The Pros and Cons of Getting the Flu Shot

flu shot

Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to the seasonal flu. While for some, influenza is characterized by inconvenient body aches, chills, congestion, cough, and headaches, for others— particularly seniors, young children, and adults living with other health complications, the flu can be deadly. The single best thing that you can do to protect yourself every year from contracting the flu is to get a flu shot. If you have historically been reticent to get the flu shot, perhaps because of misguidance you’ve received about possible risks and side effects, your care team is setting the record straight on the clinically proven pros and cons of obtaining the influenza vaccine.

Pro #1: The flu shot protects your loved ones from getting sick

Perhaps you feel like you’re generally healthy, and when do get sick, it’s mild. For the elderly, children, or immunocompromised relatives, contracting the flu, especially due to the novel coronavirus, could pose a health complication. By obtaining a flu vaccine, you can reduce your risk of contracting the flu, which means you reduce your risk of being a carrier and passing the virus on to someone for whom a flu diagnosis is much more severe. Even if you don’t feel that you need to obtain a flu shot, do it for your family. After all, there is nothing you wouldn’t do for those you love, right?

Con # 1: If you are one of the small percentages of individuals with an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine or its ingredients, you could experience an allergic reaction

Overall, the flu shot is overwhelmingly safe and remains the most significant protective measure that you can take to protect yourself from getting sick this flu season. The flu vaccine includes a variety of substances, both naturally occurring and chemically based, which could be allergens for some individuals. There are alternative versions of the flu shot available that exclude certain ingredients that are known allergens for some patients. If you have never had the flu vaccine, but know that you have allergies to some food or chemical-based substances, talk to your doctor about the benefits and possible side effects to understand your options.

Pro # 2: You reduce your risk of time away from work and meaningful activities

People miss seventeen million workdays every year due to the flu, costing businesses $7 billion in lost productivity and incurring $10 billion in medical health care costs, including hospital visits. Regardless of whether or not you are an exempt or non-exempt employee, your company needs you. Obtaining a flu vaccine will reduce your risk of contracting the flu and missing time away from your job. It also protects your co-workers from contracting the flu from you if you unknowingly carry it into the office before you experience symptoms. This safeguard means that your peers can also mitigate their risk of lost productivity and time away from the office.

Con # 2: You might experience some mild discomfort when you obtain the flu vaccine

Such discomfort includes a mild pinch and a burn at the moment of injection and a few days of some muscle soreness. This discomfort, it should be said, pales in comparison to the misery of days spent with a high fever, body aches, chills, congestion, and difficulty breathing.

Final Assessment

In summary, obtaining the flu vaccine protects you and your loved ones from what could become a severe health complication, and keeps you at work and participating in your day-to-day activities. There is a small chance that you might experience an allergic reaction, which your doctor can help you to guard against, and you might experience mild soreness at the injection site for a few days. Overwhelmingly, it’s clear that the pros of obtaining a flu vaccine far outweigh the cons.

Air Quality Safety—What You Need to Know to Stay Safe During the Oregon Wildfires

air quality safety

The devastation caused by ongoing wildfires across Oregon and California is impossible to put into words. Our neighbors and friends have lost their homes, at least 27 people have died, dozens more are missing, our firefighters are putting themselves in constant danger, and—at the time this was written—we still cannot say that we confidently have the blazes contained.

Not only are the wildfires ravaging our pristine lands and destroying our forests, but even individuals miles away are at risk of experiencing health complications due to the poor air quality that the fires are causing to surrounding areas. Everyone in Oregon and California should understand the importance of monitoring air quality reports and how to minimize their risk of respiratory complications related to the smoke and ash polluting our skies.

What is the Air Quality Index?

You might be used to checking the weather report for the day’s temperature and the probability of rain, but until we fully recover from the current wildfires, familiarize yourself with the air quality index (AQI), the daily air quality report that indicates air cleanliness. Like a thermometer, the AQI is based on a low to high scale at a range of 0 to 500. Higher numbers indicate a higher, more dangerous level of pollution in the air. The index ranges are as follows:

  • 0 – 50 Good. Air quality is satisfactory, and pollution poses little to no risk.
  • 51 – 100 Moderate. Air quality is acceptable; however, there may be a moderate health concern due to the presence of some pollutants in the area. People who have a high sensitivity to air pollution might be at risk of health complications.
  • 101 – 150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Individuals with health complications, such as asthma, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may experience health effects.
  • 151 – 200 Unhealthy. Everyone may begin to experience health effects due to poor air quality. Those with existing conditions may experience more severe health effects.
  • 201 – 300 Very Unhealthy. This range constitutes a health alert warning that everyone is at risk of experiencing health effects due to poor air quality.
  • 301 – 500 Hazardous. Noting emergency conditions, the entire population is at risk of severe health issues.

Recently, the AQI across most of Oregon ranged from unhealthy to hazardous, putting millions of people already desperate to protect themselves from COVID-19 at risk of dangerous respiratory complications.

What are the Health Risks of Wildfire Smoke?

As indicated by the AQI, not only does wildfire smoke pose health risks for sensitive populations, but it can create respiratory complications for even healthy individuals. Wildfire smoke is comprised of fine particulate matter, gases such as nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds. Smoky air:

  • Makes it hard for the lungs to carry oxygen to the blood.
  • Can irritate the respiratory system and cause irritated eyes, runny nose, a sore throat, cough, phlegm production, headaches, difficulty breathing, or wheezing.
  • Can cause an immune response that can lead to inflammation.
  • Can increase the risk of some infections such as ear infections in children and pneumonia in older adults.
  • Lower respiratory tract infections.
  • Increase your risk of lung infections, including COVID-19.

Any amount of exposure to smoke in the area can be hazardous, but what is particularly concerning for Oregonians is the threat of smoke exposure several days in a row. If you are exposed to smoky air—even from a distance—and experience notable and severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, cough, chest pain, or heart palpitations, seek immediate emergency care.

To minimize your risk of smoke-related health risks, follow these recommendations from The American Lung Association:

  • Stay indoors. If you live close to a fire-impacted area, remain inside your home unless instructed to evacuate.
  • Don’t exercise outside, especially if you smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation.
  • Wear a mask with a filter when outdoors. Talk to your doctor as to which mask is best for you. Traditional dust masks are only designed to filter out large pollution particles. An N-95 or N-100 mask will filter out more pollutants, but they can make it difficult for individuals with lung disease to breathe. They are also not designed for children and may be difficult to find due to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Keep children indoors. Young people face additional health risks as their lungs are more susceptible to smoke damage.
  • Drive with your car windows closed, especially in smoky areas. Keep your vents closed and turn on the recirculate air conditioning settings to keep smoke from entering your vehicle.
  • Close home windows. Close your fireplace damper too. Use a clean air conditioning system and purifier if possible.
  • Evacuate if instructed. If your public health officials advise you to evacuate, do so without hesitation.

If you have questions about your health risks as our community continues to battle this season’s wildfires, make a telemedicine appointment to speak with one of our care providers.

Understanding Epilepsy – What to Do If Someone You Love Has a Seizure

Epilepsy Seizure

Witnessing a seizure can be a frightening experience, yet for the 3 million adults and the 470,000 children in the United States who live with epilepsy, it’s a possibility that could strike without warning at any time. About one in ten people will have a seizure during their lifetime, which means the threat is real for all of us. Some of the most common causes of epilepsy include stroke, a brain tumor, a brain infection caused by a parasite, a traumatic brain injury, loss of oxygen to the brain, some genetic disorders such as Down syndrome, and other neurologic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. If someone in your life has been diagnosed with epilepsy or is at risk of experiencing a seizure at any time, prepare yourself to aid your loved one and protect both you and them by familiarizing yourself with the best practices for assisting someone having a seizure.

What is Epilepsy?

Sometimes referred to as seizure disorder, epilepsy is a brain disorder. A doctor might diagnose a patient who has had two or more seizures in their lifetime as having epilepsy.

What is a Seizure?

A seizure is a brief change in regular brain activity. In some cases, a patient may appear to be staring intently without other movement or response. In more disturbing situations, a patient may collapse to the grown, become disoriented, and physically shake or convulse.

Are Seizures Dangerous?

In most cases, a seizure will end on its own and will not cause any severe health issues. One of the most significant risks that seizures pose is that the patient may injure themselves falling or convulsing. They might also cause an accident if they experience a seizure while operating a motor vehicle, or could be at risk of drowning if they have an episode while swimming or in the bath. They might also experience other medical complications, and in the most severe cases, they might experience a life-threatening emergency. For example, they could choke on vomit or other fluids during a seizure if they collapse on their back.

A seizure might also cause loss of life if it lasts more than five minutes—a condition called status epilepticus, tonic-clonic status epilepticus, tonic-clonic seizure, or a grand mal seizure—or they experience multiple episodes one after another. Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is the most common cause of death for people with seizures. While uncommon, SUDEP is a dangerous possibility, and all those with epilepsy—and their loved ones—should treat every epileptic episode with precaution.

What to Do When Someone is Having a Seizure

If someone in your life is at risk of seizures, and you are present when they experience one, remain calm. Call 911 if any of the following potentially life-threatening events occurs:

  • It is the individual’s first seizure
  • They are having difficulty breathing or waking up after the event
  • The seizure lasts more than 5 minutes
  • They have another seizure soon after the first
  • They become injured during the seizure
  • It occurs in water
  • The person has another health condition that could cause a complication, such as heart disease or diabetes, or they are pregnant

In addition to calling emergency responders if necessary, you can assist someone having a seizure by doing the following:

  • If they are experiencing a grand mal seizure, ease them to the floor and turn them onto their side to help them breathe and to prevent choking on fluids
  • Clear the area around the person to ensure it is free of anything dangerous, sharp, or hard that could injure them during convulsions
  • Put something soft under their head to prevent a head injury
  • Remove eyeglasses if necessary
  • Loosen anything that might be restrictive from around their neck such as jewelry or scarves
  • Stay with them until the seizure ends, and they wake up
  • When they can communicate, seat them in a safe place and calmly communicate what occurred
  • Be comforting and calming
  • Take them home if needed once you can safely transport them

What Not to Do When Someone is Having a Seizure

If you are present when someone you love has a seizure, do not do any of the following, which could put yourself or them in further danger:

  • Do not attempt to hold them down
  • Do not put anything in their mouth in an attempt to prevent choking, as it might injure their jaw or teeth
  • Do not try to administer CPR; if the patient does not resume breathing on their own when the seizure ends, call 911
  • Do not offer them food or water until they are fully recovered and alert

In many cases, seizures are more frightening than they are deadly. Still, practice all proper precautions and get help when necessary to help minimize your loved one’s chances of a dangerous health complication. If you believe that you or someone you love might have epilepsy, talk to your doctor. Do not wait for a potentially perilous life event to get help.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, Recognizing Signs & Symptoms in Your Aging Parent

Alzheimer

Memory is powerful. As beings with limited time, every moment is precious, and storing the moments that have filled up our years is a gift and a treasure. For those who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, the confusion and pain that accompanies a loss of memory are frightening and disorienting. For those left watching a parent or family member begin to slowly disassociate from the life they knew—the life that they can no longer remember—the experience is equally terrifying and devastating. The world recognizes every September as Alzheimer’s month. It is a time to bring awareness to this devastating disease and hope that one day, we might find a cure. If you suspect that a parent, spouse, or loved one in your life might be starting to experience the signs of Alzheimer’s talk to a doctor and ask for help.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive condition that destroys memory and other critical mental functions when brain cell connections and their accompanying cells breakdown and die. In Alzheimer’s patients, high levels of specific proteins that exist inside and outside of brain cells become weak or damaged. Often, the first brain cells to be affected are those in the hippocampus, the brain’s center of learning and memory.

Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia

As two conditions that are often spoken about in tandem, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, though similar, are not the same condition. Dementia is a general term for symptoms associated with the decline in memory, reasoning, and other critical processing skills. Alzheimer’ is a specific brain disease that causes about 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. In addition to Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia may be caused by damage to brain cells. Depending on the area of the brain in which cells have been damaged, the resulting symptoms may vary.

Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia in which damage to the vessels that supply blood to the brain, cause problem-solving, slowed thinking, focus, and organization issues. Lewy body dementia is marked by abnormal, balloon-like clumps of protein that appear in the brain, causing a patient to act out their dreams in their sleep, experience visual hallucinations, and have attention and focus problems.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

For Alzheimer’s Disease, specifically, some of the most common early symptoms may include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily responsibilities
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Struggling to find the right word
  • Misplacing belongings or not remembering where one left an item and further, not remembering the last time the item was in their possession
  • Challenges in completing everyday tasks
  • Confusion related to time and place, losing track of days, seasons, and minutes in the day
  • Difficulty assessing visual images and spatial relationships, which may cause balance issues, trouble reading, or challenges judging distance, which can make driving difficult if not impossible
  • Decreased problem-solving skills or judgment
  • Social reticence, difficulty having conversations, and ultimately withdrawing from social situations
  • Personality or mood changes, specifically in which one becomes confused, depressed, anxious, or scared

When and How to Get Help with a Loved One Experiencing Early Signs of Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease

If you believe that someone in your life might be experiencing the symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s, talk to a doctor. An early diagnosis can ensure you have the support you need as a caregiver to help protect your loved one and keep them safe and comfortable as their condition progresses. While a doctor might prescribe the patient medication to help treat the symptoms of their disease, the primary symptoms of Alzheimer’s—particularly confusion and memory loss—will progress over time. By ensuring that both you and your loved one have the support you need, you can maximize your quality time together so that you will always have warm, wonderful memories on which to reflect.