Shingles: Reducing Your Risk and Pain

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 11:53 AM comments (0)

shinglesShingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles.

Shingles is a painful blistering skin rash that often appears in a strip or band on a single side of the face or body. The rash may not be the first sign of shingles. Before the rash develops, people often have pain, itching  or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen anywhere from 1 to 5 days before the rash appears. Other symptoms can include fever, headache and chills. 

The rash produces chickenpox-like blisters and irritation, and pain can be very severe. In most cases, blisters will heal within 2-4 weeks and pain will subside with the rash. However, severe cases of shingles can leave the skin permanently scarred or discolored and pain caused by damaged nerve fibers can last long after shingles blisters have healed. 

Matthew Plofsky, MD, Family Medicine at NorthShore, shares information on how to shorten the duration of the infection, lessen the severity of symptoms and possibly prevent shingles altogether: 

Relieving symptoms and reducing severity: 

  • Antiviral drugs. The prompt use of antiviral drugs can reduce the severity of a shingles infection and help you heal quickly. Antiviral drugs also help prevent complications associated with a shingles infection.
  • Over-the-counter painkillers. Aspirin and acetaminophen may help with pain as will anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and naproxen. 
  • Keep skin clean. The infected area should be kept clean, dry and exposed to air as much as possible. You shouldn’t scratch shingles blisters at any time but make sure your hands are clean and that you are only touching infected skin with clean, dry hands. 
  • Keep skin cool. Ice and cold compresses applied to a shingles rash can help relieve pain and inflammation. 
  • Over-the-counter lotions. Calamine is an effective treatment for mild itchiness. 

Preventing shingles:

  • Vaccinate! The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends shingles vaccine for people aged 60 years and older. Even people who have had shingles can receive the vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease. Almost 1 in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime, and the risk increases as you get older.
  • Prevent chickenpox. Adults can possibly prevent two infections with one vaccine—chickenpox and shingles. If you’ve never had chickenpox, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get the chickenpox vaccine and you’ll help prevent a future case of varicella zoster infection. The chickenpox vaccine is given to most infants before they reach one year.

Have you been vaccinated for chickenpox or shingles?

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Dr. Matthew Plofsky, Family Doctor: The Art of Building Relationships with Patients and Families

Thursday, July 17, 2014 2:49 PM comments (0)

plofsky imageMaking connections with patients, with entire families, is what Matthew Plofsky, MD, Family Medicine at NorthShore, enjoys most about his chosen specialty. Not only does he get the chance to help his patients feel better and stay better, but he can watch his littlest patients grow up and his patients’ families grow larger as he provides care over the years.  As a child, his own pediatrician was not simply a doctor; he was a warm, caring man who took the time to develop a relationship with the whole family. This example, as well as his mother’s efforts as a nurse for over 40 years and a desire to be challenged by his career, led Dr. Plofsky to family medicine. 

An avid nature photographer, Dr. Plofsky’s artistic passion has provided him with an outlet for his creativity. This outlet has also given him a chance to deepen connections with some of his patients. In fact, his current exhibition, “Our Natural World,” is dedicated to the memory of his patient “Superman” Sam Sommer, (link to superman blog http://supermansamuel.blogspot.com/ ) who fought a courageous battle with leukemia that he sadly lost in December 2013. Dr. Plofsky will be donating all of the proceeds from his current photography exhibition to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money for childhood cancer research grants.

Here, Dr. Plofsky discusses his two passions—medicine and photography—and the role of the family doctor:

Why did you choose to pursue family medicine? What was it that stood out most about that specialty? 
Growing up, I saw my pediatrician as a warm and caring individual; he knew us personally and developed a meaningful relationship with our family.  As I explored different options in training, I was drawn to family practice because it created similar opportunities to connect with patients.  But it’s also challenging because a family physician must have a firm grasp on a broad base of medical knowledge that the specialty demands. It’s extremely rewarding to take care of individuals and families as they move through life. 

Additionally, my mother was a strong role model. She worked for 40 years as a nurse. Her tireless work at the Whitehall Nursing Home opened my eyes to the field of medicine and what I could do to help others.  

What do you enjoy most about your profession?
The most rewarding part is the satisfaction gained from developing strong relationships with my patients and knowing that I’m helping them stay well.  The connections that are created as I care for individuals and families are a daily reaffirmation of why I went into medicine. 

What is the most difficult aspect of family medicine?
As a physician, we have the knowledge to diagnose and treat many illnesses.  Our ability to manage chronic and life-threatening diseases is constantly improving and enhancing our patients’ lives.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the treatments for every illness.  As a physician trained to help people get better, it’s extremely difficult to see some patients simply not get better despite our best efforts.  This was especially difficult with my patient Sam Sommer because he was so young and I’d been treating his family for the past 12 years. I’d been Sam’s doctor from shortly after he was born until he passed away not long after his 8th birthday.

In addition to medicine, you are also passionate about photography. What sparked this interest? 
My interest in photography goes back to high school.  I was a staff photographer for my high school yearbook; I specialized in candids and sports images.  Over the past seven years, I’ve gone on to develop a passion for photography now as an adult.  My interest in photography stemmed somewhat from the technical challenge it presented and evolved more to the creative exploration it has become. 

plofsky 2Why has nature become your chosen subject? 
For me, nature photography is a passion.  First, I love being outdoors, hiking and exploring new areas of our natural world.  When I’m taking pictures in nature, I have the opportunity to creatively record what I have seen and can present it to others.  I find this both challenging and rewarding. Spending time outdoors is also relaxing and spiritually uplifting. 

Has pursuing this passion impacted the way you approach medicine at all?
Indirectly.  It has opened up many conversations with my patients about their creative endeavors and hobbies. It has reminded me that we all need to take time to pursue our passions and that you need to set aside time to do this.  My own health issues several years ago helped me to realize that I needed to do this. 

Why did you decide to donate the proceeds from this exhibition to St. Baldrick’s? 
St. Baldrick’s primary fundraisers are these fun head-shaving events. Sam’s parents, Michael and Phyllis, who are both Reform Rabbis, were involved in one recently called “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave.” They and 52 other rabbis shaved their heads in support of this cause. It was such a powerful message and it inspired me to find a way to help them too, so I started my own St. Baldrick’s fundraiser. Sam loved nature and he loved the Heller Center, where my exhibition will run through July and August. With Sam’s love for nature and my photography, I thought that dedicating my photo exhibit to his memory and using it to help raise money for St. Baldrick’s would be a perfect way to help. 

There will be an open house at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 20th at the Heller Nature Center (2821 Ridge Road in Highland Park).

Dr. Plofsky's photos from the exhibit are available online through American Frame. Donations can also be made directly to St. Baldrick's here

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Flu Season: Protecting Your Family from the Bug

Thursday, October 24, 2013 9:00 AM comments (0)

flu seasonEvery flu season is different but there’s one thing you can count on: there will be one.  Flu season in the U.S. can begin as early as October and continue into late May. Perhaps you’ve already noticed an uptick in coughing and sneezing on the train, in the office or at school, but it’s not too late to take action and keep your family happy and healthy throughout flu season. 

Curtis Mann, MD, Family Medicine at NorthShore, shares some top tips for keeping the flu from catching up with you and the rest of your family this season:

  • Vaccinate! The annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against and prevent the spread of  the flu. Everyone over the age of six months can and should be vaccinated against the flu each year, especially children under five and people over 65 because they are at high risk for serious flu-related complications.
  • Wash your hands. You, but especially your hands, come into contact with millions of germs and bacteria every single day. You can pick them up from surfaces, computer keyboards and the shake of a hand. Regular handwashing is one of the very best ways to avoid spreading illness and getting sick. Washing your hands frequently throughout the day can’t get rid of everything but it prevents the build-up of germs. It only takes a little water, some soap and the ABCs—don’t stop washing until you get to Z.
  • Remember your devices. One of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs, especially during flu season, is to keep surfaces clean. Countertops and door handles are obvious hotspots but when was the last time you disinfected your phone or tablet? Phones and tablets go everywhere you go, but unlike hands, they aren’t washed after every trip to the bathroom and then they spend the majority of their time near your hands, nose and mouth. Studies show that phones and tablets are likely to carry many of the same contaminants in the same numbers as the door handle of a bathroom.  Wipe down the screens and bodies of your gadgets regularly with a non-alcohol based cleaner. 
  • Be healthy to stay healthy. The key to avoiding illness is stay healthy on a day-to-day basis. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, stay active with exercise, make sure you are managing your stress levels and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet whenever possible. 
  • See your doctor. If you think you were exposed to someone with the flu, anti-viral drugs, which are 70-90% effective, can help prevent you from developing the flu. 
  • And a friendly reminder. You can't get the flu from the flu shot or nasal spray, so vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!

Do you make sure to get the flu vaccine every year? 

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How to Make the Most of Your Annual Visit

Friday, September 06, 2013 2:22 PM comments (0)

annual visit“How are you feeling?” is probably one of the first questions your doctor will ask during your annual visit. If you haven’t needed to see your doctor between physicals, your answer will most likely be, “Fine.” It won't be until later that you remember all the miscellaneous symptoms, heath issues, and aches and pains from the last year. 

Don’t miss another opportunity to maximize your time with your doctor. By planning and preparing beforehand, you ensure that you’ll remember to ask the correct questions during the limited time you have with your primary care physician.  

Curtis Mann, MD, Family Medicine at NorthShore, offers some tips on how to make the most of your time with your doctor:

  • Make a list of symptoms. Prepare a list of the aches, pains, symptoms and changes in your health that might have caused concern at some point between your annual visits. Prioritize your list of symptoms so that you can be sure to address those that are the most concerning. You might not be able to go over everything at your annual visit but you’ll be able to touch on everything during future visits. 
  • Have a list of important questions prepared. When pressed for time, questions that were high priority might get lost in the shuffle. Prepare a list of questions you want answered in advance and use it to jog your memory during your appointment.
  • Make another list of prescriptions and medications. Your list should include everything, from prescriptions to vitamins and supplements. You want to ensure you are giving your doctor your full health story. 
  • Come prepared to answer your doctor’s questions. This isn’t your first visit to a doctor, so come prepared to answer the basic topics: family health history, health concerns, etc. This will leave you more time to ask any specific questions you might have. 
  • Dress for the occasion. You might not have much face-to-face time with your doctor, so don’t wear clothing that requires lots of time to get on and off. To save even more time, ask to change into a gown before your doctor enters the room.
  • Write down what your doctor tells you. You’ll probably cover a lot of ground in very little time. Your doctor will write your prescriptions but lifestyle recommendations might be told to you. Write down recommendations your doctor makes so you can remember to follow them in the year between visits. 
  • Ask about a follow-up visit. If there are issues you have not addressed during your annual exam, ask your doctor about a follow-up visit before leaving the office.
  • Review printed materials after your visit. Don’t wait to read the materials your doctor provides, whether they are printed for you or provided through NorthShoreConnect. Are the medications listed correctly? Are your listed health issues up to date? This is where the teamwork between physician and patient can maximize healthcare outcomes.

Do you have a yearly physical? How do you make the most of your annual visit?

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Choosing a Doctor – What You Need to Know

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 9:32 AM comments (0)

While the options may seem endless, selecting your primary care physician—typically a doctor who practices Family Medicine, Internal Medicine or General Practice—may be one of the most important health decisions you can make. Not only will you build a relationship with this physician over time, but he or she can provide you with preventive care that may help improve your overall health.

Everyone may have different preferences when it comes to choosing a doctor. Similar to hiring for fit, selecting your primary care physician can be a similar task. One thing to keep in mind: It’s best to choose a physician before you need one, this way you can build a relationship and share your health history without having to rush to a decision.

John Revis, MD, Internal Medicine physician at NorthShore, provides some quick tips on what to consider when selecting your primary care physician:

  • Location – Make sure you select a physician that is in a close or convenient location. Based on your lifestyle this may mean selecting a doctor either close to home or to work. You may also want to consider what walk-in, extended and weekend hours are offered. After all, not all trips to the doctor are planned.
  • Referrals from others – Ask your friends, family members and neighbors for their insight on physicians. Feel free to do the same with other healthcare providers you’ve had appointments with and seen in the past.
  • Experience and education – If you have a specific health condition, you may want to consider choosing a physician that has experience and expertise in this field. You may also want to determine what other physicians and specialists your doctor has connections with, either at their office or nearby hospitals.
  • Fit and Personality – Choose a physician that makes you feel comfortable and at ease. It’s important to find a physician whose personal style and patient approach best matches your expectations. If you prefer a female versus a male physician, or someone who speaks a particular language, these are important considerations, too.


How long have you had your primary care physician? What qualities do you look for in a doctor?

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Men’s Health – Five Tips to a Healthier Life

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 7:45 AM comments (0)

Men's HealthIt's the start of Men’s Health Week and Father’s Day is just around the corner. This makes it a perfect time to think about the health of the men in your life (and your own!). Making simple changes to your daily habits may help reduce your risk for illness and other medical conditions.

Matthew Plofsky, MD, Family Medicine Physician at NorthShore, recommends the following five tips for promoting health and wellness:

  1. Visit your family doctor when you are “well,” not just when you are sick.
    Regular physical examinations are important to help us screen you for preventable and treatable illnesses.  31% of adult males over the age of 20 will develop high blood pressure, which frequently goes undetected. Additionally, diseases such as diabetes, colon cancer and prostate cancer can be prevented or treated through early detection.

  2. Live a “healthy life.
    Cardiovascular disease remains the #1 cause of death in industrialized nations.  You can help prevent the onset and progression of this through appropriate measures.  A heart- healthy diet is an important step in this prevention.  Additionally, 45 minutes of exercise on most days of the week can help you achieve a healthy weight.

  3. Practice what you preach.
    Accidents remain a common cause of injury for all ages, including adults.  Don’t just tell your children to wear their bike helmets, put yours on also.   Buckle your seat belt, don’t drink and drive, and lock up your firearms if you have them in the house.

  4. Take an “emotional pulse.”
    In our hectic and busy lives we encounter many stresses.  How are you dealing with those stressors?  Do you need help with counseling or treatment?  Depression and anxiety as well as other emotional issues frequently go undetected, but also are treatable.

  5. Expand your horizons.
    Take some time for yourself. Consider travel or sports. Develop a hobby.  Take a course that may interest you. 

What do you do to promote healthy habits? Have you changed your routine recently in an effort to be healthier?

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