Sunday, November 10, 2019

Fire Safety

This past weekend was the "fall back" from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time.  We like to recommend that everyone use this time as a reminder to check your smoke alarms.  Fire safety is something that impacts your health status, so I want to remind you about this important issue.

Poison IvyWorking smoke alarms save lives!
  • Smoke alarms that are properly installed and maintained play a vital role in reducing fire-related deaths and injuries.  If there is a fire in your home, smoke spreads fast and you need smoke alarms to sound the warning so that you have time to get yourself and your loved ones out of danger.  
  • In 2012-2016, smoke alarms were present in three-quarters (74%) and sounded in more than half (53%) of the home fires reported to U.S. fire departments.
  • Almost three out of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in home with no smoke alarms (40%), or no smoke alarms that were working at the time
  • The death rate per 1,000 reported home fires was more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms (either because no smoke alarm was present, or an alarm was present but did not operate), compared to homes with working smoke alarms.
  • In fires in which the smoke alarms were present but did not operate, 43% of the smoke alarms had missing or disconnected batteries.
  • Dead batteries caused 25% of the smoke alarm failures.
  • Make sure you have a smoke detector in every room, preferably in the center of the room.
False Alarms

Nuisance tripping of your smoke alarm is bound to happen occasionally.  For example, smoke from the stove could trip the alarm.  I know that has happened to me on more than one occasion!  Many people will remove the battery to silence the alarm, with the good intention of replacing it after the smoke clears.  Unfortunately, they often forget to replace them.  This is one of the most common causes of non-functioning smoke alarms.  Here are some better ways to deal with nuisance tripping:
  • Use an alarm with a "hush button."  This allows you to press the button when the smoke alarm sounds to allow a few minutes for the smoke to clear.  
  • Move the smoke alarm a little further from the stove top in the kitchen.
  • Open windows when you know you are cooking something that normally sets off the alarm.
  • Better yet, try a different type of alarm in the kitchen area.  Some experts say that a photoelectric smoke alarm is a little less sensitive to common causes of false alarms.  
Check your smoke alarms regularly
  • You should test your smoke alarms once a month, by pressing the test button, to make sure they are still working properly.  
  • Smoke alarms which use regular batteries should have the batteries changed once a year.  The "fall back" time change is a great reminder to change those batteries.
  • Some modern smoke alarms come with a lithium ion battery built in, which will last for 10 years.  This means that you don't have to change the battery every year; you just replace the smoke alarm after 10 years.  You need to write the date on the alarm, so that you remember when it is time to replace it.  However, you still have to test the alarm regularly to make sure it is working.
Hard wired alarms

Many homes today have smoke alarms wired right into the household electrical system.  Advantages of hard wired smoke alarms include:
  • You don't necessarily have to change the batteries every year, or replace them every 10 years.  However, some do have a battery back-up so the alarm will operate during a power failure.  You should find out if this is the case for yours, and how often that battery needs to be replaced.
  • You can also have the alarms interconnected.  This means that if one alarm in the house sounds, then the others will sound as well.  This can be a big advantage.  For example, if there is a fire in the basement, the basement smoke alarm might not wake you in your second floor bedroom.  If the alarms are interconnected, the alarm in the basement would trigger all of the alarms in the house, which provides you with an earlier warning to get out of the house in the case of a fire.  
Escape plan

Smoke and flames can spread quickly, so you need to react quickly.  It is easier to react quickly if you know exactly what to do when you hear the smoke alarm.  You should plan an escape route from every room in the house, and also name a specific safe area for everyone to meet outside your home.  Every family member should know and understand the plan.  It is also a good idea to rehearse the escape plan with your family.  Make sure planned escape windows are easy to open, and planned exits are not blocked. 
For more information about fire safety and smoke alarms, use this link to the International Association of Firefighters website:

If you have any questions about fire safety, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Friday, November 1, 2019

Exercise to Treat Chronic Pain

There are millions of Americans who suffer from chronic pain and/or chronic fatigue.  If you are one of them, exercise is very likely the best solution to improve, or better manage, your symptoms.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to do all of your normal daily activities and not have to worry so much about pain and fatigue?  Or maybe you would just like to have a little energy left over to enjoy some recreational activity.  There have been several recent research studies that have shown that the right exercise program can be the most beneficial treatment option available.

What is a pain cycle?

Exercise for painPain cycles begin when you make specific adjustments to your activity to avoid pain.  This leads to an inactive lifestyle.  Being inactive leads to deconditioning, in which your muscles get weaker, and your joints get stiffer.  Then when you try to be physically active, you have even more pain and fatigue, so you become even less physically active.  This cycle can lead to very significant weakness, fatigue, pain, and even further injuries.  This can be very debilitating.  Exercise is the first step to breaking this cycle.

What should you do if you suffer from chronic pain?

Your body has probably already adapted to this pain cycle.  The idea of exercising may seem like the last thing that you want to do.  In fact, breaking out of this pain cycle can be very difficult, especially if this has been going on for a long time.  Some people feel like when they exercise, they will only get a flare up of pain, or fatigue, so it just feels better to avoid activity.

The latest research shows that more rest is not the best way to treat your pain.  Just the opposite is true!  Research shows that patients with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia report decreased fatigue, decreased pain, as well as decreased stress and other symptoms after starting a program of regular moderate exercise.  At the same time, it improved their perception of their health, physical function, and their overall aerobic fitness.

Even though it may cause some discomfort in the beginning, re-training and re-conditioning your body can improve pain and fatigue in the long run.  Even people who don't suffer from chronic pain or fatigue have some pain or muscle soreness when they begin an exercise routine.

I remember several times in my life when I had to be inactive for several weeks for various reasons.  Even after just a few weeks, starting back on my usual exercise routine caused significant muscle soreness that lasted for the first week, then it all started to get better, and I was able to increase my activity to get back into my regular exercise routine.

The first step is to start a gradually increasing program of aerobic exercise, such as walking or pool exercises.  Even low intensity exercise can lead to less muscle and joint pain, as well as more energy.  As your fitness improves, you can increase your level of exercise.

How do you get started in an exercise program?

First make sure that you contact your doctor to make sure that you are healthy enough for exercise.
Start by just gradually increasing your usual daily activities.  For instance, park further away from the grocery store entrance, take the stairs whenever you can, get up more often to do activities around the house, or maybe walk leisurely around at the local mall.

Then start a more formal exercise routine, such as walking specifically for exercise, or maybe doing some pool exercises or ride a stationary bike.  Tai chi is a great way to start if you have been very inactive.  Start with one or two days a week, even as little as 5-10 minutes each time.  From there you can gradually build up to three, then four days a week.  Then start adding time to your exercise.  Go up to 15 minutes, then increase by five minute increments every week or two, up to 30 minutes or more.  If you're doing well with that, then try to do five days a week or even every day if you can.  It won't be long before you are exercising 30 minutes a day, and feeling so much better.

Be sure to listen to your body and be gentle with yourself.  Avoid increasing the time or intensity of your work out too quickly.  If you overdo, you may not feel up to exercising the next time.  The consistency of exercise is more important than the intensity of the exercise, especially in the beginning.

There are lots of exercise programs that cater to people with arthritis or other painful conditions.  Some hospitals do a community water aerobics class in their therapy pool, and community centers often have Tai Chi classes or other group exercise classes geared toward beginners or specifically for people with arthritis.  Exercising with a group can make the activity much more enjoyable.  Just check in your local community to see what they have to offer.

If you have any questions about exercising for chronic pain, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Poison Ivy: Part II

Last week we talked about poison ivy and some of the ways that you can be exposed to it.  This week, we'll talk about how to prevent a poison ivy rash, and how to treat it once you have it.

How can you prevent a poison ivy rash?
  • Poison IvyAvoid the plants - Learn to identify the plants in all seasons.  Try to stay on cleared pathways when hiking.  If you are camping, check for poison ivy before pitching your tent.
  • Wear protective clothing - Wear long sleeves, long pants, and vinyl gloves when needed to protect your skin.
  • Use a barrier cream - There are some over-the-counter products that can be applied to the skin to act as a barrier between your skin and the poison ivy oil.
  • Remove or kill plants - In your yard, use an herbicide to get rid of the plants or pull them out of the ground, including the roots, while wearing protective clothing of course.  Afterward, remove your protective clothing and put it in the washing machine, then immediately wash your hands.
  • Wash your skin - Within 30 minutes after exposure, use soap and water to wash thoroughly to get the oil off your skin.  Be sure to scrub under your fingernails with a brush as well.
  • Wash your pet - If you think your pet has been in poison ivy, use some long rubber gloves to give your pet a good bath with pet shampoo.
  • Clean objects that might be contaminated - Wash clothing in the washing machine.  Actually put the clothes into the washing machine before you get into the shower.  If you pick them up after your shower, you will contaminate your skin again, and will need to take another shower.  Don't let your contaminated clothes touch any surface inside your home, other than the inside of the washing machine!  Wash shoes and shoelaces if you have walked in poison ivy.  Wash any garden tools or camping gear that may be contaminated.  The oil stays potent for years, so if you put something away now without washing it, when you get it out next summer or even 2 or 3 summers from now, it can still cause you to get a poison ivy rash!  
How is a poison ivy rash treated?
The rash will typically last 7-14 days.  Most people can treat a poison ivy rash at home with good results.
Here is what I usually recommend:
  • Hydrocortisone 1% cream or ointment, applied up to 4 times a day 
  • Calamine lotion as needed
  • Antihistamines by mouth, such as Benadryl, as needed
  • Soak in an oatmeal bath
  • Use cool, wet compresses on the area, 15 minutes at a time, multiple times a day.
If you have an extensive rash covering a large area, with lots of blisters, or you think you may have developed a secondary bacterial infection at the site of the rash, you should see your doctor for possible prescription treatment.  Your doctor may prescribe a stronger steroid cream or a steroid that you take by mouth for 5-7 days.  If there is evidence of a secondary infection, an antibiotic may be needed.
Use this link to see pictures of poison ivy
If you have any questions about poison ivy, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor