Autumn and Winter Health Issues September 07, 2007 10:21 AM
Burning fallen leaves used to be standard practice across North America, but most municipalities now ban or discourage the incendiary practice due to the air pollution it causes. The good news is that many towns and cities now offer curbside pickup of leaves and other yard waste, which they then turn into compost for park maintenance or for sale commercially. And there are other burn-free options as well.
Burning Leaves May Spark Health Problems Because of the moisture that is usually trapped within leaves, they tend to burn slowly and thus generate large amounts of airborne particulatesófine bits of dust, soot and other solid materials
According to Wisconsinís Department of Natural Resources, these particulates can reach deep into lung tissue and cause coughing, wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath and sometimes long-term respiratory problems.
Leaf smoke may also contain hazardous chemicals such as carbon monoxide, which can bind with hemoglobin in the bloodstream and reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood and lungs. Another noxious chemical commonly present in leaf smoke is benzo(a)pyrene, which has been shown to cause cancer in animals and is believed to be a major factor in lung cancer caused by cigarette smoke. And while breathing in leaf smoke can irritate the eyes, nose and throat of healthy adults, it can really wreak havoc on small children, the elderly and people with asthma or other lung or heart diseases.
Small Leaf Fires Can Cause Big Pollution Problems Sporadic individual leaf fires usually donít cause any major pollution, but multiple fires in one geographic area can cause concentrations of air pollutants that exceed federal air quality standards. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), several leaf and yard waste fires burning simultaneously in a particular locale can cause air pollution rivaling that from factories, motor vehicles and lawn equipment.
Fallen Leaves Make Good Compost Purdue University consumer horticulture specialist Rosie Lerner says that composting leaves is the most eco-friendly alternative to burning. Dry leaves alone will take a long time to break down, she says, but mixing in green plant materials, such as grass trimmings, will speed up the process. Sources of nitrogen, such as livestock manure or commercial fertilizer, will also help.
ďMix the pile occasionally to keep a good supply of air in the compost,Ē she says, adding that a compost pile should be a minimum of three cubic feet and will generate soil conditioner within weeks or a few months, depending on conditions.
Mulch Leaves Instead of Burning Another option is to shred leaves for use as mulch for your lawn or to help protect garden and landscape plants. Lerner suggests adding no more than a two-to-three-inch layer of leaves around actively growing plants, chopping or shredding the leaves first so they donít matt down and prevent air from reaching roots.
As to using leaves as mulch for your lawn, it is just a simple matter of mowing right over the leaves with the lawnmower and leaving them there. As with leaves used for garden mulch, this will provide many benefits, including weed suppression, moisture conservation and moderation of soil temperature.
Autumn may conjure rustic images of falling leaves and hay rides for outdoor enthusiasts, but for many seasonal allergy sufferers, it's often just another reason to stock up on tissue and stay inside.
But by learning what triggers your seasonal allergy symptoms, also known as hay fever, experts say you can work with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan that not only treats your symptoms but prevents them from coming back.
Fall Allergy Triggers
Seasonal allergy symptoms are caused by an allergic response to mold, pollen, or other tiny microscopic substances.
Common triggers of fall seasonal allergies include:
Ragweed. Found along roadsides and in vacant lots, fields, and other sunny spots, this common weed with finely divided leaves and tiny, greenish-white, down-turned blossoms is the leading cause of fall allergy symptoms.
Mold. Indoor and outdoor mold counts peak in the humid months of late summer and early autumn and are especially problematic for people with asthma and allergies. Outdoor molds are found in falling leaves, soil, vegetation, and rotting wood. Indoor molds flourish in damp household areas such as basements, shower stalls, and near washing machines and dryers.
Dust mites. Although present year round, dust mites thrive in humidity and can cause problems during the fall months when they're stirred up by dirty ventilation systems.
Discuss treatment options with your doctor. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend trying over-the-counter options first, or a combination of over-the-counter and prescription medications.
"When you turn on your furnace, you distribute a lot of mold and mites that have been sitting there all summer," says Christopher Randolph, MD, associate clinical professor of allergy, immunology, and pediatrics at Yale University. "That's a very common problem for indoor allergies in the fall."
But outdoors, experts say ragweed is king when it comes to triggering fall allergy symptoms.
"Ragweed is the No. 1 fall and late summer weed in most areas of the U.S. that causes fall allergies," says Clifford Bassett, MD, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York. "One ragweed plant can produce one billion pollen grains that can travel from 300 to 700 miles in the air."
Bassett says research suggests that ragweed pollen production is also on the rise due to global warming, so more and more people are becoming affected by this common allergy trigger.
To find current pollen and mold spore counts in your area, contact the National Allergy Bureau (www.aaaai.org/nab), which provides reports to the public. Many regional weather reports also include information on pollen and mold spore counts.
Treat Symptoms Before They Start
Experts say many people mistakenly think that you should wait and treat seasonal allergy symptoms after they start. But in fact, the best way to get relief from runny noses and itchy, watery eyes is to prevent them before they start.
"If you know that the fall season is the season that sets you off, then you need to start your medicines now because the fall weed pollens start increasing in the month of August and into September and then last until the first frost," says Dan Atkins, MD, director of ambulatory pediatrics at National Jewish Medical & Research Center in Denver.
Even though fall allergies may be caused by different triggers from another season, the symptoms they produce can be the same, and each type of symptom requires targeted treatment:
Runny nose, sneezing. For nasal symptoms, experts say the first line of treatment is a prescription nasal corticosteroid. There are several different ones to choose from. Daily use of these nasal sprays before and during allergy season provides more effective relief than using them only when allergy symptoms flare up. To avoid side effects, such as nosebleeds and stinging, users should direct the spray out toward the ear and away from the nasal septum (the partition between the right and left sides of the nose). Oral antihistamines, including over-the-counter Claritin and prescription medications, may also be used for allergy treatment.
Itchy, watery eyes. Prescription eye drops work by stabilizing the cells in the eyes that react to allergens and can be used in combination with other treatments.
Congestion. Nasal and sinus congestion can be uncomfortable and may also cause sinus pressure headaches. Relieving congestion with a decongestant can help. Some people cannot take over-the-counter decongestants due to other medical conditions or medications though, so discussing appropriate options with your doctor is important.
If one treatment doesn't provide relief, a combination of medications may be needed.
Experts say many people take an antihistamine drug for a month or two and then come in and say it's no longer working. But antihistamines do not lose their effect with time. "That's a popular misconception," Bassett tells WebMD.
Instead, people's seasonal allergy symptoms may be getting worse because their disease is progressing, they may need multiple medications, or they may be exposed to different allergy triggers that are causing additional symptoms, says Bassett.
Randolph says another common mistake people make when trying to self-treat their allergies is using nonprescription medications that may provide temporary relief but will eventually make their symptoms worse.
We certainly urge people not to use over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays, which cause rebound in the nose, or eye drops that have blood vessel constrictors in them to treat their allergies, says Randolph.
He says these medications contain agents that work on one part of the nervous system, and then another part of the nervous system comes back and whacks you, creating a rebound effect.
For example, if you put these types of eye drops in the eye, it shrinks the blood vessels and constricts them, Randolph tells WebMD. "After a period of time, the other part of the nervous system comes back and swells the blood vessels up again, and the person actually looks worse."
Watch What You Eat
Researchers say another little known fact about fall seasonal allergies is that certain foods can trigger allergy symptoms in people who suffer from ragweed allergies.
Up to 50% of people who are allergic to ragweed may also experience a tingling, burning, or itching in the mouth when they eat certain foods due to a similar allergy trigger in ragweed and those foods, including melons, banana, zucchini, cucumber, sunflower seeds, and chamomile teas.
The person with ragweed allergy becomes particularly sensitive to other allergy triggers when they are bombarded with ragweed pollen in the fall, says Atkins.
That means that even if someone ate a little bit of watermelon at the beginning of the summer and experienced only mild tingling and burning, they might have a more powerful response in the fall after exposure to ragweed.
When All Else Fails
Experts say treating and preventing seasonal allergies sometimes takes a lot of trial and error. But if one medication or approach doesn't work, talk to a doctor about testing to determine if year-round allergy triggers may be causing your symptoms, such as pet dander.
For people with allergies that last for more than six months a year and/or have tried antihistamines, decongestants, and corticosteroid nasal sprays without success, allergy shots may also be another option. Allergy shots require a regular series of shots that contain small amounts of the allergy trigger to eventually desensitize the person to the allergy trigger.
But for the majority of people who suffer from brief bouts of seasonal allergy symptoms, Randolph says the goal is to use nonsedating prescription antihistamines and avoid the sedating over-the-counter medications that might interact with other medications, particularly drugs used to treat high blood pressure.
Not really seasonal, but with the cold and flu season September 17, 2007 5:23 PM
Survey: Men Still Wash Less Than Women
September 17, 2007
CHICAGO (AP) -- The gender gap has widened when it comes to hygiene, according to the latest stakeout by the "hand washing police."
One-third of men didn't bother to wash after using the bathroom, compared with 12 percent of women, said the researchers who spy on people in public restrooms. They reported their latest findings Monday at a meeting of infectious disease scientists.
The study is based on observations last month of more than 6,000 people in four big cities.
"Guys need to step up to the sink," said Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the Soap and Detergent Association, which co-sponsors the survey and related education campaigns.
Frequent hand washing is the single best thing people can do to avoid getting sick, from colds and the flu to germs lurking in food, doctors say. And a recent Harris Interactive survey found 92 percent of Americans said they usually or always wash up after using the bathroom.
But researchers for the American Society for Microbiology found that only 77 percent actually do, when it comes to public restrooms. That's a 6 percent decline from a similar study in 2005.
The dirty details:
-Atlanta's Turner Field baseball stadium again was the worst. Only 57 percent of guys there washed up, compared to 95 percent of women.
-New York was Second City to Chicago in cleanliness. In restrooms at the Windy City's Shedd Aquarium and Museum of Science and Industry, 81 percent of men and women combined washed their hands, compared to 79 percent at the Big Apple's Penn and Grand Central train stations.
-At San Francisco's Ferry Terminal Farmers Market, 62.5 percent of men lathered up. Women did better, with 84 percent.
Carry sanitizer gels and wipes in case the means to wash your hands aren't handy, suggested microbiologist Judy Daly of Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City, who led the project.
"These are a marvelous addition to plain soap and water," she said.
Telephone surveys by the research firm Harris Interactive show little shift in attitudes over previous polls in 2003 and 2005. The latest was of 1,001 adults from Aug. 17-20.
Nearly three-fourths of Americans said they always wash up after changing a diaper, 78 percent said they do so after handling or eating food; 42 percent after petting a dog or cat, 25 percent after handling money, and 34 percent after coughing or sneezing.
As the weather becomes colder and we stay indoors more, people often catch colds or other viruses. The cold and flu season can begin as early as October and usually ends sometime in April. While there is no way to cure the common cold or the flu, there are several things that you and your family can do to prevent them and stay healthy this season.
Keeping the germs away
The most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands. A common way to catch a cold is by rubbing your nose or eyes, so to protect against infection wash your hands frequently. Your hands pick up germs from other people or from contaminated surfaces and washing them prevents you from infecting yourself with the germs. Use warm water, soap and wash for several minutes for best results.
Other good health practices are not sharing cups, or silverware and cleaning high-contact items, such as doorknobs, faucets and telephones, with soap and water.
Boost your immune system
Even when your hands are clean, staying healthy means more than simply avoiding germs. Healthy bodies have an easier time fighting off infection. To stay healthy and rev up your immune system:
get plenty of rest
eat a well-balanced diet
cut back on unhealthy habits, such as smoking and over consuming alcohol
Studies have shown that a session of moderate physical activity produces positive effects on the immune system. Over time, this means catching fewer colds and other upper respiratory tract infections.
Food for prevention
Researchers are finding positive links between immune function and components in food. If you or your kids seem to get one cold after another, you'll want to make sure they eat plenty of immune-building foods.
Garlic boosts your immune system, increasing resistance to infection and stress. To get the immune power from garlic, crush the cloves with the flat side of a knife before adding them to your food. This releases the garlic juice, which has great immune properties.
Cheese and other dairy products contain conjugated linoleic acid, a natural component of dairy fat that have boosted immune response in animal studies. Probiotics, which are found in yogurt, may also strengthen the immune system.
Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits and juices, also helps the body's immune system.
Zinc, found in meat, chicken, peanuts and peanut butter, plays an important role in the proper functioning of the immune system in the body.
Foods that heal
Fresh ginger root can help you when you are sick by inducing sweating and decreasing nausea and diarrhea. Make ginger tea by grating one ounce of fresh ginger in a pint of water. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add lemon and honey to taste.
Chicken soup and warm beverages increase the flow of nasal secretions, helping alleviate cold symptoms. Of course, the taste and wonderful aroma of chicken soup may be an important part of the beneficial effects.
The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins and minerals is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid.
For most of us getting sick is a part of life. If you do catch a cold or the flu, the following advice still holds true.
When you are sick, stay home so you donít infect others. If you do go out and need to sneeze or cough, use a tissue or sneeze or cough into your sleeve or upper arm. Donít do it into your hand, since you can spread the virus to others by touching people or handling objects that others may use.
This information is not a substitute for a physician's advice or your own good judgment. If you are feeling truly awful, your symptoms worsen or last a long time it is always wise to contact a physician.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Come one, come all: After years of shortages and confusion, this fall promises plenty of flu vaccine to go around -- up to 132 million doses, more than the nation has ever produced.
The ample supplies have the government urging vaccinations not just for people at highest risk of dying from influenza, but for anyone who wants to avoid a week of aching misery.
"Flu is a formidable foe," Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday. "It is not an illness we should be complacent about."
But new CDC data show only a fraction of people who need flu shots the most get them, including just one in five babies and toddlers. And there's wide geographic variation, with Rhode Island reporting the most high-risk adults vaccinated and Nevada the fewest.
Shots aren't the only option. Wednesday, the government ruled that it's safe for younger kids than ever before to try a nasal-spray vaccine called FluMist. Once only an option for people ages 5 to 49, FluMist now can be used by children as young as 2.
Flu usually peaks in February, so a winter vaccination isn't too late. Still, Gerberding advised seeking vaccine early in case flu begins striking before the usual November.
Indeed, there already are reports of sick schoolchildren in Hawaii, although the geographic distance makes it impossible to predict if that signals an unusually early flu season for the rest of the country.
Perhaps of more concern, CDC is closely monitoring whether a new strain that emerged near the end of Australia's flu season will cause illness here -- a strain that this year's vaccine doesn't specifically target.
Each year's vaccine contains protection against three influenza strains -- two Type A strains, an H1N1 and an H3N2 version, plus a milder Type B -- that experts predict will cause the most illness. The vaccine isn't always a perfect match, and this year's contains a different H3N2 version than the newly emerging one, nicknamed H3N2/Brisbane-like.
Get vaccinated anyway, Gerberding stressed. The other two strains in the vaccine are causing illness around the world, and even if the newer one travels here, too, the vaccine should provide some cross-protection.
Every year, flu infects up to 20 percent of the population, causes the hospitalization of 200,000 people and kills 36,000.
Who's at highest risk? Anyone over 50 or under 5; people of any age who have asthma, heart disease, weakened immune systems or other chronic illnesses; and pregnant women.
Vaccine also is particularly recommended for relatives and caregivers of those people, and health care workers -- people who may be robust enough to recover themselves, but could infect the more vulnerable before they realize they're ill.
"The day before you become sick, you're already excreting the virus," warned Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, vice president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
That equals 218 million people who should be vaccinated each year. Nowhere near that many seek vaccine. Last year, about 18 million of the nearly 121 million doses produced weren't used and had to be thrown away.
But the CDC's new estimates of how many high-risk patients get vaccinated, gleaned from public-health surveys, shed new light on the most troubling gaps.
People 65 and older are most likely to get vaccinated, 69 percent during the 2005-2006 flu season, the latest count available.
But that's still well under the national goal of vaccinating 90 percent of seniors -- even though Medicare provides them flu shots for free.
Just over a third of 50- to 64-year-olds are getting vaccinated, and just 30 percent of high-risk younger adults, CDC found.
Flu vaccine is a little more complicated for young children, because they need two doses a month apart the very first year they're inoculated. Just 21 percent of youngsters ages 6 months to 2 years were fully vaccinated, and just over one in 10 who needed two doses got both, CDC reported.
If a young child missed that necessary second dose last year, health officials are recommending that he or she make it up this year with two shots.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Very young children simply should not take some commonly used cold and cough medicines, federal health officials say in recommending that the "consult your physician" advice to parents on the labels be dropped.
The preliminary recommendation, from Food and Drug Administration safety officials, would apply to decongestant use in children under 2, and antihistamines in those younger than 6, according to agency documents released Friday.
The more than 350 pages of documents are part of a broad and ongoing FDA examination of whether the roughly 800 medicines, many popular and widely used, are safe and effective in treating children's colds and coughs.
FDA advisers are to take up the issue during an Oct. 18-19 meeting. The FDA has not made a final decision on any label changes. Action is likely, pending a recommendation from outside experts.
The review came in response to a recently filed petition by Baltimore city officials, who charged that many over-the-counter cough and cold remedies can harm toddlers and preschoolers. Those officials, joined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, cite evidence that suggests the drugs are not only risky but also don't work in the very young.
"The basic question is, why should a product be so relentlessly marketed when it's not safe or effective?" said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore's health commissioner. "It does not make sense, in the absence of information, to say 'consult a physician,' because they do not have superhuman powers. They cannot make a product safe or effective."
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents makers of over-the-counter medicines, backs the recommendation that the cold and cough treatments not be used in children younger than 2. Separately, for antihistamines, the group recommends adding a warning that the drugs not be used to sedate young children, president Linda Suydam said.
An FDA review of side-effect records filed with the agency between 1969 and September 2006, found 54 reports of deaths in children associated with decongestant medicines made with pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine or ephedrine. It also found 69 reports of deaths associated with antihistamine medicines containing diphenhydramine, brompheniramine or chlorpheniramine.
Most of the deaths were children younger than 2.
The Baltimore petition came on the heels of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that found more than 1,500 toddlers and babies wound up in emergency rooms over a two-year period because of the drugs.
Also on Friday, the FDA gave drug companies until Oct. 31 to stop making and selling any unapproved prescription medicines labeled for use by children younger than 6 that contain the painkiller and cough suppressant hydrocodone.
The move is part of a broader effort to remove from sale an estimated 200 unapproved prescription cough medicines made with the narcotic.
Manufacturers of any other unapproved hydrocodone medicines, beyond those intended for young children, must stop making them by Dec. 31 and cease shipping them by March 31, 2008, the FDA said. It said the order applies to most of the hydrocodone formulations sold as cough medicines.
The order does not apply to other hydrocodone formulations, including the seven cough suppressants made with the narcotic that do have FDA approval. Nor does it apply to pain-relief drugs like Vicodin, which combine hydrocodone and acetaminophen.