Keeping our eyes and backs on the job

Okay, like it or not, we have to work. And that can mean sitting, standing, bending and reaching for hours at a time, looking at a computer screen or monitor, using a keyboard or variety of tools repetitively, and other common factors that can strain our eyes, backs, wrists and other joints over time.

Musculoskeletal, vision, and hearing problems are common in the workplace. Our musculoskeletal system is made up of the structures that support us and help us move, such as bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Examples of musculoskeletal problems that may be related to ergonomic issues are:

  • Bursitis
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome
  • Muscle strains, often affecting the neck, upper back, lower back, and shoulders
  • Tendon injuries

By applying ergonomic solutions, we may be able to reduce physical problems and improve our comfort and ability to work effectively. That starts by setting up our workstations and work tools for our own personal needs to make them more comfortable and efficient. Here are some steps that can help:

  • Your work chair should have adjustable seat height, back, and armrests, and a base with five wheels for easy movement without tipping. Lumbar support for your back is helpful. When sitting in your chair, your feet should rest flat on the floor, and your thighs should be parallel to the floor. The edge of the chair should be soft and should not touch the backs of our knees. If there are arm rests, you should be able to use them without slouching or having your shoulders either hunched up or drooping down.
  • Your desk should be large enough to accommodate your work area. If possible, arrange the desk so the items needed most often are within reach, and you don’t have to bend or twist frequently.
  • Your keyboard tray should be big enough to hold your keyboard and mouse, and the height should be adjustable. Contoured or curved keyboards are designed to help reduce problems in the hands, wrists, and shoulders. Wrist pads (also called wrist supports or wrist rests) help support the arms and reduce strain during breaks from typing. The pads are not intended to be used while we are typing. But some people find the pads helpful even when they are using their keyboard or mouse.
  • When typing or using a mouse, you should try raising your forearms a little so your wrists are in a neutral position and your arms and hands can move freely. If there are arm rests on the chair, you may be able to adjust them so your forearms are parallel to the floor and your wrists are neutral. Your wrist is in a neutral position when the thumb is in line with the forearm and the wrist is bent slightly back, such as when your arm is hanging at your side. You should try to alternate between resting your wrists on the pads and raising them up. If you use a wrist pad, it’s best to rest your palm or the heel of your hand on the support, rather than on your wrist.
  • A footrest can help support your legs and reduce low back strain, especially if your feet don’t rest comfortably flat on the floor.
  • Your computer monitor should be directly in front of you. The height should be adjustable, with the top of the screen at about your eye level.
  • Your computer mouse can be a trackball or touch pad, which may help reduce symptoms some people get from the repetitive motions of a standard computer mouse. The computer mouse should be placed close to the keyboard where it does not cause you to lean forward or to reach too far.

Reducing eye strain

Computers can make us more productive, but too much screen time can also lead to something called computer vision syndrome (CVS). Recognizable as that tired, strained feeling your eyes get after a day in front of a computer screen, CVS affects between two thirds and 90 percent of office workers.

This condition likely doesn’t cause permanent eye damage, but it can still affect computer users’ comfort. The most common symptoms of CVS include eye strain, redness, irritation or dryness, a burning feeling in the eyes, blurred or double vision after computer use, headaches and neck and shoulder pain.

Several factors increase the likelihood of CVS, including uncorrected vision problems, dry eyes, screen glare, poor lighting, poor posture and even the angle of the monitor. Another big factor is incorrect prescriptions: Almost 71 percent of people reporting symptoms of CVS wear eyeglasses or contact lenses.

If computer screens are proving a pain in your eyes, here are some guidelines to help ease symptoms:

  • Have your eyes checked regularly.If you need a new or changed prescription but don’t have it, using a computer will be difficult, period.
  • Reposition the computer.The screen should be about an arm’s length away and positioned directly in front of your face, not off to the side. Position the monitor so its center is four to eight inches below the eyes, which allows the neck to relax while you read and type.
  • Follow guidelines for good posture to reduce strainon the back, neck and shoulders.
  • Ensure proper lighting.Try the visor test to determine if current lighting is a problem: Look at the monitor and cup your hands over your eyes like a baseball cap. If your eyes immediately feel better, then the lighting should be changed. Experiment with brighter and dimmer lighting, as well as the angle of the lights, to find what’s most comfortable for your eyes.
  • Reduce glare.Install anti-glare filters on the monitor; also, adjusting window shades and changing the screen’s contrast and brightness can help reduce glare and reflections.
  • Blink frequently to help prevent dry eyes. If that doesn’t work, consider usinglubricating eye drops. Also make sure air vents aren’t blowing on your face (this can dry out the eyes), and use a humidifier if the room is very dry.
  • Take regular work breaks.Stand, stretch or just look off into the distance, away from the computer, every 15 minutes or so to give the eyes a
  • Clean the monitor regularly.Dust can decrease screen sharpness, making the eyes work harder.
  • Try computer glasses.Unlike everyday eye wear, computer glasses, which vary the focal length according to your personal needs and distance from the monitor, are designed specifically for looking at computer screens.

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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!

Fighting ovarian cancer

Science has made tremendous progress battling certain cancers and other potentially deadly diseases. But one of the best advances, arguably, is how much more informed we are today about chronic and life-threatening illnesses, and our willingness to learn the factors — such as family history, nutrition and life-style choices — that can help reduce or prolong our lives.

One insidious disease that continues to plague women is ovarian cancer, and September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. While medical researchers still don’t know how to prevent ovarian cancer, they do know a great deal more about this disease, and now have a variety of screening methods for detecting it earlier, when there’s a better chance to stem its advance.

Most importantly, this disease must be taken seriously. Each year in the United States, about 20,000 women get ovarian cancer and about 14,500 die from it. Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, but it accounts for only about three percent of all cancers in women.

What women — and men — need to know

Women have two ovaries that are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries make female hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) and produce eggs. When cancer starts in either ovary, it is called ovarian cancer.

Fallopian tube cancer (which starts in the fallopian tube) and primary peritoneal cancer (which starts in the lining that supports the abdomen) are very similar to ovarian cancer. Many of the signs and symptoms are the same, and doctors treat these cancers in the same way.

All women are at risk for ovarian cancer, but older women are more likely to get the disease than younger women. About 90 percent of women who get ovarian cancer are older than 40 years of age, with the greatest number of cases occurring in women aged 60 years or older. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about one in 73. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about one in 100.

Ovarian cancer 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.

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.

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

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 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!

A sweet deal

As autumn approaches, one’s thoughts may turn to maple syrup. But while delicious, real syrup lacks the medicinal qualities of a common historic remedy that also tastes great, is easily accessible, and compared to the costs of syrup is a honey of a deal!

In pre-Ancient Egyptian times, honey was used to treat wounds and as an embalming fluid. It also was a common ingredient in a number of medicinal compounds. The ancient Greeks believed that consuming honey could help people live longer. And honey was used as a traditional ayurvedic medicine, which is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems developed 3,000 years ago in India. Then, and even today, it’s thought to be effective at treating material imbalances in the body.

The possible health benefits of consuming honey have been documented in early Greek, Roman, Vedic, and Islamic texts, and the healing qualities of honey were referred to by philosophers and scientists as far back as Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) and Aristoxenus (320 BC).

Honey has high levels of monosaccharides, fructose and glucose, containing about 70 percent to 80 percent sugar, which gives it its sweet taste. Minerals and water make up the rest of its composition. Honey possesses antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and in modern-day medicine, has useful applications in chronic wound management. It’s also used as a cough suppressant and for soothing sore throats, and some people claim it’s effective at reducing the effects of allergies, though research on that benefit is inconclusive.

If you’re debating between using sugar or honey as a sweetener, it’s important to remember that sugar is sugar — and excess sugar isn’t good for us. Honey is primarily sugar. But if we’re choosing between the two from a health perspective, option “bee” is the better choice.

Our body breaks food down into glucose in order to use it for fuel. The more complex a food, the more work it takes to break it down. Sugar is made of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose, the sugar typically found in fruits, and is broken down very easily, leading to a surge of blood glucose. What our body doesn’t use right away gets stored as fat. Honey is also made mostly of sugar, but it’s only about 30 percent glucose and less than 40 percent fructose. And there are also about 20 other sugars in the mix, many of which are much more complex, and dextrin, a type of starchy fiber. This means that our body expends more energy to break it all down to glucose. Therefore, we end up accumulating fewer calories from it.

Honey also has trace elements that bees picked up while going from plant to plant. These will vary by region, so depending on the source of our honey it could contain small amounts of minerals like zinc and selenium, as well as some vitamins. And because honey doesn’t break down in nature, it doesn’t contain preservatives or other additives.

When we shop for honey, some are lighter, others are darker. In general, the darker the honey, the better its antibacterial and antioxidant power. Honey is natural and considered harmless for adults. But pediatricians strongly caution against feeding honey to children under one year old due to the risk of contracting botulism, a bacteria with spores found in dust and soil that may make their way into honey. Infants do not have a developed immune system to defend against infection.

So if we’re going to use a spoonful of something in our tea, go for honey over sugar. But don’t stop there . . . smear a little on bread, add some to cereal and smoothies, and keep a jar handy as cold and flu season approach!

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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!

Lead the battle against seasonal flu and colds

The mornings are taking on that characteristic early autumn chill, and the sugar maples are starting to turn red. Pumpkins will soon appear in local farm markets, along with fresh apples, cider and gourds. But as much as we may welcome and savor the oncoming fall, it’s also a harbinger of cold and flu season. And while we can’t totally eliminate seasonal illnesses, there are plenty of steps we can take to ensure a healthier workforce and to limit the spread of germs and bacteria among staff and associates.

If you’re wondering if taking simple, inexpensive steps in the workplace is worthwhile, consider these flu-related costs: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that, on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost the nation’s economy $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits. That does not include the indirect costs related to lost productivity and absenteeism.

One CDC study estimates that each flu season, 111 million workdays are lost to flu-related absenteeism, which amounts to about $7 billion annually in lost productivity. And that doesn’t include time lost to “presenteeism,” when employees come to work not feeling well. This has an impact on customer service, productivity, quality and safety, as well.

And if you think you’ll wait until the season arrives, it’ll be too late. Prevention is essential, and for the most part, this entails some simple, common sense measures, such as encouraging employees to wash their hands, offering free or low-cost flu vaccination shots, and routinely washing and disinfecting work surfaces. Most importantly, workers who suspect they are ill should stay home from work.

What to expect, how to react

The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. Most seasonal flu activity typically occurs between October and May. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. People should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, if possible by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating in the community, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

It’s important to get a flu vaccine every season, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season. And while you’d think that this message has been heard, the numbers of Americans still not getting vaccinated is extremely high. According to the CDC:

  • Only 49.9 percent of children six months to 17 years received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months.
  • The number of adults 18-49 years who received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months was only 31.2 percent.
  • And only 45.5 percent of adults 50-64 years received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months. The number for adults over 65 was 70 percent.

A number of different private-sector vaccine manufacturers produce flu vaccine for use in the United States. This season, both trivalent (three-component) and quadrivalent (four-component) influenza vaccines will be available. Different routes of administration are available for flu vaccines, including intramuscular, intradermal, jet injector and nasal spray vaccine.

Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine somewhere else, like a health department, pharmacy, urgent care clinic, and often through your school, college health center, or at work.

Information, access and accommodation

Employers also can take the lead on educating their workforce about prevention and treatment.

Antiviral drugs are prescription drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. People at high risk of serious flu complications (such as children younger than two years, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions) and people who are very sick with flu (such as those hospitalized because of flu) should get antiviral drugs. Some other people can be treated with antivirals at their health care professional’s discretion. Prompt treatment can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

Treatment with antivirals works best when begun within 48 hours of getting sick, but can still be beneficial when given later in the course of illness. Antiviral drugs are effective across all age-and risk groups. Studies show that antiviral drugs are under-prescribed for people who are at high risk of complications who get flu. This season, three FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs are recommended for use in the United States: oseltamivir, zanamivir, and peramivir.

Children younger than six months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because of this, safeguarding them from flu is especially important. If you live with or care for an infant younger than six months of age, you should get a flu vaccine to help protect them from flu.

In addition to getting vaccinated, you and your loved ones can take everyday preventive actions like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.

Finally, there are a few other simple steps employers can take at the office, shop floor or in work areas to help protect your workforce from colds and the flu. Here are a few additional examples:

  • Work with your staff or your health and wellness champion to send out regular messages, information and access to websites
  • Increase shifts so there are fewer people in the office at one time
  • Limit meetings and communal lunches during the height of flu and cold season
  • Expand opportunities, if possible, for telecommuting
  • Encourage workers who are sick or becoming sick to work from home or remain home to rest, without fear of compromising their jobs
  • Allow more flexibility for parents with sick children
  • Install “no-touch” garbage cans and hand sanitizers throughout the workplace
  • Encourage hand washing frequently
  • Offer onsite flu clinics for your workers, or work with a local health facility to accommodate your workers at convenient times.

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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!