Wash your hands of flu, colds, and viruses

For all our technology, medical advances and sophisticated health resources, it often seems we’re no closer to taming the common cold, eliminating flu and infections, or reducing many common and costly chronic diseases and illnesses. In part, that’s the insidious nature of human health and the ability of diseases to transform and elude researcher’s best efforts. But often, it’s also the result of misinformation, and our unwillingness — purposely or through lack of accurate direction or failed compliance — to help ourselves through knowledge and prevention.

As the annual flu season descends, we need to protect ourselves. Flu vaccine is plentiful and often effective against specific strains of influenza, but many people still choose to not get themselves or their children vaccinated. That’s a personal decision, but it can mean that you or your kids spread illness and disease to others, including the most vulnerable — the sick, elderly and babies.

Amid heightened global concerns over Ebola, which has now reached American shores, another far more common virus has been making the rounds. This flu-like strain, called Enterovirus (EV) D68, is now afflicting people across the country, and is particularly dangerous to infants, seniors, or anyone with respiratory illnesses, asthma, or chronic, obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Strains of the Enterovirus (there are more than 100) are not new — they’ve been formally catalogued since the early 1960s — but this year’s outbreak has been more virulent than in recent years.

Most common in the summer and early fall, mild symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough and body and muscle aches. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it presents like the common cold and many other viruses. Severe symptoms may include wheezing and difficulty breathing. Since Enterovirus causes respiratory illness, the virus can be found in an infected person’s respiratory secretions, such as saliva, nasal mucus, or sputum. EV-D68 spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or contaminates common surfaces or objects through touch.

There is no specific treatment for people with respiratory illness caused by EV-D68, nor a vaccine to prevent it. For mild respiratory illness, you can help relieve symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications for pain and fever (aspirin should not be given to children). Some people with severe respiratory illness may need to be hospitalized — if symptoms worsen, you should see your physician.

We can help protect ourselves from Enterovirus, the flu, other viruses and colds by following these simple steps:

  • The easiest, safest, cheapest and most effective way to prevent the spread of disease or to limit infection is to wash your hands often. That includes when you come home from anywhere, before you eat in a dining hall or restaurant, after you use a restroom, visit the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or touch an ATM. And when it isn’t easy to wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t share toothbrushes, razors or other personal grooming products, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick
  • Sneeze into tissues or your arm, not your hands and not into the air — airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections
  • Get a flu shot! Flu vaccines are very safe and can’t infect you with the flu. Injected flu vaccines only contain dead virus, and a dead virus can’t infect you. There is one type of live virus flu vaccine, the nasal vaccine, FluMist. But in this case, the virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. The standard flu vaccine can be dangerous if you’re allergic to eggs, so you should always talk with your doctor before taking the vaccine.
  • Stay home when you’re sick; incubation time — or the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly nasty in your system — allow you to spread those germs to many other people before you even realize you’re infectious.

Additionally, remember that antibiotics won’t help you fight the flu or a cold, which are not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens your body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and bad prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken your body and allow bacterial invaders to infect you. Secondary bacterial infections due to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia. The flu doesn’t peak until February or March, and it hits all across the country, so if you haven’t had your flu shot there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Sharing wellness information is easy, inexpensive and healthy

If you’re an employer concerned with keeping your workforce healthy and productive, there are a variety of simple and inexpensive steps you can take to help keep employees informed, motivated, and focused on their health and wellness. Raising awareness so employees make smarter health decisions doesn’t take a lot of effort, but the return on investment — measured through improved customer satisfaction, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, better teamwork and enhanced morale — can be significant. October is a busy month on the national health observance calendar. There are numerous listings including:

  • Breast cancer awareness month
  • Health literacy month
  • Bone and joint health awareness month
  • National health education week
  • National infection prevention week

Each of these is important in its own right, and providing material or access to information for any one or a few of these would be valuable for your workforce. In fact, this issue of CBIA Healthy Connections has articles on bone health and how to prevent or limit infections, and another article on skin health. You also can find more than 200 articles on different health topics in the CBIA Healthy Connections archives.

There’s an abundance of good facts, recommendations, articles and health- and wellness-focused websites available for free on the Internet. There also are services you can subscribe to, and resources available locally through hospitals, health benefits providers and your physicians or various health provider offices. Additionally, most diseases or illnesses have dedicated national and local organizations specializing in outreach, prevention and education.

If you haven’t already, consider creating a simple disease-awareness grid or calendar, and choosing one health or wellness topic to discuss monthly, every-other month, or even quarterly. Your wellness champion can help lead the charge, or you can ask other employees to choose topics of interest and potential action steps to share internally with their associates.

Consider posting information on bulletin boards, in lunch rooms or other common spaces. Talk about the focus health topic at weekly or monthly meetings, and consider internal competitions to make it more fun and engaging. Involve employees’ families, as well, so the benefits cascade and are carried home. Set and post goals and measure progress for all to see. Also, fund targeted efforts through small incentives like gift cards and education materials, or by hosting a small recognition event after goals have been met.

Additionally, many local health organizations and hospitals are happy to send in a speaker to address your employees and to disperse materials. The bottom line IS your bottom line: By leading these efforts, you reinforce your commitment to your employees’ health and wellness, boost teamwork, and enhance workplace productivity.

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 If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Don’t Let Your Teeth Mouth Off!

Understanding and practicing the tenets of good oral health should be an important part of our general personal wellness strategy. We should eat well, exercise regularly, protect ourselves from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays, sleep soundly, comply with medical direction and focus daily on maintaining a healthy mouth!

Oral health is not only important to our appearance and sense of well-being, but also to our overall health. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to serious conditions such as diabetes and respiratory disease, and untreated cavities can be painful and lead to serious infections. Poor oral health has been linked to sleeping problems, as well as behavioral and developmental problems in children. It can also affect our ability to chew and digest food properly.

There are threats to oral health across the lifespan. Nearly one-third of all adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay. One in seven adults aged 35 to 44 years has gum disease; this increases to one in every four adults aged 65 years and older. Oral cancers are most common in older adults, particularly those over 55 years who smoke and are heavy drinkers.

Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly builds up, thickens and hardens on the teeth. If it is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, this plaque can harden into tartar and may contribute to infections in the gums. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to the loss of teeth and an increased risk of more serious illnesses.

The bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung conditions. It creates risks for heart patients, too, as it can travel through the bloodstream and get lodged in narrow arteries, contributing to heart attacks. There also is a link between diabetes and gum disease. People with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease and it can put them at greater risk of diabetic complications.

With proper care, your teeth and gums can remain healthy throughout your life. There are four basic steps to caring for teeth and gums:

  • Brushing
  • Flossing
  • Eating right
  • Visiting the dentist

Brush teeth and gums at least twice a day. If you can, brush 30 minutes to one hour after every meal. Brushing removes plaque. When bacteria in plaque come into contact with food, they produce acids. These acids lead to cavities.

Flossing our teeth is a critical part of good oral hygiene. Often overlooked, it should be practiced adjunct to brushing daily. While brushing is critical, flossing does about 40 percent of the work required to remove plaque from the hard-to-reach spaces between our teeth.

Most floss is made of either nylon or Teflon, and both are equally effective. People with larger spaces between their teeth or with gum recession (loss of gum tissue, which exposes the roots of the teeth) tend to get better results with a flat, wide dental tape. If teeth are close together, try thin floss that bills itself as “shred resistant.”

Bridges and braces require more effort to get underneath the restorations or wires and between the teeth. Use a floss threader, which looks like a plastic sewing needle. Or look for a product called Super Floss that has one stiff end to fish the floss through the teeth, followed by a spongy segment and regular floss for cleaning.

The third step to good oral health is proper nutrition. Food high in processed sugars and fats are not good for body or your teeth – they contribute to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and even certain types of cancers. A well-rounded, vitamin-rich, balanced diet high in fiber and filled with vegetables, fruits and plenty of water will help you maintain a healthy mouth, as well as a healthier body.

Finally, make sure and visit a dentist regularly for preventative screenings, and to check for cavities, infections or other abnormalities. As we age, the prevention or removal of plaque becomes more important for heart health, and regular checkups and diagnostic images can tell your dentist what’s going on “behind the scenes” in our mouths. Don’t wait for something to hurt before you go to the dentist – remember, the rest of your body is counting on your mouth!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Understanding Ovarian Cancer

September is Ovarian Cancer awareness month. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 73. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100.

About half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older. It is more common in white women than African-American women. Fortunately, through earlier detection and more advanced treatments, the rate at which women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been slowly falling over the past 20 years. However, that’s no reason to relax. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 22,000 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2014, and more than 14,000 will die from this disease.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries. Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries — each about the size of an almond — produce eggs (ova) as well as the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is difficult to treat and is often fatal. Like most illnesses, the earlier it’s detected, the better your chances for leading a normal and longer life.

It’s not clear what causes ovarian cancer. In general, cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic mutation that turns normal cells into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die when they should. As abnormal cells accumulate, they form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize).

The type of cell where the cancer begins determines the type of ovarian cancer you have. Ovarian cancer types include:

  • Cancer that begins in the cells on the outside of the ovaries. Called epithelial tumors, these cancers begin in the thin layer of tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries. Most ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
  • Cancer that begins in the egg-producing cells. Called germ cell tumors, these ovarian cancers tend to occur in younger women.
  • Cancer that begins in the hormone-producing cells. These cancers, called stromal tumors, begin in the ovarian tissue that produces the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Physicians diagnose ovarian cancer through pelvic examinations, the use of ultrasound scanning or by taking small tissue samples. The type of ovarian cancer you have helps determine your prognosis and treatment options.

Know ovarian cancer signs and symptoms

Researchers are studying ways to improve ovarian cancer treatment and looking into ways to detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage — when a cure is more likely. Symptoms of ovarian cancer, however, are not specific to the disease, and they often mimic those of many other more-common conditions, including digestive problems.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Low back pain

Make an appointment with your doctor if you or someone you know has any signs or symptoms that worry you. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk of ovarian cancer. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor to discuss testing for certain gene mutations that increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Certain factors may increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’re sure to develop ovarian cancer, but your risk may be higher than that of the average woman. These risk factors include:

  • Inherited gene mutations, which can often be determined through genetic testing. 
  • Family history of ovarian cancer. If women in your family have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you have an increased risk of the disease.
  • A previous cancer diagnosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer of the breast, colon, rectum or uterus, your risk of ovarian cancer is increased.
  • Increasing age. Your risk of ovarian cancer increases as you age. Ovarian cancer most often develops after menopause, though it can occur at any age.
  • Never having been pregnant. Women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Overall, the best advice is to talk with your physician about your risks and to determine appropriate testing. Again, early detection is critical to increased survival, so remain diligent and encourage other women at risk to do the same!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Eating with the Season

Eating with the season is healthy, fun and practical. The fall harvest offers a multitude of delicious and heart-healthy fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are fresh from the garden or farm, and represent only a few of the many nutrition-rich seasonal foods that can help you feel better, stay healthier and may protect against maladies like heart disease and stroke.

The fall palette includes deep colors like oranges, reds, and purples. Especially prominent in the cooler months, these colorful alternatives like pumpkins, beets, cranberries and squash are readily available, tasty and nutritional masterpieces. Fruits and vegetables with color contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be important in reducing the risk of many conditions, including cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables based on a 2,000-calorie diet as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower your risk for many diseases.

The autumn months can bring additional health and nutritional challenges. The shorter, cooler days make it harder to get physical activity outdoors. And there are the calorie-packed temptations of post-season baseball gatherings, football parties, Halloween sweets and, before you know it, Thanksgiving buffets. So a good way to avoid those extra seasonal pounds is to keep eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Seasonal favorites are loaded with nutrients

Purchasing produce at its peak guarantees the freshest taste, the greatest nutritional value and the most affordable price. Apples and pumpkins are two popular foods celebrated this time of year, but there’s also an abundance of delicious and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, chard, lettuce, cabbage and spinach, as well as colorful carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, green onions and a variety of squash to enjoy this season. Eating according to the seasons also is better for the environment — seasonal food, especially when purchased locally, requires fewer resources to grow, store, and transport.

  • The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging. There are dozens of great, easy recipes online for using pumpkins as side dishes, soups and breads, or for integrating it into salads, desserts, and much more.
  • Apples are a perennial favorite. Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested fall crop hits the market. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

Apples are delicious, easy to carry for snacking, low in calories, a natural mouth freshener, inexpensive, and a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.

It’s a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple’s fragrance cells are concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor.

  • Sweet potatoes are a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.
  • Beets are another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular. Beets are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, beets also are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues.
  • Fall greens that are packed with nutrition include Brussels sprouts. Closely related to cabbage and broccoli, they have a similar look and taste. Peak season is September through February. Another healthy choice includes chicories. Belgian endive, escarole and radicchio are all chicories. They are related to lettuces, but have sturdier leaves, a stronger flavor and are famous for a bitter edge. They’re typically harvested in late fall and early winter.  In addition, endive and radicchio can be used to perk up any bagged salad, and escarole soup is a classic. For something different, sauté escarole in olive oil with garlic and red pepper, just like you would sauté spinach. The greens won’t cook down as much and can stand up to the heat.
  • Finally, seasonal squash like Butternut and Acorn Squash are hearty and healthy. Covered in a thick rind, these winter squashes are the ultimate storage vegetable. Harvested in early fall and throughout the winter months, roasted squash complement many recipes, are a welcome addition to roasted meats, and make delicious soups and side dishes.

The autumn is a wonderful time of year to eat, recreate and prepare your bodies for the colder months that follow. Enjoy its abundance, indoors and out.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Stress at Work is Costing a Fortune

Feeling stressed lately, moody or irritable? Falling behind on your sleep? Finding it harder to come to work? Requiring more patience than usual with work associates, family members, friends or your kids? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions — and let’s face it, most of us recognize at least one of those behaviors in ourselves at one time or another — you’re probably experiencing some normal side effects of workplace-related stress. How much stress, and what you can do about it varies, but one thing’s for certain:  If you ignore the causes or effects, they’re not likely going to disappear on their own anytime soon.

When we’re experiencing stress, we’re distracted, fatigued and less focused. The quality of our work and the service we provide slips, accidents are more common, and we’re harder to get along with in general. This can have a negative impact on teamwork, morale and customer satisfaction. It also can facilitate or aggravate chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma and hypertension, and reduce our resistance to common illnesses.

As if that wasn’t enough, researchers have actually tried to put numbers on the costs of stress in the workplace, and the potential losses are staggering – estimated at up to $300 billion per year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and healthcare costs, according to a recent Randstad Engagement study.

When asked to select up to three out of 10 possible factors that might push an employee to leave their job — including excessive workload and difficult working relationships — a high stress level (at 24%) was the third-most-selected reason, behind pay (37%) and opportunity for advancement (27%).

The study found the negative effects of workplace stress vary by gender and, to a lesser extent, age. For example, 27% of women (compared to 22% of men) cite a high stress level as a top reason to leave their current job. Within generational groups, one quarter (25%) of Gen Y/Millennial employees say stress is a likely reason they would leave their current organization, similar to Generation X and Baby Boomers, both at 24%.

How can you help?

The good news, according to the Randstad study, is that workplace stress can be managed, especially when employers provide support — and that starts with being well-connected to your workers. Companies can help reduce employee stress by communicating regularly with workers to identify their concerns, and establishing wellness programs that make healthy stress management a top priority across the organization.

Some of that relief can come through team athletic activities, sponsorships, gym or fitness center memberships, walks during work hours, health-related classes during the day, yoga, massage, meditation, or a variety of other options.  Access to Employee Assistance Programs, if available, can make a significant difference as well for workers struggling to keep it together and seeking assistance outside the office. The important thing is to be tuned in to your own – and your workers’ – behaviors, realize what may be driving additional stress, and figure out how to step away from it, regain perspective and relax.

Here are five tips to help alleviate workplace stress:

  • Communicate often: By effectively communicating with workers, managers can better gauge the stress level of their employees and work to diminish pressure before it affects morale and productivity.
  • Encourage camaraderie: Employees who actively connect with one another often create a better office environment. It’s important to set aside time for staff to socialize and get to know one another, and to encourage extracurricular activities such as sponsored walks, softball, bowling or whatever works for your team. 
  • Promote wellness: Give employees access to wellness programs that help relieve stress. Whether it’s a company workout facility or reimbursements for yoga classes, wellness programs are proven strategies to help relieve workplace stress.
  • Set an example: Healthy stress management starts at the top. If employees consistently see their boss as being stressed, the negative energy can trickle down and have an impact on the entire team.
  • Empower your employees: One of the most stress-inducing triggers is feeling out of control, so allow your staff to take ownership of their work and give them as much control as possible when it comes to making decisions on how work gets done.

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Seeing clearly

There’s a lot we take for granted when it comes to our health, and much we can do to reduce the risk of illness, control aging-related issues and prevent or limit disease. Education, awareness and preventative steps typically are the best prescriptions for us and our families, yet we often fail to take precautionary measures that can prevent common and potentially dangerous health conditions from taking hold.

August is Eye Injury Protection Month, but taking good care of our eyes requires far more than simply wearing safety glasses at work and play. The first rule, naturally, is to wear approved eye protection. That can be safety glasses on a jobsite or while competing in sports, but also when mowing the lawn or using power equipment. There are so many ways to hit ourselves in the eye, or to be injured by thrown objects, splashed liquids, and even wind-blown contaminants or materials. So if you’re doing something that might result in an injury, take the safe and easy step to cover your eyes.

Being aware of the potential damage from ultraviolet light also is important. Sunglasses and clear eyeglasses with protective coatings filter out the sun’s damaging rays, so if you work or spend a lot of time outdoors, you need that extra protection.

Adults should visit with an optometrist or an ophthalmologist at least once every other year, and annually if you have bad eyesight or a family history of glaucoma, cataracts, or other congenital or age-related eye ailments. Many eye maladies develop as we get older, part of the natural aging process. Through a comprehensive eye exam, eye care professionals not only determine sight deficiencies and illnesses, but also find warning signs pointing to other dangers such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

Dry eye syndrome and glaucoma are two common ailments that effect people as we age. If the glands in our eyes stop making enough natural lubricants, we can buy over-the-counter remedies, but we should check for inflammation or infection. Sometimes dry eyes occur from living or working in windy, dry, or low-humidity environments, or in buildings with air-blown hot air. Doctors recommend “artificial tears,” which don’t have as many chemicals as the “get the red out” eye drops. Also, anti-inflammation medications and vitamins or foods like fish oil which are high in Omega-3 are often recommended.

Glaucoma is a group of illnesses that can lead to blindness if not treated. When fluid builds up inside the eye, pressure and tension can result in damage to the optic nerve, including blindness. Glaucoma has no early warning signs. However, symptoms can include blurriness or clouded vision, sensitivity to light, headaches, reduced peripheral or “side” vision, or “tunnel vision.” It’s more common in adults over 60, in African American adults over 40, or in adults with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma. It’s most often treated through medications and surgery.

Simple tips for keeping our eyes healthy

There are many things we can do to keep our eyes healthy and make sure we are seeing our best. Here are simple steps for maintaining healthy eyes well into our golden years:

  • Have a comprehensive dilated eye exam. You might think your vision is fine or that your eyes are healthy, but visiting an eye-care professional for a comprehensive dilated eye exam is the only way to really be sure. When it comes to common vision problems, some people don’t realize they could see better with glasses or contact lenses. In addition, many common eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease and age-related macular degeneration often have no warning signs. A dilated eye exam is the only way to detect these diseases in their early stages.
  • Know your family’s eye health history. Talk to family members about their eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with a disease or condition, since many are hereditary. This will help to determine if we are at higher risk for developing an eye disease or condition.
  • Eat right to protect your sight. We’ve heard carrots are good for our eyes. But eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens is important for keeping our eyes healthy. Research has also shown there are eye health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases our risk of developing systemic conditions such as diabetic eye disease or glaucoma which can lead to vision loss. If you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, talk to your doctor.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards specially designed to provide the correct protection for a certain activity. Most protective eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate, which is 10 times stronger than other plastics. Many eye care providers sell protective eyewear, as do some sporting goods stores.
  • Quit smoking or never start. Smoking is as bad for our eyes as it is for the rest of our body. Research has linked smoking to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and optic nerve damage, all of which can lead to blindness.
  • Wear shades. Sunglasses are a great fashion accessory, but their most important job is to protect our eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When purchasing sunglasses, look for ones that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation.
  • Give our eyes a rest. If we spend a lot of time at the computer or focusing on any one thing, we sometimes forget to blink and our eyes can get fatigued. Try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eyestrain.
  • Clean our hands and contact lenses properly. To avoid the risk of infection, always wash hands thoroughly before putting in or taking out contact lenses. Make sure to disinfect contact lenses as instructed and replace them as appropriate.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Immunizations are nothing to sneeze at

It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of complacency regarding infectious diseases. Seasonal maladies such as Influenza receive a lot of publicity, and millions of Americans now get themselves and their children vaccinated annually. But diseases we thought were eradicated or totally controlled are reemerging, and pose significant and often unnecessary risks.

It’s true that vaccine-preventable disease levels in the United States are at or near record lows. But even though most infants and toddlers have received all recommended vaccines by age two, many under-immunized children remain, leaving the potential for outbreaks of disease. Many adolescents and adults are under-immunized as well, missing opportunities to protect themselves against diseases such as Hepatitis B, influenza, and pneumococcal disease.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) works closely with public health agencies and private partners to improve and sustain immunization coverage and to monitor the safety of vaccines. And while the “big picture” is generally positive, there are emerging gaps, primarily the result of misinformation, a lack of compliance and ignorance about the importance of ensuring that you and your children are properly immunized.

Children can’t attend public school, go to camp, compete in many sports or travel outside of the country without a proven medical history of required immunizations. But as adults, we may not have received all the necessary immunizations, some of them may no longer be working effectively, and others, such as the vaccination for tetanus, have to be repeated periodically.

But we humans are procrastinators, and either disregard our physician’s warnings, don’t have a regular physician, or figure we’re already protected.  A perfect example of where this thinking goes awry involves Whooping Cough — known medically as pertussis, which has recently reappeared in Connecticut and in other states.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection caused by bacteria spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The reason for its reemergence, experts believe, is because our bodies may have stopped producing antibodies in response to the vaccinations we received as children, or because some parents are not protecting their children through recommended vaccinations. Although it initially resembles an ordinary cold, whooping cough may eventually turn more serious, particularly in infants. The best way to prevent it is through vaccinations. The childhood vaccine is called DTap. The whooping cough booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Both protect against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria.

Diphtheria, also prevented through the Tdap booster, is a very contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system, including the lungs. As with pertussis and another common contagious disease, tuberculosis, diphtheria bacteria can be passed from person to person by direct contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. When people are infected, the diphtheria bacteria produce a toxin in the body that can cause weakness, sore throat, low-grade fever, and swollen glands in the neck. Effects from this toxin can also lead to swelling of the heart muscle and, in some cases, heart failure. In severe cases, the illness can cause coma, paralysis, and even death.

The third leg of that triad involves tetanus (lockjaw), which also can be prevented by the Tdap vaccine. Tetanus is caused by bacteria found in soil. The bacteria enter the body through a wound, such as a deep cut. When people are infected, the bacteria produce a toxin in the body that causes serious, painful spasms and stiffness of all muscles in the body. This can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his or her mouth, swallow, or breathe. Complete recovery from tetanus can take months. Three of 10 people who get tetanus die from the disease.

Take simple steps to protect yourself and others

A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t remember if or when you had it, talk to your doctor. Additionally, if you plan to travel outside of the United States or Canada, it’s wise to speak with your physician or an infectious disease specialist about immunizations to consider, such as protection against Hepatitis A, before traveling. In many foreign countries, especially third-world nations, diseases can still be contracted through impure water systems, through food that hasn’t been properly prepared, and by air-borne particles.

But even if you aren’t traveling abroad, it’s important to know your medical history and to obtain a copy of your personal immunization record. That’s especially valuable if you can’t remember if you ever had common diseases such as mumps, chicken pox, rubella and measles, all of which still afflict thousands of Americans. In many cases, vaccinations to prevent these diseases may not have existed when you were a child, but they do now.

If your personal record doesn’t exist or has been lost, your physician can order a simple blood test that checks for the antibodies currently active in your system. He or she can then offer you the missing vaccinations, bringing you up-to-date as required. Typically, you’ll only have to do this once, unlike the vaccination for preventing influenza, which has to be received annually since strains of “flu” mutate or change from year to year.

Protecting ourselves and our loved ones is our most important job. Today’s medical advances and access make that far easier, but only if we each take personal responsibility to ensure that our immunizations are up-to-date. For more information, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visithttp://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Pick your ears and berries, squash and tomatoes

When it comes to fresh vegetables and fruit, there’s little thrill in hunting down perfect squash, eggplant, blueberries, cucumbers and native tomatoes in our local grocery store aisle. Sure, it’s easier and convenient, but visiting local farms, picking your own and frequenting farmer’s markets and roadside stands connects us with our food far more intimately than does opening a can or reaching into the freezer and popping frozen peas or corn into the microwave.

Don’t misunderstand: Frozen veggies and fruit are good, too, and often very healthy. But there is nothing quite like fruits and vegetables plucked fresh from the bush or vine, or recently pulled out of the ground or off the stalk. Connecticut is abundant in fresh produce – especially in the summer – and seeking out this unprocessed bounty rich in nutrients and often lower in pesticides or genetic mutations is healthy nutritionally and emotionally.

Connecticut features vegetable and dairy farms and fruit orchards throughout the state. The growing season is long and the climate is perfect for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Beans, squash, broccoli and cabbages start to come in around May and are available through October. Strawberries ripen in June, and in July the farms explode with produce, especially raspberries, blueberries, peaches and sweet corn. In August, the pepper and tomato crops are ready, and as summer comes to a close in September, pumpkins and seasonal squash are ready in plenty of time to welcome the autumn.

Fruits and vegetables ripen at different times over the course of the summer. Farms and farmers’ markets are not grocery stores, so not everything is available every week. Even when a crop is in season, there can be shortages due to weather and growing conditions or just high demand. Buying in large quantities is tempting, but unless you’re prepared to freeze or can the fresh fruits and vegetables, what is not immediately consumed will spoil, and spoil quickly. Proper preparation is a must, and if planning to store fresh fruits and vegetables you should do your research and stock up on the appropriate supplies (jars, lids, pectin, freezer bags, etc.).

Beyond the psychological value of searching out and eating locally grown food, there are practical and healthy reasons to celebrate foods that are in season. That’s when you get the most flavor and nutritional value. It’s also the time when it is the most affordable. Additionally, you’ll enjoy the greatest freshness when you look for foods that are both locally grown and are in season.

All of the world’s healthiest foods are seasonal. For ecologists, seasons are considered a source of natural diversity. Changes in growing conditions from spring to summer or fall to winter are considered essential for balancing the earth’s resources and its life forms. But today it’s so easy for us to forget about seasons when we eat. Modern food processing, high-tech storage and worldwide distribution networks make foods available year-round, and grocery stores shelves look much the same in December as they do in July. And with the growth of supermarkets and an ever-widening smorgasbord of imported food, the link between what we eat and when it’s in season has almost disappeared.

Consequently, nutritionists and environmentalists are increasingly concerned that what we gain in choice and convenience we lose in health benefits, leading to a call for a movement back towards seasonal eating. Food that’s in season not only tastes better, but may contain ingredients that suit the body’s needs for that time of year, such as summer fruits with their high fluid content.

Buying locally sustains our State’s farmers, supports the economy and helps remind us about the importance of understanding food sources and nutritional value. Besides, a trip to the farm or a produce stand is fun, and many children have never enjoyed the experience of picking their own berries or vegetables right off the plants, bushes or trees. It’s eye-opening, healthy and a good catalyst for discussing nutrition with the entire family.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Take your best shot at keeping employees healthy

There are a variety of ways employers can help their staff improve overall health and wellness, and at the same time enhance productivity, reduce time lost to illness, and build workplace morale. One easy solution is to consider an educational campaign aimed at verifying and promoting immunizations, to host an immunization clinic at the worksite, or to work with a local medical clinic to make it easy for employees to ensure they are properly immunized.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. We’ve written two articles this month (read “Immunizations are nothing to sneeze at” here) on the topic to help provide more complete information on the importance of immunizations.

There’s a common misconception that vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States today have been virtually eliminated. In some cases, people use that erroneous belief to put off having themselves or their family members vaccinated, or they fall prey to misinformation about negative side effects.

It’s true that vaccination has enabled us to reduce most vaccine-preventable diseases to very low levels in the United States. However, some of them are still quite prevalent — even epidemic — in other parts of the world. Travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the United States, and if we were not protected by vaccinations these diseases could quickly spread throughout the population, causing epidemics here. At the same time, the relatively few cases we currently have in our country could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases without the protection we get from vaccines.

We should still be vaccinated, then, for two reasons. The first is to protect ourselves. Even if we think our chances of getting any of these diseases are small, the diseases still exist and can still infect anyone who is not protected. Travelers are especially vulnerable. In 2005 and 2006, outbreaks of measles and mumps occurred in several U.S. states. The measles outbreak began in a group of travelers who had not been vaccinated upon their return from a trip to Romania where they had been exposed to measles.

The second reason to get vaccinated is to protect those around us. A small number of people cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons such as a severe allergy to vaccine components and a small percentage simply do not respond to vaccines. These persons are susceptible to disease, and their only hope of protection is that people around them have been successfully vaccinated and cannot pass disease along to them.

Soon it’ll be flu season again. Influenza sickens hundreds of thousands of Americans annually, and kills thousands. Flu vaccine is easily obtainable and a smart preventative health measure you and your employees can take to keep them from getting sick. Talk to your staff about the importance of updating their immunization history (a simple blood test can determine existing antibodies), and lead by example – the team that gets their shots together stays well together!

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!