Mind & Body
You Better Watch Out for Seasonal Health Risks
11/30/2018 12:50:47 PM
Seasonal Health Risks

The most wonderful time of the year can also bring about some not-so-jolly health problems. All the things we love about the holidays – shopping, parties, visiting with family and friends, eating and drinking – can also have a negative impact on your health.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be a Grinch and miss all the fun. Healthcare professionals with Imperial Health say by being aware of the risks and following some preventive guidelines, you can stay healthy and enjoy the holiday season. 

Here’s a list of some of the more unwelcome gifts the holidays can deliver, along with tips on how to avoid them:

Germs 
With all the season’s greetings (hugs and kisses), gatherings, crowded stores, airports and hotels, germs can quickly bring the bah-hum-bug to the holidays. "Washing your hands is by far the best thing anyone can do to keep germs in check,” says Dr. Jason Burklow, MD, family medicine specialist with Imperial Health.  "Use soap and running water if possible. If you aren’t near soap and water, anti-bacterial gels are a good second choice. Keep some with you and accessible in as many places as you can so you’ll remember to use them.”

Regardless of what you do, during the colder months when the holidays occur, more people stay indoors, which leads to cold germs and viruses being passed around more frequently.  High-risk areas include check-out lines, bank machines, escalator handrails and shopping cart handles. "Again, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid these things, just be cautious and wash your hands frequently,” stresses Dr. Burklow. 
   
Allergies 
People with allergies and asthma face unique health challenges during the winter holidays. 

The variety of foods available increases the risk for those with food allergies. "For those with known allergies, extra care is needed during the holidays when so many different people are preparing foods,” says Dr. Bridget Loehn, ENT & Allergy Specialist. If you aren’t sure of the ingredients in a dish, ask, or if you can’t find out, don’t eat it. Also, take time to check restaurant menus before eating out and always have an epinephrine injection kit available in case of a reaction.”

"Molds are not usually a problem in the winter, as their counts are lower, but the greenery many people bring into their homes, including Christmas trees, can harbor mold spores, which could cause a flare-up,” says Dr. Loehn.   She advises using an artificial tree or greenery if you are prone to indoor allergies, and dusting off old or used decorations and ornaments. Clean or replace home air filters, as well as those in portable air cleaners. Limit or remove scented candles, potpourri and similar items than can cause discomfort for asthmatics.  Dr. Loehn adds that caution should be used when using spray-on "snow,” and popular pine-scented sprays or oils, which can cause allergic reactions in some people.  "If you have an established pattern for allergy and asthma flare ups at this time of year, then be sure to take treatment precautions to prevent those symptoms, and if you are traveling, be sure to pack any medications you may need.”
  
Heartburn
When it comes to over-indulgence, most people worry about calories and health, but rich holiday food may leave you reaching for the antacids instead of the leftovers. According to Dr. Burklow, for those who experience chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the holidays can be especially painful. He explains that acid reflux is a common and chronic digestive condition caused by a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (the valve between the stomach and esophagus) that allows stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Heartburn, sour taste and indigestion are the most common symptoms. "The holiday season is one of the worst times of the year for patients with GERD,” says Dr. Burklow. "The large amounts and different types of food we eat during the holidays can lead to extreme discomfort for chronic heartburn sufferers.  It’s important to stay focused on your dietary recommendations and make sure you take any medications as directed.”

Heart Health
The holiday season is full of surprises – that’s part of the magic of the season. But the unwelcome surprise of a "Merry Christmas Coronary” is something no one would ever expect. The phrase was coined by researchers from Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville who studied national death rates from a nearly 30-year period. They found that deaths related to heart disease spike in December and January, reaching their peak on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Similar results were found in a national study conducted at the University of California in San Diego. These researchers found that the number of cardiac deaths is higher on Christmas Day than on any other day of the year; with the second highest on December 26 and third highest on January 1. 

Dr. Thomas Mulhearn, cardiologist with Cardiovascular Specialists of Southwest Louisiana, says there are many reasons for this phenomenon. "People with symptoms of heart trouble prior to the holidays tend to delay going to the doctor, partly from denial and partly from procrastination because it’s such a busy time. They are less likely to see their physicians when they first notice symptoms, mistakenly thinking they can just deal with it after the holidays are over.” He says other holiday-related risk factors include too much food, too little exercise, added stress, and alcohol. "Parties, shopping, guests and other activities provide the perfect excuse for skipping a workout or indulging in foods that are higher in fat, sodium and calories – all things that are not good for your heart.” He adds that missing medications can also cause a problem during the holidays. "People are out of their normal routine and may forget to take medications such as blood thinners and pills for high blood pressure, or if traveling, may forget to pack them.”

Don’t let a preventable illness put a damper on your holidays. Take a few precautions and enjoy the season in good health!
Posted by: Kristy Armand | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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