Tag Archives: seasonal-health

Surprising Health Benefits of Cold Weather

By: John A. Billon, M.D.

Although cold weather is often associated with health problems such as cold and flu, you may be surprised to learn that the cold has some health benefits, too. Read on to learn how lower temperatures can be good for you.

Fewer allergies: Plants don’t make pollen in the winter, so we allergy sufferers generally feel better in cold weather.

Less bug-borne disease: Pesky insects like mosquitoes and ticks are in short supply in cold weather, greatly reducing our risk of catching the nasty diseases they may carry, such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease and Zika virus.

Reduced inflammation: Similar to putting ice on an injury, cold weather can reduce inflammation and pain. One study found that runners exposed to cold temperatures recovered faster from workouts. This suggests that exercising in winter may result in less inflammation and soreness than in the summer.

Improved brain function: There’s evidence suggesting our brains work better at cooler temperatures. One study found that 62 degrees was the best for schoolchildren to learn, and other research found that people study better when the weather is cold.

Increased fat burn: Besides your body using more calories to stay warm, research suggests being cold can increase your ability to burn fat. It may trigger “brown fat” in the body, a good fat that can burn off other “white” fat. Also, exercising in cold weather boosts your body’s energy expenditure for hours afterwards, so you end up burning more calories.

Better emotional health: We’re less likely to be out and about in cold weather, causing us to spend more time with family and friends. Social interactions like these have been shown to reduce stress, making us more relaxed and happier. Also, if you experience seasonal depression – known as the “winter blues” ─ your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement to boost your mood and keep your emotions on an even keel.

Dr. Billon received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical School, completed his residency program in Family Practice at Stamford St. Peters University Hospital and Robert Wood Johnson, and is certified by the American Board of Family Practice. He practices at MPCP’s Arnold office.

Respiratory Illnesses: Nothing To Sneeze At

Do you know the number-one reason people come to their doctor this time of year? If you’re sneezing or coughing as you read this, you already have a pretty good idea: respiratory illnesses are the chief reason for doctors’ visits.

Some respiratory conditions are fairly mild, but others can be life-threatening. And cold weather can make them worse.

You are probably most familiar with the common cold and seasonal flu, which are prevalent this time of year.  Caused by viruses, colds and flu have respiratory symptoms that may include runny nose, congestion and cough. Symptoms can usually be treated with over-the-counter medications, but your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications such as Relenza® or Tamiflu®. You can also reduce your chances of getting the flu with an annual vaccine, available at MPCP offices.

Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus, causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, can cause pneumonia. For treatment, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, which are often effective.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to your lungs. Bronchitis is very common and often develops from a cold or other respiratory infection, or is caused by smoking. People with bronchitis often cough up thickened mucus, which can be discolored.

Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis usually improves within a few days, and can be treated with rest, drinking lots of fluids, avoiding smoke and fumes, and possibly a prescription for an inhaled bronchodilator and/or cough syrup. However, if you have repeated bouts of bronchitis, you may have chronic bronchitis, which requires medical attention. In some cases, oral steroids to reduce inflammation and/or supplemental oxygen may be necessary.

Asthma affects people of all ages, but it often starts during childhood. It is a chronic disease that inflames and narrows your lungs’ airways. Symptoms of asthma include bouts of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. Most people who have asthma have allergies, but some people develop asthma because of contact with chemicals or industrial dusts in the workplace.

Many things can trigger asthma symptoms:

  • Allergens from dust, animal fur, mold and pollens from trees, grasses and flowers
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution and sprays, such as hairspray
  • Medicines such as aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Sulfites in foods and drinks
  • Viral upper respiratory infections, such as colds
  • Physical activity, including exercise

Doctors treat asthma with two types of medicines: long-term control and quick-relief. Long-term control medicines help reduce airway inflammation and prevent asthma symptoms. Quick-relief or “rescue” medicines relieve asthma symptoms that may flare up.

Emphysema is a chronic disease that gradually damages the air sacs in your lungs, making you progressively more short of breath. Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema. See your doctor if you’ve had unexplained shortness of breath for several months, especially if it’s interfering with your daily activities.

Emphysema can’t be cured, but treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. Your doctor might prescribe bronchodilators to relax constricted airways or inhaled steroids to relieve shortness of breath. You may also need pulmonary rehabilitation to reduce breathlessness or supplemental oxygen.

If you have questions about any of the conditions described in this article, an MPCP physician would be glad to discuss them with you.

 

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Dr. Sneha Sheth practices in MPCP’s Arundel Mills office and is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She received her medical degree from St. George`s University, School of Medicine and completed her residency program in Family Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center.

Keep Hydrated, Stay Safe

By: George Cavanagh, M.D.

Summer is here. Time for picnics, sports, working in the yard ─ and the risk of dehydration.

Our bodies normally lose fluids in the form of exhaled water vapor, in sweat, and in urine and stool. Along with water, small amounts of salts are also lost. However, we become dehydrated when we lose more water than we take in, and our bodies don’t have enough water to carry out normal functions.

Dehydration often occurs in hot weather during outdoor work or exercise, but it can also be caused by illnesses such as diarrhea, vomiting or fever. Anyone may become dehydrated, but young children, older adults and people with chronic illnesses are most at risk. In severe cases, dehydration can lead to death.

The signs of mild to moderate dehydration include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Weakness
  • Sluggishness
  • Decreased urine output. (Urine color may indicate dehydration. If it is deeply yellow or amber, you may be dehydrated.)

If you’re a healthy adult, you can usually treat mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids, including water, sports drinks, or oral rehydration solutions.  However, if you develop any of these severe symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Lack of urination
  • Shriveled skin (that doesn’t bounce back when pinched)
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations (the feeling that your heart is pounding or jumping)

The best approach is to prevent dehydration in the first place. If you are caring for people who are sick, make sure they get plenty of fluids if they have diarrhea, vomiting or fever.

If you need to be outside in the heat, follow these steps to keep hydrated:

  • Take plenty of fluids and drink continuously to replace what you lose
  • Avoid exercise and exposure during the hottest part of the day, typically mid-afternoon
  • Wear a hat and light-colored and loose-fitting clothing
  • Carry a personal fan or mister to cool yourself
  • Break up your exposure to hot temperatures and direct sun. Find air-conditioned or shady areas and allow yourself to cool between exposures
  • Avoid alcohol consumption because alcohol increases water loss

Remember, the key to preventing dehydration is to replace the water you lose, so drink up!

George Cavanagh, M.D.
Dr. George Cavanagh is an MPCP partner and practices in our Bowie office. He is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine.

Bless You!

A Q&A about allergies and testing with Dr. Janice Rutkowski

After the winter season of 2014-2015, we are enjoying the onset of beautiful spring days, but unfortunately not everyone is enjoying the good weather. Maryland is one of the most allergy-prone states, both in air-born allergens and those in food.

In this article, Dr. Janice Rutkowski answers questions about allergies and testing for them.

Q: What are allergies?
A: Allergies happen when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance (allergen), such as plant pollen, dust, certain foods, insect stings or bites, or pet dander. When you come into contact with an allergen, your immune system’s reaction can inflame your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system.

Q: What are the signs I may have allergies?
A: Allergic symptoms include itchy eyes, nose or throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, chest congestion, cough or wheezing, itchiness or eczema (inflamed or irritated skin). The severity of allergies can range from minor irritation to anaphylaxis — a potentially life-threatening emergency.

Q: Can allergies be cured?
A: Most allergies can’t be cured, but treatment can help relieve your symptoms. In the case of seasonal allergies, many people find relief with over-the-counter medications. But when they don’t respond to the usual treatments, they require testing to determine the cause.

Q: What allergy tests are available?
A: There are two standard tests: skin tests and blood tests.

Skin tests (known as scratch tests) are the most common and are administered by allergists or dermatologists. A very small amount of certain allergens are put into your skin by making a small indentation or “prick” on the surface of your skin. If you have allergies, a small swelling that looks and feels like a mosquito bite will quickly occur where the allergen(s) is introduced.

However, under certain conditions, a blood allergy test is preferable to the skin test.  Allergy blood testing is recommended if you:

  • Might have an extreme reaction during skin testing or have a history of life-threatening allergic reactions.
  • Have severe skin disorders.
  • Are using a medicine known to interfere with test results and cannot stop taking it for a few days. This would include antihistamines, steroids, and certain antidepressants.
  • Cannot tolerate the many needle scratches required for skin testing.
  • Have an unstable heart condition.
  • Have poorly controlled asthma.

MPCP can administer the blood test in our offices for people who have skin disorders or are at risk for an extreme reaction. We can test for many substances in one sitting.

If you are one of many who suffer from cold-like symptoms with the change of seasons or have one of the symptoms listed above, see your MPCP doctor for evaluation and treatment so you can enjoy this wonderful season in good health!

Janice Rutkowski, M.D. is an MPCP partner and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She sees patients at the Arundel Mills office.