Wash those hands, get your flu shot, and be considerate!

Coughing, sneezing, runny noses…seems everyone around us has those symptoms, and they’re touching us or the things we’re touching, breathing the same air, cooking our meals or otherwise doing their best — however unintentionally — to share their joy. What’s a person to do to protect ourselves and our loved ones?

To start, 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. Hand washing is the simplest, most effective means of preventing the spread of germs. 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. It may be tempting, but it’s only tempting fate!

Next, learn to sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue so you don’t infect innocent passersby or fellow employees. Airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections, and incubation time — or the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly icky in your system — allows you to spread those germs to many other people before you even realize you’re infectious. Finally, when you know you’re sick, stay home!

What you need to know about the flu

Influenza — the flu — is not pretty. It’s far worse than a cold, includes body aches and fever, hangs around longer than a typical virus, is contagious, and takes you out of your game for a week or two.

Aside from the short-term misery and lost workdays, flu can have more serious implications. Most people who get the seasonal flu recover just fine. But the seasonal flu also hospitalizes 200,000 people in the United States alone each year. It kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually, depending on the variety of flu and length of the season. That’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer each year, and more than twice the number of people killed by AIDS. And it’s particularly dangerous to children, seniors and adults with other chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders.

Beyond hand washing, the best prevention is to get a flu shot. Contrary to urban legends, 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.

Additionally, antibiotics won’t help you fight the flu, which is 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.

So, dress warmly when it’s cold, eat healthy foods, avoid going places when you’re not feeling well, and wash your hands regularly. Winter can be a blast if you’re not spending it hacking and sneezing!

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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!

Viruses, bacteria, and antibiotics: What you need to know to stay well

Like the muted diesel roar of school buses, earlier sunsets, pumpkins on doorsteps and frost on the ground, colds, influenza, ear, throat and sinus infections are as reliable an indicator of the return to autumn as the spectacular palette of changing leaves. With kids in close proximity, poor hand-washing habits, and everyone sneezing around us, our natural immunities to bacterial and viral infections are taxed, leaving us more likely to contract a variety of seasonal illnesses. And with the aches and pains, runny noses, itchy throats and increased body temperature, we’re off to the doctor in search of an antibiotic or other magic pill to cure us.

Many of the illnesses that wreak havoc in the autumn and winter are caused by bacteria or viruses, and it’s important to know the difference. Bacteria are single-celled organisms usually found all over the inside and outside of our bodies, except in the blood and spinal fluid. Many bacteria are not harmful. In fact, some are actually beneficial. However, disease-causing bacteria trigger illnesses, such as strep throat and some ear infections. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria. A virus cannot survive outside the body’s cells. It causes illnesses by invading healthy cells and reproducing.

Antibiotics, the so-called wonder drugs, are our chosen line of offense against many types of infections, but they don’t work against all. For example, we should not treat viral infections such as colds, the flu, sore throats (unless caused by strep), most coughs, and some ear infections with antibiotics.

Antibiotics are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. After the first use of antibiotics in the 1940s, they transformed medical care and dramatically reduced illness and death from infectious diseases. The term “antibiotic” originally referred to a natural compound produced by a fungus or another microorganism that kills bacteria which cause disease in humans or animals. Although antibiotics have many beneficial effects, their use has contributed to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Why we should be concerned about antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some ways that reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm. Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates, and co-workers, threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat.

An essential part of preventing the spread of infection in the community and at home is proper hygiene. This includes hand-washing and cleaning shared items and surfaces. Antibacterial-containing products, by the way, have not been proven to prevent the spread of infection better than products that do not contain antibacterial chemicals. More studies examining resistance issues related to these products are needed.

Smart use of antibiotics is the key to controlling the spread of resistance. If you or someone you care for is ill, talk with your physician about antibiotic resistance and whether or not antibiotics are likely to be beneficial for the illness. Here are some other useful tips to remember:

  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like colds, sore throats, the flu, and some ear infections.
  • Do not save some of your antibiotic for the next time you get sick. Discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
  • Take an antibiotic exactly as your healthcare provider tells you. Do not skip doses. Complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  • If your healthcare provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.

By being responsible and knowing when to allow our bodies and nature to run their course, we’ll all be healthier for the long term!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Pucker up!

Bet you thought we were writing about the health benefits of kissing, right? Not even close!  We’re talking citrus, and while some citrus fruits, like oranges, are sweet not tart, they’re all tasty, refreshing and loaded with nutrients, fiber and minerals. Regardless of your taste for fruit, you should be able to find something you like in the citrus family, which features a variety of oranges (including mandarin oranges, clementines and tangerines), pineapples, tomatoes, lemons, kumquats, tangerines, and limes.

We love our cold glass of orange juice first thing in the morning, and what beats the natural “puckering up” citrus blast from a grapefruit or lemon? And while we don’t typically think of a tomato as a “fruit,” it is, and it offers many valuable health advantages along with its citrus cousins.

Increasing citrus in your diet offers a multitude of benefits. A few centuries ago, sailors making ocean crossings often became sick with scurvy due to vitamin C deficiencies caused by a lack of citrus fruits. Vitamin C deficiency typically isn’t a problem anymore in the United States, but many people don’t eat enough citrus fruits, even though they’re readily available in grocery stores.

Vitamin C is the first thing most people think of regarding citrus fruits, and for good reason: It’s perhaps the most studied of all vitamins, and has shown promise in shortening the duration of colds, helping wounds heal faster, and protecting the body from the damaging effects of free radicals. It also is essential for healthy gums and skin.

Since vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, sufficient quantities must be consumed every day. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin C is not stored in the body. That is why eating at least a few servings a day of citrus fruits and other vitamin C-rich food is so important. Luckily, getting the recommended daily amount of vitamin C is not difficult, since a single orange contains 150% of the government’s recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.

Citrus fruits also are high in fiber content. While we most often think of cereals and grains when we think of fiber, citrus fruits are a good source of dietary fiber, including the all-important soluble fiber. Fiber plays a vital role in digestion, and studies indicate it may help to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood and even reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer.

Another benefit is derived from folate, or folic acid as it is better known. Folates play a vital role in early pregnancy, so all women of child-bearing age are encouraged to consume adequate amounts of this important nutrient. That is because one of the most critical times in a pregnancy takes place before the woman knows she is pregnant. In addition to its importance in preventing many neural tube birth defects, folic acid also aids in the production of mature red blood cells and helps to prevent anemia.

Need more convincing? Oranges are particularly high in potassium, as are non-citrus fruits like bananas. Potassium is vital to maintaining a proper fluid balance in the body, and for transmitting signals between nerve cells. Potassium levels can be affected by excess caffeine consumption and by dehydration, so it is important to consume adequate levels of potassium every day.

With so many benefits, it’s easy to see why citrus fruits are so important to the diet. No matter what your ultimate fitness regimen, a diet rich in citrus fruits will help you achieve your goals and remain healthier. And with the many varieties of citrus fruits to choose from throughout the year, you can add plenty of variety to your healthy-eating plan.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Knowledge is Your Best Vaccination

If you’re in your late fifties or older, you likely remember lining up in elementary school to receive your oral polio vaccine. Before immunizations were readily available well into the mid-20th century, polio crippled thousands of Americans. It was only through aggressive, collaborative eradication efforts that it was eliminated from our soil and from all but a few countries in the world. Those countries have politicized immunizations, leaving their populations and the world at risk. But even here in the United States, where access to medical care and immunizations is available to everyone, some diseases that could be completely controlled still leave us in harm’s way.   

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. While controversy around certain vaccinations—such as the HPV vaccine to prevent Human Papillomavirus—has its roots in religious and moral differences, ignorance, fear and lack of information are the greater culprits in not protecting ourselves and our children from preventable illnesses. Most of us choose to immunize our children from the day they’re born. In fact, 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…in the case of tetanus, once every 10 years.

Today, children and adults receive a “Tdap” booster for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. If you doubt the importance of this, note that pertussis (Whooping Cough) has recently reappeared in Connecticut. Pertussis is 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. This disease is particularly dangerous for babies, so protecting yourself also protects others.

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.

You should consider a tetanus shot when you or your child step on a rusty nail or receive a nasty cut, especially if that immunization hasn’t already taken place. 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 protected, 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. Influenza may lead to hospitalization or even death, even among previously healthy children, so it’s smart to speak with your doctor annually about whether or not you should respond proactively rather than take your chances.

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 visit http://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. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Wash Away Your Troubles . . . or at Least the Germs

You’d think by now we wouldn’t still be writing or reading articles about the value of proper hand washing in limiting the spread of bacteria, germs and common disease. But for all the buzz and promotion and hand wringing by caring mothers everywhere, people still don’t seem to get the message: Thorough, proper hand washing is the easiest, most cost effective and smartest way to prevent the spread of germs that cause a variety of diseases that are passed from person to person. Period.

Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene will help you avoid getting sick and reduce the spread of germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread when people don’t wash hands with soap and clean, running water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to clean hands. But also know that if your hands are visibly dirty, sanitizer is not going to do the trick.

So, even though it’s an old story, we’re going to tell it again, especially since it’s summer and you and your kids are playing and working outdoors, attending fairs and picnics, visiting farms and beaches, and visiting all the places germs love to congregate.

You should always wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

And while you’re at it, washing your hands improperly negates the value, so here are some simple hand-hygiene tips:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well.
  • Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Of course, you don’t want to be a germaphobe, but common sense is always the best policy. ATMs, debit machines, gas pumps, door handles, laundromats, playgrounds…the list of potential incubation sites is endless. Our bodies are built for this, but with a little help from you, you’ll have fewer colds, infections, and other inconvenient ailments by practicing this simple, easy step. Post this article on your refrigerator, and have a great, healthy summer!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Block the sun, not the message

We love the sun, especially after a dreary winter and rainy spring. Whether it’s sports on weekends, working outdoors, parties and picnics, trips to the beach or just hanging on the deck or in the yard, we soak up those rays, get our vitamin D and savor our new tans.

We also are creatures of habit, and that includes hearing and sometimes ignoring information on certain health risks. We register the information, know we should heed the warnings, and go on with our day, good habits and bad. But this year, as the perennial warnings about sun exposure and the dangers of Ultraviolet (UV) rays hit the air waves, take note: skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Unprotected exposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. In fact, UV radiation from the sun and from tanning beds is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization. Each year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. than new cases of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one American dies from skin cancer every hour.

Chronic exposure to the sun suppresses our natural immune system and also causes premature aging, which over time can make the skin become thick, wrinkled, and leathery. Since it occurs gradually, often manifesting itself many years after the majority of a person’s sun exposure, premature aging is often regarded as an unavoidable, normal part of growing older. However, up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection from UV radiation, many forms of skin cancer and most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.

Properly protecting yourself from UV exposure

The best way to lower your risk of skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun help reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, it is important not to rely too much on sunscreen alone. You should also not use sunscreen as an excuse to increase the amount of time you spend in the sun. Even with the use of sunscreens, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours; UV rays can still penetrate your clothes and skin and do harm.

When possible, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, when UV rays are the strongest. Clouds and haze do not protect you from the sun, so use sun protection even on cloudy days.

Use sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation. Products that contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide offer the best protection. Less expensive products that have the same ingredients work as well as expensive ones. Older children and adults (even those with darker skin) benefit from using SPFs (sun protection factor) of 15 and over. Many experts recommend that most people use SPF 30 or higher on the face and 15 or higher on the body, and people who burn easily or have risk factors for skin cancer should use SPF 50+.

When and how to use sunscreen:

  • Adults and children should wear sunscreen every day, even if they go outdoors for only a short time.
  • Apply 30 minutes before going outdoors for best results. This allows time for the sunscreen to be absorbed.
  • Remember to use sunscreen during the winter when snow and sun are both present.
  • Reapply at least every two hours while you are out in the sunlight.
  • Reapply after swimming or sweating. Waterproof formulas last for about 40 minutes in the water, and water-resistant formulas last half as long.

Here are additional safety tips and information for protecting yourself from harmful UV radiation:

  • Adults and children should wear hats with wide brims to shield from the sun’s rays.
  • Wear protective clothing. Look for loose-fitting, unbleached, tightly woven fabrics. The tighter the weave, the more protective the garment.
  • Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons.
  • Buy clothing and swimwear that block out UV rays. This clothing is rated using SPF (as used with sunscreen) or a system called the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) index.
  • Avoid surfaces that reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete, snow, and white-painted areas.
  • Beware that at higher altitudes you burn more quickly.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Listen to your body — drink water!

While you may crave a cold soda or beer after mowing the lawn, nothing beats pure, unadulterated water, the healthiest drink on the planet. It quenches your thirst and is essential in helping avoid dehydration in hot weather.

Our blood, muscles, lungs, and brain all contain water. We need water to regulate body temperature and to help nutrients reach our organs and tissues. Water helps transport oxygen to our cells, remove waste, and protect our joints and organs.

Dehydration occurs when the amount of water leaving the body is greater than the amount being taken in. Symptoms of mild dehydration include thirst, pains in joints and muscles, lower back pain, headaches, strong urine odor, and constipation. Dehydration increases the risk of muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke during exercise in warm weather. Dehydration can leave exercisers and workers groggy for hours.

How much water is enough?

At least twenty percent of the water we need comes from the foods we eat. The rest comes from beverages. You can estimate the amount of water you need by dividing your weight (in pounds) in half. That gives you the number of ounces you may want to drink each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you might want to drink at least 75 ounces of water or other fluids per day. Many experts recommend at least eight cups of water a day unless exercising, in which case you should drink more.

Water is the best choice for rehydration because it’s cheap and has no calories or added ingredients. Sweetened soft drinks and sodas have sugar that adds extra calories but no additional nutritional value. Sports drinks often contain sugar, as well, but may contain minerals that can help keep your electrolytes in balance, which is good for recovering after a hard workout. Fruit and vegetable juices can be a good choice because they have vitamins and minerals your body needs (read labels, however — vegetable juices, like many sodas, may be high in sugar and sodium).

The other side of the water bottle

As much as we require water, too much isn’t good for us, either. When we perform any high-intensity activity we lose fluid through perspiration. As a result, we increase our fluid intake and may drink too much water. This can lead to water intoxication (hyponatremia), a rare but dangerous condition involving low blood sodium levels.

As a general rule, drink when you feel thirsty, but don’t force down huge amounts. Use common sense, always carry water with you when you work or recreate outdoors, and remember to drink regularly, no matter what you’re doing.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Watch your mouth

Oral health is not only important to your appearance and sense of well-being, but also to your overall health. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to many 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 your ability to chew and digest food properly. Researchers are now examining links between poor oral health and heart disease.

Good nutrition is important to help build strong teeth and gums that can resist disease and promote healing. A healthy diet rich in natural vitamins, antioxidants and protein and low in sugar is critical to better oral health.

Smoking is a major risk factor for oral and dental disease, including oral cancer. Tobacco smoke is very harmful to gum tissues and other tissues in your mouth. Toxins in smoke can cause oral cancer and also damage the bone around your teeth, a major cause of tooth loss. In fact, smoking and tobacco products that are chewed or held in the mouth are one of the biggest risk factors for gum disease and perhaps the biggest risk factor for oral cancer.

How to reduce oral health risks

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums, which may also affect the bone supporting the teeth. 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, such as respiratory disease.

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.

To maintain good oral health, you should take the following steps:

  • Brush and floss your teeth daily. Using an antimicrobial mouth rinse as well can help to reduce the bacteria in your mouth.
  • Visit your dentist regularly to have your mouth examined. See a dental professional immediately if you notice any problems.
  • Eat a healthy diet, avoid sugar when possible, and avoid drinking or eating near bedtime, especially after brushing.
  • Do not smoke. If you do smoke, make sure to visit your dental professional regularly.
  • If you are pregnant, be sure to eat healthy foods and maintain good oral health.
  • Be sure your children’s teeth are brushed regularly. They should see a pediatric dentist as early as possible.

Good oral health plays a critical role in helping maintain your overall wellness. See your dentist regularly; watch what you eat; and pay attention to what your mouth is telling you!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Excuse me while I sneeze, and sneeze and sneeze

While most of us look forward to the warmer weather, allergy sufferers know that spring brings more than brightly colored flowers and perennial blooms. For all its beauty, this is a difficult time of year for millions of Americans, and the severity of allergy season can vary according to where you live, the weather, indoor contaminants and many other elements.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually caused by molds releasing spores into the air or by trees, grasses, and weeds releasing their pollens. Outdoor molds are very common, especially after a spring thaw. They are found in soil, some mulches, fallen leaves, and rotting wood. Everybody is exposed to mold and pollen, but only some people develop allergies. In these people, the immune system, which protects us from invaders like viruses and bacteria, reacts to a normally harmless substance called an allergen (allergy-causing compound). Specialized immune cells called mast cells and basophils then release chemicals like histamine that lead to the symptoms of allergy: sneezing, coughing, a runny or clogged nose, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes and throat.

Nasal allergy triggers can be found both indoors and outdoors, and can be year-round or seasonal. It’s important to be aware of the times of day, seasons, places, and situations where your nasal allergy symptoms begin or worsen. If you can identify your triggers, and create a plan for avoiding them when possible, you may be able to minimize symptoms. Here are a few points to remember:

  • You may be reacting to more than one type of allergen. For example, having nasal allergies to both trees and grass can make your symptoms worse during the spring and summer, when both of these pollens are high.
  • Molds grow in dark, wet places and can disperse spores into the air if you rake or disturb the area where they’ve settled.
  • People with indoor nasal allergies can be bothered by outdoor nasal allergies as well. You may need ongoing treatment to help relieve indoor nasal allergy symptoms.

If avoidance doesn’t work, allergies can often be controlled with medications. The first choice is an antihistamine, which counters the effects of histamine. Steroid nasal sprays can reduce mucus secretion and nasal swelling. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that the combination of antihistamines and nasal steroids is very effective in those with moderate or severe symptoms of allergic rhinitis. However, always consult with your physician before taking even over-the-counter medicines for allergies, as they may conflict with other medications or aggravate symptoms of other illnesses or chronic conditions.

Another potential solution is cromolyn sodium, a nasal spray that inhibits the release of chemicals like histamine from mast cells. But you must start taking it several days before an allergic reaction begins, which is not always practical, and its use can be habit forming. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is an option if the exact cause of your allergies can be pinpointed. Immunotherapy involves a long series of injections, but it can significantly reduce symptoms and medication needs.

Your health care provider can help you pinpoint what you are allergic to, and tell you the best way to treat your nasal allergy symptoms. Provide detailed information about your lifestyle and habits to your healthcare provider. It will help them provide you with an appropriate treatment plan for relieving your symptoms.

For allergy information from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, visit www.niaid.nih.gov/publications/allergies.htm. For prevention strategies from NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, visit www.niehs.nih.gov/airborne/prevent/intro.html.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you

Admit it: When you think about treating yourself well, you probably don’t think “foot care.” That’s no surprise. Year in and year out, we take our feet for granted. But all of those years of walking, running, kicking, twisting and jumping are hard on our feet and, like with back injuries, we typically don’t take preventive measures until after we hurt ourselves.

If you’re an athlete, a dancer, a hiker or someone who works standing up all day or night, you know the value of good foot care and smart footwear. What you might not know is that problems with our feet can be signs of more serious medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, nerve disorders, and circulatory disorders. On top of that, we simply exacerbate our problems through improperly trimmed toenails, wearing shoes that do not fit properly, wearing the wrong kinds of shoes or not giving our dogs a rest when they really need it.

If the shoe fits…or doesn’t

Ever since you were a baby, you’ve been buying shoes or having them bought for you. Still, many of us never learn the proper way to ensure proper fit. Here are some important tips:

  • The size of your feet changes as you grow older so always have your feet measured before buying shoes.
  • The best time to measure your feet is at the end of the day when your feet are largest.
  • Most of us have one foot that is larger than the other, so fit your shoe to your larger foot.
  • Do not select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe but by how the shoe fits your foot.
  • Select a shoe that is shaped like your foot.
  • During the fitting process, make sure there is enough space (3/8″ to 1/2″) for your longest toe at the end of each shoe when you are standing up.
  • Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably into the widest part of the shoe.
  • Do not buy shoes that feel too tight and expect them to stretch to fit.

Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slipping. The shoes should not ride up and down on your heel when you walk. Also, walk in the shoes to make sure they fit and feel right. Then take them home and spend some time walking on carpet to make sure the fit is a good one.

Other foot-care tips

Check your feet regularly, or have a member of your family check them. Podiatrists and primary care doctors (internists and family practitioners) are qualified to treat most foot problems, and sometimes you need the special skills of an orthopedic surgeon or dermatologist.

You should focus on keeping blood circulating to your feet as much as possible. You can do this by:

  • Putting your feet up when you are sitting or lying down
  • Stretching if you’ve had to sit for a long while
  • Walking whenever possible
  • Having a gentle foot massage
  • Taking a warm foot bath

If you work or recreate outdoors, insulated shoes that are waterproof, “breathe” to allow moisture away from your feet and properly cushion your feet and protect your ankles are critical. Protecting your feet from cold temperatures is vital for ensuring proper circulation. And if you work in construction or in a manufacturing or assembly environment, steel-tipped shoes are often required and certainly recommended.

When you purchase shoes, the upper part of the shoes should be made of a soft, flexible material to match the shape of your foot. Shoes made of leather can reduce the possibility of skin irritations. Soles should provide solid footing and not be slippery. Remember, also, that thick soles cushion your feet when walking on hard surfaces, and low-heeled shoes are more comfortable, safer, and less damaging than high-heeled shoes, regardless of fashion trends.

Getting to the fungal part of foot health

Fungal and bacterial conditions, including so-called “athlete’s foot,” occur because our feet spend a lot of time in shoes — a warm, dark, humid place that is perfect for fungus to grow. Fungal and bacterial conditions can cause dry skin, redness, blisters, itching and peeling.

If not treated right away, an infection may be hard to cure. If not treated properly, the infection may reoccur. To prevent infections, keep your feet — especially the area between your toes — clean and dry. Change your shoes and socks or stockings often to help keep your feet dry. Try dusting your feet daily with foot powder. And if your foot condition does not get better within two weeks, talk to your doctor.

Corns and calluses are caused by friction and pressure when the bony parts of your feet rub against your shoes. If you have corns or calluses, see your doctor. Sometimes wearing shoes that fit better or using special pads solves the problem. Treating corns and calluses yourself may be harmful, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation. Over-the-counter medicines contain acids that destroy the tissue but do not treat the cause. Sometimes these medicines reduce the need for surgery, but check with your doctor before using them, and the same advice goes for treating warts and bunions.

Good foot care is an important part of overall wellness. Similar to buying the right tool for the right job, choose the right shoes, size them properly and love your feet…they’re yours forever!

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!