Who Should Receive the Pneumonia Vaccine?

WPneumoniahat is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the air sacs in the lungs.  One or both lungs may be affected.  Pneumonia is usually caused by bacteria or viruses but can sometimes be caused by fungi.  It is a serious infection for infants, the elderly, those with chronic health issues, and people with compromised immune systems.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain when coughing or breathing.  The infection may cause confusion in elderly patients as well as a body temperature that is lower than normal.  Pneumonia can follow a cold or the flu.  Bacterial and viral pneumonia can be spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing.

Who Should Get a Pneumonia Shot?

It is not necessary for healthy adults under the age of 65 to get pneumonia vaccines.  It is recommended that adults age 65 and older receive the vaccines because it is harder to fight infections as we age.  People with weakened immune systems should also be vaccinated.  This includes those with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, lung diseases, and asthma.  Cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments should be vaccinated.  Smokers should also receive the vaccine.Pneumonia shot

There are two types of pneumonia vaccines that protect against different types of pneumonia.  The PCV13 shot , which protects against the most serious types of pneumonia, is given first.  A year or more later, the PPSV23 shot is given to protect against additional types of pneumonia.  There are no serious side effects from either shot, and people cannot get pneumonia from the shot itself.  The vaccines are 50-70% effective, and they protect for years.  People receiving the shots at age 65 and older will most likely be protected for the rest of their lives.

Speak with your doctor to see if the pneumonia vaccine is right for you.

Tips to Stay Healthy During Holiday Travel

Staying healthy in the airportRecord numbers of Americans will travel to visit family and friends this holiday season.  AAA predicts that more than 54 million of us will travel more than 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  Another 100 million people are predicted to travel over the Christmas to New Year’s period.  Travel can be stressful on our bodies, upsetting our normal routines and exposing us to illnesses.  Here are some tips for staying healthy so that you can enjoy the holiday festivities away from home.

Air Travel

Traveling by air exposes us to large crowds and lots of germs.  Use hand sanitizer and carry disinfectant wipes to clean tray tables, arm rests, and seat belt buckles.  Avoid bathrooms on planes, if possible.  Many airport restrooms have less germs because they are cleaned more frequently.  Studies have shown that TSA security bins are loaded with germs, so wash hands thoroughly after clearing security.

Get Enough Rest

Lack of sleep can leave our bodies vulnerable to viruses.  Try to maintain your regular sleep schedule while traveling.  If you do get sick, rest will help in your recovery.

Stay Hydrated

Low humidity levels in planes and heated rooms dry out mucous membranes, making it easier to pick up germs.  Drink plenty of water.  Remember that caffeinated beverages and alcohol actually dehydrate the body and are not good substitutes for water.

Eat Healthy        

Maintain healthy eating habits to keep your immune system strong.  Avoid the temptation to overeat at holiday gatherings.  Choose healthy snacks and eat holiday treats in moderation to avoid putting on extra pounds.  Fast food is often convenient when traveling but opt for a salad rather than a burger and fries.  Limit alcoholic beverages, as they add extra calories.

Stay Active

Try to stay physically active even if you are not able to maintain your regular workout routine.  Take a brisk walk or utilize the hotel fitness center.  Exercise gives us more energy and burns those extra holiday calories we’ve consumed.

Early Detection of Breast Cancer is Key

breast cancer awareness monthBreast cancer is one of the most significant women’s health concerns.  After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women.  The odds of getting breast cancer are 1 in 8.  A small percentage of women have a family history of the disease.  This means a first degree relative- mother, sister, daughter- has had breast cancer, so there is a genetic risk factor.  But many women have no history of breast cancer in their family.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer.  However, women can minimize their risk through certain lifestyle choices.  Being overweight, alcohol consumption, and not being physically active can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.  Using some birth control methods with hormones and post-menopausal hormone therapy with estrogen may also increase a woman’s risk.  Other risk factors are not as easily controlled.  White women have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer as compared to African American women.  No pregnancies or a late pregnancy adds to the risk.  Previous radiation treatments to the chest to treat other cancers and having dense, fibrous breast tissue are additional risk factors.

Early detection and treatment are key in fighting the disease.  Women should recognize any changes in their breasts including a lump that can be felt, nipple discharge, nipple turning inward, dimpling or puckering of breast skin, and redness or scaliness of the skin.  All of these symptoms should be checked by a physician.

Clinical breast exams and breast self-exams are not substitutes for a mammogram, which can detect cancer before it can be felt.  Current mammogram guidelines from the American Cancer Society are that women at average risk for breast cancer should have yearly mammograms by age 45.  Women may choose to begin mammograms as early as age 40.  At age 55, women who have had normal mammograms can change to every other year or continue yearly, if desired.  Women at higher risk should discuss these options with their doctor.

Women and Thyroid Disease

female thyroid patientAccording to the US Department of Health and Human Services, women are more likely to develop thyroid disease than men.  The risk for women increases right after a pregnancy and following menopause.  One in eight women will be diagnosed with thyroid problems during their lifetime.

The thyroid is part of the endocrine system.  It’s a butterfly shaped gland located in front of the neck.  The thyroid produces a hormone that controls the body’s metabolism rate.  The thyroid can affect a woman’s weight, heart rate, cholesterol levels, and menstrual cycles.

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, is one type of thyroid disease.  If the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones, the metabolism slows down.  Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, tiredness, joint or muscle pain, dry skin and hair, depression, and slow heart rate.  Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.  Treatment includes taking manufactured forms of thyroid hormone.

Hyperthyroidism is another type of thyroid disease.  The thyroid becomes overactive, producing too much thyroid hormone.  Symptoms can include weight loss, irregular heartbeat, trouble sleeping, lighter menstrual periods, increased sweating, and trembling in the fingers and hands.  Treatments may include medications, radioiodine, or surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.  Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.

A thyroid nodule is a swelling or growth that can develop on the thyroid gland.  There may be one or more nodules that can be solid or filled with fluid.  Ultrasound tests can be used to evaluate nodules.  Most nodules are not cancerous, so the doctor may just decide to watch and wait.  If the nodule is large or cancerous, it may be surgically removed.  Women are three times more likely than men to develop thyroid cancer.

September is thyroid cancer awareness month.  When found early, thyroid cancer is usually treatable.  A physician can perform a simple check of the thyroid gland during a routine physical examination.

Boost Your Immune System for Better Health

Health and WellnessThe immune system is the body’s defense against infection and disease.  It’s made up of special cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body and keep it healthy.  When the immune system isn’t working as it should, the body is left vulnerable.  As we age, our immune system response becomes reduced, leading to increased infections and less ability to fight them.  It is important to do what we can to strengthen our immune system so that it can do its job effectively.  Here are ways to boost your immune system for better health.

Develop Smart Eating Habits

Eat more fruits and vegetables to give the body needed nutrients.  Blueberries, blackberries, and broccoli contain antioxidants that can improve immune health.  Foods rich in vitamin C, including citrus and bell peppers, and those high in vitamin A, such as sweet potatoes and kale, are especially helpful to the immune system.  Yogurt contains probiotics that can keep the gut and intestinal tract healthy.  Salmon and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation in the body.

Get Enough Sleep

The body responds better to fighting infection when it is well rested.  According to the CDC, adults generally need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep, and school age children require 9-12 hours of shut eye.  To improve sleep habits, keep a consistent schedule for going to bed and getting up.  Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.  Exercising during the day can help us sleep better.  Turning off electronic devices (computer, phone, TV) at bedtime is also a good practice.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, helps control weight, and helps alleviate stress.  All these factors can help boost the immune system.  Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous.  Even a 30-minute daily walk can be helpful.  In addition, exercise during the day often leads to better sleep at night.

Reduce Stress

Many people find themselves overcommitted and stressed.  Slow down, relax, and connect with family or friends.  Listen to music.  Meditation or yoga is helpful for some people.  Take a walk or do some stretching exercises.  Reduce your caffeine intake.  Stop smoking.

Avoid Food Poisoning at Summer Picnics

avoid picnic food poisoningSummer is the time of year when many families enjoy an outdoor picnic.  They pack up the cooler and the picnic basket and head off for an afternoon at the park or the lake.  But nothing ruins a fun time and good memories like a bad case of food poisoning.

E. coli, salmonella, and listeria are bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses in humans. Symptoms of food poisoning can include abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Undercooked foods and foods not stored at proper temperatures are a breeding ground for these bacteria.  These types of infections can be particularly serious for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems.  Remember that food spoilage is not always immediately evident by appearance or smell.

When transporting perishable foods to a picnic, they should be stored in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or freezer packs.  Perishable foods include meats like hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken.  In addition, keep deviled eggs and salads containing mayonnaise, such as potato or macaroni salad, in the cooler.  During the drive, the cooler should be kept in the air conditioned part of the car rather than the trunk.  Food should be kept in the cooler until ready to be used.  Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight.  Do not let food sit outside the cooler for more than one hour in summer heat.  Take a separate cooler for drinks, so the food cooler is not opened so frequently.

Wash hands thoroughly before handling food.  If running water is not available, use wet wipes or hand sanitizer.  When grilling meat, be sure to cook thoroughly.  Undercooked ground beef can contain E. coli.  Use a meat thermometer to ensure the cooked beef has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.  Color does not always indicate doneness.  Meat juices should be clear, not red or pink.  To avoid contamination, never place cooked meat on the same plate that held the raw meat.  Use clean utensils for serving.  Although hot dogs are fully cooked, it’s best to reheat them before serving.

Leftover foods should be returned to the cooler.  Refrigerate them immediately after returning home.  Discard food that has become warm.  Bacteria in food can double every twenty minutes.  Better to be safe than sorry.

There are some healthy foods that are safer choices for picnics.  They include tossed salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, pickled vegetables, salsa, pasta salad without mayonnaise, whole grain crackers, and nuts or nut butters.

Tips to Enjoy a Healthy Summer Outdoors

Summer time is here.  Families want to be outdoors in the warm weather enjoying activities at the pool, the park, the ballfield, and other venues.  Follow these simple tips so that everyone has a safe and healthy summer season.

Stay Hydrated

Children and adults who are active outside in hot and humid weather must stay hydrated.  The best way to do that is by drinking water.  Other beverages are not good substitutes for water, and drinks containing alcohol and caffeine may actually contribute to dehydration.  Water helps to replenish the fluids our bodies lose when we sweat and urinate.  Don’t wait until you feel thirsty.  Drink some water every 15-20 minutes when active outside in the heat.summer sun protection

Prevent Sunburn    

Sunburn puts us at risk for developing skin cancer and contributes to premature aging of the skin.  Try to limit outdoor activities during the middle of the day, when the sun’s rays are strongest.  Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays.  The SPF number measures how well the sunscreen protects skin compared to not wearing it.  The higher the SPF number, the better the protection.  SPF 15 may be adequate for limited sun exposure but use SPF 30 or higher for prolonged periods outside.  A water resistant product is a good option when swimming or if perspiring heavily.  Reapply the sunscreen often.

Protect your eyes from sun damage by wearing sunglasses outside.  A hat offers sun protection for the scalp, ears, and neck.  Some clothing is made of fabric with UV protection.  This works well for people with fair or sensitive skin types.

Avoid Insect Bites

Insect bites are more than just a summer annoyance.  Some insects, like mosquitoes and ticks, carry disease.  Mosquitoes are most active in early morning, dusk, and at night.  To prevent exposure to mosquitoes, wear long pants and long sleeved shirts.  Use insect repellent on exposed skin.  Some parents may choose to avoid using repellents containing DEET on their children.  Natural products are not as effective, so reapply them more often.  After walking in the woods or through tall grass, check yourself and your children for any ticks that may have attached to the body.  Remove ticks with tweezers and wash the bite with soap and water.  Wipe with alcohol to prevent infection.  Most insect repellents work on ticks as well as mosquitoes.

What Causes a Sore Throat?

A sore throat is one of the most common reasons people stay home from work or their children miss school.  There are several causes for a sore throat.  An infection could be present, or a sore throat might be a symptom of seasonal allergies.  A mild sore throat can usually be treated at home without seeing the doctor.  Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or throat lozenges will often help with the pain.  However, if the sore throat is severe and is accompanied by fever, a visit to the doctor is in order.
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February is National Heart Month

The American Heart Association has designated February as National Heart Month.  This draws awareness to the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.  One in four people die from heart disease, and the risk increases as we age.  Blockages made up of plaque in the arteries or a blood clot cut off blood flow to parts of the heart, leading to heart attacks.
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It’s Not Too Late for a Flu Shot

If you did not get a flu shot in the fall, it’s not too late!  There is still time to protect yourself and your family.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, flu cases are on the rise across the U.S.  The flu is widespread in 46 states, including Georgia.  Flu is easily spread through entire families and results in lost time from work and school.
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