Spring health risks and how to deal with them
Springlike weather doesn't always arrive when the calendar says it should. In like a lion, remember?
The climate is changing, though. Since 1970, almost every state has seen a warming trend during the spring months. The most dramatic increase has been in the Southeast and West, but even our area is forecast to have a warmer-than-normal spring.
So now that we'll be getting outside more again, here are some seasonal reminders about how to deal with spring's most common ailments.
Flowers are blooming, trees are budding -- and pollen is everywhere. If you feel like you have a perpetual cold, you probably have allergies.
Allergy medications usually work better when they're already in your system, so start on them about two weeks before you start feeling the symptoms. Aside from medication, here are a few other tips:
• Monitor pollen and mold counts, which are often included in weather reports. If it's severe, try to stay indoors.
• Keep windows and doors closed at home and in your car. Change the filters in your home air conditioning system/furnace as frequently as recommended by the manufacturer.
• Limit outdoor activity in the evening when pollen levels are highest.
• Take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after working or playing outdoors.
If all else fails, ask your doctor about immunotherapy, or "allergy shots," that are effective on such allergens as pollen, pet dander and dust mites.
Asthma sufferers know that pollen can trigger attacks. Keep your rescue inhaler close at hand, and let your doctor know if you have to use it more than twice a week.
A peak flow meter can help manage asthma proactively. This handheld device is so sensitive to changes in your airways that it can alert you to breathing issues before symptoms begin. By taking asthma medicine when the peak flow meter indicates change, you may be able to avoid a serious asthma episode.
Flu, colds and COVID
For the week ending March 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, so far this season, the U.S. has seen 2.7 million illnesses and 1,500 deaths from flu -- including 10 children. Although there have been reports that this season's flu vaccine has been ineffective, it has worked pretty well on two of the three most common strains.
While we're probably past the peak of flu season, it can hang around as late as May. If you haven't had a flu shot, it's not too late.
Spring colds are miserable. We can control them using some of the same methods we used on the coronavirus. If you're experiencing symptoms, wear a mask in public and maintain physical distance. Cough and sneeze into the cup of your elbow.
And as for COVID, positivity rates have fallen in our area. Here's the big but: People are still getting sick and dying from COVID. As fewer people wear masks and more are getting ready for spring travel, family reunions and such, the unvaccinated in particular are at risk for hospitalization and death. Vaccinations are readily available now, and you can get free PCR tests to keep at home.
In the Chicago region, infected ticks can transmit diseases including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. While you're enjoying a hike through a forest preserve or park, take common-sense precautions like wearing light-colored long sleeves and pants (easier to see ticks that way); tucking pant legs into your socks or boots; and using repellent that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin.
After an outdoor activity, check yourself, your kids and your partner for ticks, and have them do the same for you.
Before you pick up the tennis racket, golf club or softball, remember that your muscles may not be ready for strenuous activity. Repetitive motions like swinging a racket, bat or club can cause an overuse injury, like a strain or sprain.
Always warm up and cool down, and slowly immerse yourself back into your sport. Listen to your body -- if a shoulder, elbow, knee or back starts acting up, take it easy and seek treatment if it doesn't improve in a few days.
Get out and enjoy the springtime before the heat of summer sets in. Taking a few precautions will make your spring a healthy one.
To get healthy for spring, I'm presenting a complimentary webinar at 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 13. It's called "Self-advocacy 101: How to Secure Better Health Care for Yourself and Your Loved Ones." I promise you will come away a much smarter health care consumer! For more info and to preregister, visit www.NorthShoreRN.com.
• Teri Dreher is a registered nurse and board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30-plus years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). For a free phone consultation, call her at (847) 612-6684.