’s a long-standing misconception that alcohol helps you sleep. While a nightcap might help you feel sleepy, as the alcohol metabolizes in your system, it really messes with your ability to stay asleep. Alcohol before bedtime will cause recurrent awakenings and suppresses the rehabilitative stage of sleep, known as REM. Don’t cheat yourself; avoid alcohol before bed.

Watching TV to fall asleep

Watching TV or using your phone in bed is one of the worst things you can do when trying to fall asleep. It’s all tied to the blue light emitted by these screens. It prevents the release of melatonin from the pineal gland in your brain, which is what makes you feel sleepy. This is especially a problem for adolescents who take their phones to bed with them.

Using sleeping pills

Long-term reliance on sleeping pills is not the answer to your sleep problems. While it is OK to take an over-the-counter sleep aid if you’re having a few nights of bad sleep, you should not be relying on it nightly. If you are taking sleeping pills, try to wean yourself off of them slowly by lowering the dose and then start to reduce the number of days that you take it. If your sleep troubles persist after two to four weeks, talk to your doctor.

Source: UCF College of Medicine

Health Tip from UCF- What is Moderate Drinking? You Might Be Suprised

UCF College of MedicinedrinkingContact:    Karen Phillips

For publication the week of July 28, 2014                                         Karen.Phillips@ucf.edu

 

What Is Moderate Drinking? You Might Be Surprised

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had some disturbing news recently about alcohol consumption: Excessive drinking accounts for one in 10 deaths amount working-age adults (20-64) in the United States. That’s 88,000 deaths a year. In fact, excessive use of alcohol shorted the lives of those people by about 30 years not only from violence and car crashes, but from heart and liver disease and breast cancer.

We’ve all heard that moderate alcohol consumption can actually be healthy. But “moderate” is a subjective term that can mean different things to different drinkers. And how many of us are actually measuring the drinks we pour, especially at a social gathering?

Health officials define moderate drinking as just one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. That means .5 fluid ounces of wine a day for women, 1 fluid ounce for men; one 12-ounce can or bottle of beer for women, two for men. If you’re drinking “hard” liquor, moderate means 1.5 fluid ounces of an 80-proof distilled spirit a day for women and 3 ounces for men.

Heavy drinking is considered eight or more drinks a week for women and 15 or more drinks a week for men. Binge drinking is four or more drinks on one occasion for women, 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men.

So as we look to improve our health, let’s all be honest and careful about our alcohol consumption. In writing about the CDC report, Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Mary Pickett said most doctors consider drinking safe if it’s kept to these limits:

  • For men, an average of 2 drinks per day (no more than 14 drinks per week), and never more than 4 drinks at a time
  • For women, an average of 1 drink per day (no more than 7 drinks per week), and never more than 3 drinks at a time

Dr. Pickett wrote that she suspected “Americans may be seriously surprised” by the CDC’s report. “But as a doctor, I am not surprised at all,” she said. “Alcohol abuse is commonly a well-hidden habit…But we doctors see the heavy drinkers. We see them in the hospital, in the emergency room and in the clinic.”

Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Pegasus Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. UCF Pegasus Health includes primary care doctors and specialists who treat patients age 16 and up from across the community and accept most major insurance plans. If you or someone you know needs medical care, call (407) 266-DOCS or visit UCFPegasusHealth.org for more information. Coming in 2015 – UCF Pegasus Health will open a second location in Lake Nona’s Medical City. Stay tuned for more details.

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Battle Workplace Stress- Weekly Health Tip from UCF

 UCF College of Medicine

 

 Health Tips      

Contact:     Karen Phillips,  407-882-4803,   Karen.Phillips@ucf.edu

For publication the week of July 14, 2014            

 4 Strategies for Battling Workplace Stress

stress

Americans are stressed out, and the workplace seems to be one of the primary breeding grounds. In fact, a study conducted by the American Psychological Association concluded that 69 percent of respondents felt work was the most common source of stress.

Simply put, stress is the emotional or mental tension created when we enter situations where demands are high, but we have limited control. This has been associated with increased rates of heart attacks, hypertension and other health disorders.

When you feel your stress level increasing, consider these four suggestions:

  1. Breathe – Breathing is your body’s built-in stress reliever, so when you feel stressed, stop what you’re doing and concentrate on breathing deeply and slowly for a few minutes. Deep breathing can lower blood pressure, dampen the production of stress hormones and even energize you.
  2. Eat Smart – Stress causes the cortisol levels in the body to rise. Too much of this hormone can result in food cravings, especially for carbs and sweets in women. And research shows the more we eat, the worse our mood gets. So rather than hitting the vending machine for empty calories, consider healthier options like cashews, which are high in zinc (low levels of zinc have been linked to both anxiety and depression). Blue berries are another great snack because they’re rich in vitamin C, known to lower blood pressure and cortisol levels.
  3. Listen to Music – Research shows that listening to music can help by triggering biochemical stress reducers in the body. In fact, one study found that music’s effect on anxiety levels is similar to the effect of getting a massage. So if you work in an environment that allows you to play music, even if it’s with the use of earphones, turn on the tunes. But be sure to choose music that doesn’t interfere with your productivity. Also check out smartphone apps like Focus@Will and Take a Break.
  4. Walk – Just like other forms of exercise, walking causes your body to release chemicals called endorphins. They interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce the perception of pain and trigger positive feelings. Even a quick, brisk walk around your building can have the desired stress-relieving effect.

It may take a while to determine what stress-reduction strategy is right for you. But if you’re having difficulty managing it on your own, have a conversation with your physician. Certain underlying medical conditions can contribute to stress, but most can be managed with the right intervention.

Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Pegasus Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. UCF Pegasus Health includes primary care doctors and specialists who treat patients age 16 and up from across the community and accept most major insurance plans. If you or someone you know needs medical care, call (407) 266-DOCS or visit UCFPegasusHealth.org for more information. Coming in 2015 – UCF Pegasus Health will open a second location in Lake Nona’s Medical City. Stay tuned for more details.