Friday, December 20, 2019

Do I have the flu?

Several weeks ago, we talked about the importance of getting your flu shot.  Well the flu season is now getting started in a big way, so I thought we might talk about how you can tell if you do have the flu, and what you should do if you think you might have it.
Do I have the flu?
What is the flu?

The flu is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.  The flu can cause mild to severe illness.  It can make you feel absolutely miserable.  The symptoms usually start very suddenly and progress quickly.  Serious complications of flu infection can lead to hospitalization and even death.  There are 2 main types of flu, Types A and B, with multiple different strains of each type.  Although some people refer to stomach viruses as the "stomach flu", those are actually caused by viruses that are very different from the influenza virus, and that is not part of our discussion this week.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Most common symptoms of the flu include:
  • Fever/chills (Although, occasionally people will not have fever with the flu.)
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue or feeling tired and drained
Less common symptoms that are possible with the flu include:
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose 
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea (These symptoms are more common in children who have the flu than adults.)
What are the possible complications of the flu?
  • Pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Worsening of chronic conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, COPD, or diabetes.
How long does the flu last?

Most symptoms get better within 5-7 days, but some people still feel drained for weeks after the flu.

How does the flu spread? 

The flu is spread from one person to another.  A person with the flu can spread it to someone up to 6 feet away from them!  Experts believe that the flu is spread mainly by tiny droplet made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or even talk.  These droplets are not really visible to the naked eye in most cases.  The droplets can land directly on another person or be inhaled by them.  They can land on the hand of the person with the flu, who then shakes your hand, or touches other objects that you touch shortly afterward.  Most adults get the flu from being exposed at work.

When is a person with the flu contagious to others?

People who are infected with the flu are the most contagious in the first three to four days of being sick.  But, it might surprise you to know that most healthy adults may actually be able to infect others starting the day before they start having symptoms, and up to 5-7 days after they start having symptoms.  Children may be contagious for even longer than 7 days.

Most people will become sick with the flu within 2 days of being exposed, but the illness can begin anywhere from one to four days after exposure.

Next week we will talk more about the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of the flu.  Remember, it's not too late to get your flu shot!

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

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Friday, December 13, 2019

Sinus Infections – Do You Need Antibiotics?

This time of year, we get many questions about sinus infections.  There are so many illnesses going around, and many people are worried that they have a sinus infection.  Most people believe that sinus infections require antibiotics to improve.  It may surprise you to know that most sinus infections will get better without antibiotics.  I thought that we should all know the truth about sinus infections, so let's talk about it today.

Sinus InfectionSinus infections happen when fluid builds up in the air-filled pockets in the facial bones.  Most sinus infections are caused by viruses, although some sinus infections are caused by bacteria.
What are the risk factors for developing a sinus infection?
Many sinus infections start with a cold.  That same cold virus then promotes the fluid build-up within the sinuses.  Here are a few of the risk factors that make you more prone to develop a sinus infection:
  • Smoking or exposure to second hand smoke
  • Structural problems within the nose or sinuses, such as polyps
  • A weakened immune system, which may be the result of certain medications
What are the symptoms of a sinus infection?
  • Runny nose and nasal congestion
  • Facial pain or pressure
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough which may be dry or productive
  • Mucus drainage, which may be clear, yellow, or even green or brown
How do I know if I have a bacterial infection that needs an antibiotic?
Remember, that sinus infections caused by a virus can cause all of the symptoms that I mentioned, including the green mucus, and the bad facial pain and pressure.  Having those symptoms does not mean that you need an antibiotic.  In fact, these symptoms are almost always caused by a virus. 
Viral sinus infections will usually last about 7-14 days.  There is nothing that will make it go away faster, not even antibiotics, but there are some things that you can do to help improve the symptoms and make you feel better until it does go away.
If you have symptoms that last for more than 14 days, then I would be concerned about the possibility of a bacterial infection, although it could still be viral.  After 14 days of symptoms, antibiotics should be considered, although may not always be necessary.
What do I do to feel better?
  • Decongestants - There are a number of decongestant medications available without a prescription.  If you have high blood pressure, be sure to talk with your doctor first.
  • Expectorants - Such as guaifenesin, work to thin mucus.  This can help to allow mucus and fluid to drain from your sinuses and make it easier to get mucus out of your chest.
  • Steroid nasal spray - Such as Nasacort or Flonase, can decrease the swelling and inflammation within the nasal passages.  They do not work quickly, but if used regularly, you will start seeing results in a couple of days, which will get better the longer you use it.
  • Saline nasal spray - You can use this as often as you want throughout the day or night.  It will flush the mucous and help clear you sinus openings.
In addition, you should do the things your grandma always told you to do when you are sick, such as:
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
  • Get plenty of rest, with more sleep than usual (studies show this really helps you recover more quickly), avoid working long hours and skip your regular exercise routine for a few days.
  • Drink hot tea with a little lemon and honey.  Be sure to breathe in the steam before you drink it.
  • Use steam to improve congestion when it is worse (stand in a hot shower for a few minutes, or just be in the bathroom while someone else showers, or pour boiling water into a bowl or a sink and make a tent over your head with a towel, then just lean over the hot water and breathe in the steam through your nose).
If you have any questions about sinus infections, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Safe Toys and Gifts

Over the years, there have been a number of dangerous toys on the market.  The Gilbert Glass Blowing Kit, sold in the 1910s, encouraged children to heat glass to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit with an alcohol-fueled flame. The Austin Magic Pistol, sold in the 1940s, used explosive chemicals to launch a ball.  Not only could the ball take out someone's eye, but the pistol itself could blow up when fired, scorching the face of the poor kid firing it with acetylene gas.  Moon Shoes, sold in the 1950s and surprisingly again in the 1990s, caused countless fractured ankles.  Sky Dancers, sold in the 1990s were dolls which would spin rapidly and actually fly into the air.  They caused hundreds of injuries, including many eye injuries leading to blindness.  I could go on and on about all of the unsafe toys that have been sold over the years, but I don't want to use the entire page!  Most toys that are unsafe are not anywhere near as dangerous as the examples that I have given, but we have to be careful to assure that we are providing safe toys to our children.

Safe Toys and Gifts
December is Safe Toys and Gifts Month, initially designated so by Prevent Blindness America, and embraced by the American Public Health Association.  Since we are all considering gifts for the holiday season, I thought this would be a good topic for this week's Health Tip.  It is important for everyone to consider whether the toy they wish to give will actually suit the age of the child who will receive it, and especially so for infants and children under age three.

Here are a few tips to help you choose safe toys for all ages.
  • Inspect toys before purchasing them.  Avoid toys that shoot or include parts that fly off.  The toy should have no sharp edges or points and should be sturdy enough to withstand impact without breaking, being crushed, or being pulled apart easily.
  • DO NOT give toys with small parts to young children, as they tend to put things in their mouths.  This includes magnets and "button" batteries which can cause serious injury or even death if swallowed.  If the small pieces can fit inside a toilet paper roll, it is NOT appropriate for kids under age three, or a child of any age who still tends to put things in their mouth.
  • When purchasing a toy for a child with special needs, try to consider those special needs in your decision.  Maybe a toy that appeals to different senses, such as sound or texture, might be in order.  Maybe an interactive toy that will allow the child to play with others would be a good choice.  Think about the manipulative limitations or positional limitations of the child as well as their developmental stage when making your choice.
  • Look for labels that assure you that the toys have passed a safety inspection.  The label "ATSM" on the packaging means that the toy has met the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials.
  • Gifts of sports equipment should always be accompanied by protective gear.  For instance, always give a helmet with a bike or skateboard.
  • Be aware of toys that have been recalled.  These toys may not be on store shelves, but they certainly might be for sale by individuals on many Internet sites.
  • Be aware of the possibility of lead exposure from toys.
  • Do NOT give toys with ropes or cords or heating elements.
  • Do NOT give crayons and markers to young children unless they are labeled as "nontoxic."
  • If you are considering video games as a gift, please use the age ratings to guide your choice.  Games rated T for Teen are not appropriate for a 9 year old, and games rated M for Mature are not appropriate for a 14 year old.
  • As a parent, you should be diligent about inspecting the toys that your child has received.  Check them for age, skill level, and developmental appropriateness, and check video game ratings before allowing your child to play with them.  You might even consider talking with grandparents ahead of time to avoid having a situation where you have to take away a toy after it has been given.
By following these guidelines, I hope we can all have a safe and happy holiday season.

For more information:

Use this link to Prevent Blindness America for more information about toys and eye safety:

Use these links to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for information on toy safety:

Use this link for a parent's guide to video game ratings:

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

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Monday, December 2, 2019

Holiday Food Safety

Holiday meals can be challenging because there are so many different things to cook that require different times and different temperatures. If you only have one oven, this requires a lot of careful planning to make this work.  I am hosting a very small crowd this year, but even that takes planning.
Holiday Cooking SafetyHere are five basic steps to keep harmful bacteria from being an unwanted guest at your holiday meal.

  • Plan ahead carefully so that you know what is going to cook when, as well as how you are going to keep things at the proper temperature for serving.  
  • Know how many items can be cooked in your oven at the same time without affecting cooking times.
  • Plan your refrigerator space.  I always clean out my refrigerator a few days in advance!  You need to have enough room to keep all of the cold foods cold before serving, as well as having room to store your leftovers.  If you do not have enough space in the refrigerator, make sure you have an ice chest on hand with plenty of ice and plenty of space to accommodate the necessary foods.
  • If things don't go quite as planned, don't be afraid to delay the start time for dinner if it means serving a thoroughly cooked meal.  Your guests will understand.
  • Start with clean hands, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Clean cutting boards, knives, sink, and countertops with hot soapy water or detergent prior to and throughout the cooking process.
  • DO NOT RINSE YOUR TURKEY before cooking.  The process of rinsing your turkey might seem like a good idea, but any harmful bacteria that you rinse off will be killed in the proper cooking process, so rinsing is not necessary.  In addition, the rinsing process involves a lot of splatter, so harmful bacteria can end up all over your countertops and your clothes.  Using your clean sink to prepare the turkey for roasting is fine, just don't rinse the turkey with water.
After removing the turkey from the sink, use a cleaner with bleach to clean the sink and surrounding countertops, as well as the faucet.  I like to change my apron and shirt after getting the turkey in the oven, just to be safe.

  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep raw meat away from raw vegetables or other foods that will not be cooked.
  • Don't let cooked foods come in contact with raw meat or poultry, or their juices.  Don't use a platter that has held raw meat to serve cooked food without a very thorough cleaning.
  • Cook foods to the safe temperature in order to kill harmful bacteria.  You CANNOT tell if something is done by the way it looks.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure that your foods get to the correct temperature.  Wash your food thermometer thoroughly after each use, in order to keep from transferring bacteria.
  • For a list of safe cooking temperatures for a variety of foods, follow this link:
  • Make sure that cold foods do not sit out at room temperature too long before serving. li> If your dinner is potluck, make sure that foods have been kept at a safe temperature during travel, and are properly reheated, or properly cooled, once arriving at your home.  The above link includes the temperature for reheating casseroles.  
  • Put leftovers into the refrigerator within 2 hours.  Larger items will cool down more quickly if they are packaged in smaller quantities for refrigeration.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees F, or below.
  • Eat leftovers within 3-4 days, and only after properly reheating them.
I hope you all enjoy a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!
If you have any questions about holiday food safety, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor