The Height of the Season: Flu Myths vs. Facts

Monday, December 15, 2014 10:46 AM comments (0)

flu seasonWorried about catching the flu this season? There are many things you can do to prevent the spread of the flu—washing your hands regularly, getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine—but one of the best is to make sure you get vaccinated. 

Kenneth Fox, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, addresses some of the pervasive myths surrounding the flu and the flu shot to give you your best shot for dodging the bug this season:

Myth: I got the flu shot and got the flu right away.
Fact: The flu shot is not 100 percent effective but it is effective. The vaccine reduces a person’s risk of developing significant symptoms by 60%.

Myth: The flu shot is effective immediately.
Fact: It takes a period of two weeks for the flu shot to take effect.

Myth: Only the elderly and young children are affected by the flu.
Fact: The elderly and children younger than two (as well as people with other underlying medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, cerebral palsy, COPD, diabetes, kidney or liver disease) are at highest risk for flu complications. Those with compromised immune systems are also at especially high risk. But, the flu can strike anyone.  Some of the most serious cases can occur in people who were previously healthy.

Myth: People suffering from the flu should always go to the hospital.
Fact: Healthy people should take care of themselves at home: get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and take Tylenol or Advil. Be watchful of other health issues though. If you are suffering from labored breathing or dehydration, you should go to the emergency room.

Myth: You should feed a cold and starve a fever.
Fact: Maintaining nutrition and staying hydrated is important when you are sick with the flu, so the answer is feed and feed.

Myth: Getting the flu shot once per season is always adequate.
Fact: One flu shot per season is adequate for almost everyone, with the exception of children under nine years old who should get two doses of flu vaccine (separated by  four weeks) during the first flu season they are immunized.

Myth: Flu and cold symptoms are the same.
Fact: Flu symptoms include a fever, cough, congestion, chills, fatigue, body aches, and often sore throat and headache. Cold symptoms are fewer in number, much milder and last just a few days.

Myth: The flu lasts 24 hours.
Fact: Children are typically ill 7-10 days but can shed the virus a few days before their symptoms begin and up to 2 weeks after the start of symptoms. Adults are typically ill 5-7 days but shed the virus 1 day before symptoms begin and usually up to 5 days after the start of symptoms. Some symptoms like fatigue may last for several weeks in kids and adults. 

Myth: There is no way to protect yourself from the flu.
Fact: The flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the flu and to reduce the risk of its complications. Also, thorough and frequent hand washing, avoiding contact with contaminated surfaces, getting adequate sleep, nutrition and hydration all reduce a person’s flu risks. Being watchful of complications and seeing your doctor if serious symptoms arise (like difficulty breathing and dehydration) reduce your risks of harm. Staying home when ill with the flu and covering your mouth when coughing also reduces the risks of spread in the community. 

It’s not too late to get vaccinated this flu season. Have you had your flu shot?

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Summer Cold or a Sinus Infection?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 11:07 AM comments (0)

Cold-SinusAt one time or another—and maybe even multiple times each year—we’ve all had the symptoms of a cold. But there's no worse time to suffer the symptoms of a cold than in the summer. The familiar prolonged running nose and sniffling, and the sinus pressure that comes along with it. How do you know if it’s just a common cold or a sinus infection?

Ilana Seligman, MD, Pediatric Otolaryngologist at NorthShore, breaks down the differences between a cold and a sinus infection, and tells us the right time to make an appointment with a doctor: 

Common Cold
There are not perfect steps to follow for cold prevention; instead, it’s best to wash your hands frequently, and avoid sharing cups and toothbrushes. If you already have a cold, there isn’t much a doctor can do because prescribing antibiotics is not recommended. You can, however, treat the symptoms. Most colds typically last 7-10 days, and common symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Fever
  • Sore throat or cough
  • Clear or colored nasal discharge

Treating the Symptoms

  • For a stuffy nose, nasal decongestants can help you breathe easier. If you want to go the more natural route, try a saline nasal sprays or even a Neti Pot. 
  • For cough, warm liquids, like tea with honey, can be enough to provide relief. The honey also pulls double duty by soothing sore, scratchy throats. 
  • Sleep! Rest is the key to bouncing back fast.  

Sinus Infection
A sinus infection is an infection or inflammation of the lining of the sinus cavities. Very few colds—only 5-10%—will turn into sinus infections. Common signs your cold is a sinus infection include:

  • Continued nasal congestion after 10 days
  • Significant headaches, teeth or facial pain
  • High fever or persistent drainage

If you experience these symptoms it may be a sinus infection, which means it's time to consult your physician. Common treatment often includes prescribing antibiotics.

Do you know when you have a cold versus a sinus infection? What home remedies to you defer to when you have a cold?

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Survive the Season: How to Combat Seasonal Allergies in Your Home [Infographic]

Wednesday, April 02, 2014 6:35 AM comments (0)

April showers bring May flowers, and May flowers just might bring seasonal allergies. Don’t suffer the sniffles, sneezes, and itchy, watery eyes of seasonal allergies without fighting back. Our springtime infographic highlights some allergy basics and provides tips to help you combat seasonal allergy symptoms in your home. 

Click on our infographic for more information and useful tips.

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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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Summer Bug Safety: Tips to Stay Bite-Free

Friday, June 07, 2013 10:48 AM comments (0)

insect safetyThe warmer temperatures of late spring and summer mean more outdoor family time, from BBQs to pool parties, but it’s important to make sure that time is safe for you and your kids. Most of us know to practice vigilant sun safety during the hottest months of the year, when the sun’s rays are at their most intense, but sometimes we forget it’s also very important to protect against dangerous insect bites. Warm temperatures are just as appealing to insects as they are to Chicagoans ready to leave a long winter behind.

Most mosquito bites are irritating but otherwise harmless; however, some mosquitoes can transmit encephalitis and West Nile virus, which can cause severe illness with symptoms like headache, high fever and bodily weakness. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, which can be treated if recognized early, so look for flu-like symptoms and possible rashes. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause joint and muscle pain, fatigue, heart problems and neurological issues. 

Felissa Kreindler, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, shares her tips for preventing insect bites and protecting against the illnesses they can cause all summer long:

  • Don’t apply perfumes and avoid the use of scented soaps. The sweet scents of soaps and perfumes attract some insects. 
  • Stay away from stagnant water and heavily wooded areas. Insects, especially mosquitoes, congregate around pools of water. Deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease, are more likely to be in areas with lots of trees and brush. 
  • Avoid wearing bright clothing. Bright flowery prints also attract insects, including honey bees and hornets.
  • Do not use combination sunscreen/insect repellents. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied often but insect repellent should not.
  • Check DEET concentrations on insect repellents before use. Higher concentrations of DEET protect for longer lengths of time. Choose a concentration based on how long you need to protect yourself. Repellents containing DEET should not be used on children younger than six months old. 
  • Protect your pets, too. Your four-legged family members can also get diseases from insects. Make sure to bring and use your pet’s flea and tick repellants.

How do you protect your family from summer insect bites?

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Choosing Herbal Remedies to Ease Illness

Wednesday, February 06, 2013 8:10 AM comments (0)

Herbal-remediesNot all health conditions need to be treated with prescription or over-the-counter medications. In fact, in some cases, herbal remedies and supplements can help relieve symptoms and improve health.

While there is no “magic” supplement or “quick fix,” it is important to discuss any new treatment method (herbal or not) with your physician. This will ensure that no unwanted side effects or drug interactions will occur. To learn more about herbs and supplements, visit Consumerlab.com.

Leslie Mendoza Temple, MD, Director of NorthShore’s Integrative Medicine program, offers the following herbal alternatives:

  • Allergies – An alternative to allergy medications may include nettles or D-Hist. This remedy includes four ingredients—quercetin, stinging nettle leaf, bromelain and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). You can either purchase these supplements separately or combined as D-Hist. Before combining these supplements with an existing treatment or medication, you should consult with your physician to confirm there won’t be any potential drug interactions.
  • Basic Health – A healthy diet is best for maintaining basic health. Many individuals can also benefit from taking Vitamin D, Omega-3  fatty acid and probiotic supplements.
  • Sleep – Having trouble sleeping? L-theanine, melatonin, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) or SAM-e can all help aid sleep. It’s important to note that these herbs might not solve the problem immediately—sometimes it can take a few months before the full effects can be noticed.
  • Menopause—For many women, taking hormones or pain medication throughout menopause is not preferred. Black cohosh and eating organic whole food soy (edamame, tofu, miso, soy nuts) may help ease and improve symptoms.

Do you use herbal remedies to help relieve common health concerns? What works for you?

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Flu Season is Already in Full Gear

Thursday, January 10, 2013 7:50 AM comments (0)

Flu-SeasonThere’s been more coughing, sneezing and sinus congestion this year than in years past, and it’s no surprise as the flu season has been off to a strong start since late fall. Hospitals and medical offices across the country have seen an uptick in office visits and confirmed cases. Over the last month, NorthShore has seen a significant spike in hospital admissions of patients suffering from flu or flu-like symptoms.

Despite the peak in flu cases, there are some things you can do to help reduce your chances of getting infected. Nancy Semerdjian, Chief Nursing Officer at NorthShore, offers the following suggestions to help beat the virus this season:

  • Wash your hands frequently. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water multiple times throughout the day.
  • Refrain from touching surfaces that may be contaminated. This may include items in public areas, such as bathrooms, public transportation and waiting rooms.
  • Cover your mouth. If you have to sneeze or cough, be sure to cover your nose and mouth. This helps keep germs from spreading to others. It is also important to try to avoid coming into close contact with those who are sick.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Being well rested can help your body better fight illness.
  • Manage your stress. 
  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food. Try to drink at least eight glasses of water a day and be sure you are choosing healthy, vitamin-rich foods in your diet.

It isn’t too late to get a flu shot to help mitigate your chances of getting the flu; however, it is important to note that it may take a couple of weeks for the vaccination to take full effect.

What flu remedies do you have? Have you gotten a flu shot this year?

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Bite to Itch – Summertime Insect Protection

Monday, July 09, 2012 9:31 AM comments (0)

Insect BitesWith warm weather comes bugs that bother – whether they bite, sting or carry disease and illness. Although the cases of people with West Nile virus and Lyme disease have been relatively small, it is better to exercise proper prevention than to suffer the consequences these conditions may bring.

Ernest Wang, MD, Emergency Medicine physician, provides the following tips for avoiding insects and treating bites:

  • Wear insect repellent with DEET, being certain to avoid contact with your mouth and eyes. Some repellents will work for mosquitoes, ticks and other pesky insects. Remember: It’s always best to follow the directions on the bottle. For additional prevention, use a repellent on your clothing; typically these are not suitable for skin and contain permethrin.
  • Dress appropriately if you plan to be in a wooded or grassy area. Pants and long sleeves are best, and are an excellent way to limit your skin exposure. Once you’re back inside it’s a good idea to shower. Not only will this wash away the repellent, but it may also wash away any ticks that haven’t yet latched onto your body. You’ll also want to be sure to check your entire body thoroughly for ticks (especially your ears, waist, head, belly button, arms and legs).
  • Avoid areas with standing water, as these are often hotbeds for mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Resist walking barefoot in the grass. Bees can often be on the ground and this will help you avoid being stung. It’s also wise to avoid perfumes and bright colors, as these may attract bees.
  • Treat your bites. If you do get bitten and develop a bite that is red or raised try:  1) applying an ice pack for 10-15 minutes 3-4 times a day and 2) taking Benadryl for itching will both provide symptomatic relief from the local insect bite reaction.  Bites rarely develop into a skin infection (cellulitis), but this usually takes several days. If there is any question, call your doctor to have it evaluated.
  • Know the signs of having a potentially dangerous anaphylactic (rapidly progressing allergic) reaction to a bite. Reactions are most commonly associated with stings by bees, wasps or hornets. Hives, swelling (of the face, eyes, tongue and lips), throat tightness, difficulty breathing, vomiting or feeling faint/lightheaded are all signs of potentially dangerous anaphylaxis, and you should contact your doctor immediately or call 911.

What do you do to avoid bug bites in the summer? Have you ever found a tick on your body?

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Home and Herbal Remedies to Help with Common Problems

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 8:34 AM comments (0)

Home Remedies

We don’t always have time in our busy lives to go to the doctor or pharmacy for common ailments (such as a cold, flu or upset stomach). In many cases you can help relieve symptoms with herbal remedies and treatment methods at home.

Leslie Mendoza Temple, MD, a NorthShore Integrative Medicine physician offers some at-home tips to help cure common illnesses:

  • Common cold/congestion/sinusitis:
    Place a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil on a warm, wet washcloth. Fold the washcloth over and breathe in the vapors. Dropping some of the oil in the shower or bath creates a steambath that can soothe irritated airways. Avoid this if you’re sensitive to eucalyptus or dislike the scent.
  • Sore throat and spastic cough:
    Ingest a teaspoon of raw, locally sourced honey during a coughing fit or dilute it in hot water and drink frequently to soothe inflamed tissues in the throat. (Not recommended for children under the age of one year.)
  • Upset stomach:
    Place a warm water bottle on belly and perform a “Hara” abdominal massage. Start at the bottom right of your belly, move hands gently up under the right rib cage. Then move hands across to the left under the rib cage, and move them down the left abdomen to the lower middle of the belly. Drinking fennel, chamomile or licorice tea liberally will help soothe the stomach and aid hydration.
  • Cold sores
    Soak a Q-tip with licorice root extract (in glycerin base, not alcohol base) and apply the Q-tip directly to the lesion at the first tingling sensation. Do not touch the dropper to a used Q-tip. Dab liberally and often until resolved. This may also be used in the genital area during herpes outbreaks.
  • Mild, first-degree burns (skin is intact)
    Apply the juice and gel from an aloe vera leaf directly on the burn. To soothe the skin, alternate with calendula cream or ointment.
  • Diaper rash or irritated genital tissues
    Mix an A & D ointment or thick diaper cream with equal parts of calendula cream or an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream into the palm of your hand and apply to irritated tissues twice daily. Do not use the hydrocortisone cream for longer than two weeks at a time. The A&D and calendula creams may be used long-term.

What home remedies do you use? Have you ever tried any of these home remedies?

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