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Flu season is upon us: time to get your flu shot

Our flu vaccines have arrived and now is the best time to get your shot so you are protected before it’s too late. Though the flu usually occurs in the winter, outbreaks can happen as early as October and can last as late as May. The CDC recommends everyone six months and older to get the flu vaccine every year to keep up with the changing virus and ensure the best possible protection against influenza. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

Those who are at the greatest risk for deadly complications from the flu should get vaccinated before the end of September. High risk groups include:

  • Young children
  • The elderly
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with asthma

For the youngest patients from 6 months to 8 years old who need two doses of vaccine, they should receive their first dose as soon as possible to allow time to get the second dose before flu season begins. The two doses should be given at least four weeks apart.

If you or a loved one are 65 or older, please get your vaccine and encourage friends and family to do the same. For seniors, there are two flu shots available. One is a regular dose vaccine, and there is a newer flu vaccine designed specifically for people 65 and older. The “high dose vaccine” contains four times the amount of antigen as the regular flu shot and produces more antibodies than the regular vaccine. Initial studies suggest that the higher dose will provide greater protection against the flu disease.

Some startling statistics from the CDC show:

  • 80% – 90% of all seasonal flu-related deaths occur in those 65 and older
  • 50%-70 of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur in those 65 and older

Pregnant women are at a greater risk of the flu causing severe illness than in women who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum) more prone to severe illness from flu, as well as to hospitalizations and even death. Pregnant women with flu also have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery. The flu shot is safe for a pregnant women and her unborn child.

Though people with asthma are not at a greater risk of contracting asthma, they are at a greater risk for complications. This is because people with asthma have swollen and sensitive airways, and influenza can cause further inflammation of the airways and lungs. Influenza infection in the lungs can trigger asthma attacks and worsen asthma symptoms. It also can lead to pneumonia and other acute respiratory diseases. In fact, adults and children with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia after getting sick with the flu than people who do not have asthma. Asthma is the most common medical condition among children hospitalized with the flu and one of the more common medical conditions among hospitalized adults.

Even if you do not fall into one of the high risk groups, it’s important to get the flu shot. If you are not immunized, you are putting those around you at risk for contracting the flu. You are also running the risk of lost time at work which can mean lost wages. Each year more than 111 million workdays are lost due to flu. That’s about $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity. If you are an employer, please encourage your employees to stay home if you show signs of the flu. This will help decrease the chances of the virus spreading to other workers.

Village Pharmacy of Hampstead and Rocky Point Pavilion Pharmacy accept walk-in requests for the flu shot during normal business hours Monday – Saturday. Come by and see us to get your quick and painless vaccine!


Sources: CDC and Flu.gov



Joint pain prevention

Millions of Americans suffer from joint pain on a regular basis — especially if you’re over 30. The pain may be the result of inflammation caused by an injury, or it could be from other lifestyle behaviors. However, there are many things you can do to help relieve your pain.

  1. Control your weight. If you are overweight, even by 10 or 20 pounds, the extra weight can put stress on your entire body, including your joints. If you’re complaining knee or hip pain, you may need to look no further than the scale to determine the cause of your pain.
  2. Move your body. Though the pain in your joints may be an excuse for not exercising, moving your joints and getting the weight off will actually help provide some relief. We don’t suggest running (since that can actually make your symptoms worse or even injure you); but, if you have access to a pool, water aerobics and swimming some laps is a great way to exercise without pounding the pavement. Otherwise walking every day and increasing your distance can help.
  3.  Avoid repetitive motion. Daily tasks like typing and even driving long distances can cause arthritis. It’s very important to take breaks throughout the day and practice stretching exercises to combat joint pain.
  4. Omega-3 fatty acids. These fats have anti-inflammatory properties similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil. Taking supplements and eating foods rich in Omega-3 can help relieve pain. Be sure to ask your pharmacist and talk to your doctor about taking any supplement.
  5. Get plenty of vitamin D. This is an important part of keeping bones healthy. If you don’t eat eggs, dairy or even sardines, you are probably not getting enough. So again, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about a Vitamin D supplement and how much is right for you.
  6. Quit smoking. Oftentimes, people who are in pain smoke to help with the depression associated with the pain. However, smoking actually increases joint pain. Smoking also interferes with medications and requires higher doses in order to compensate.
  7. Take your medicine. Missing a dose of your arthritis medication means that there is a gap in your arthritis pain control. It’s easy to skip a dose if you are feeling good, but you might pay later in joint pain and aching knees. Whether your medications are prescription or over-the-counter, you should take them exactly as your doctor directed.
  8. Prevent falls. Keep your walkways clear of clutter to avoid tripping hazards around your home and office. If you do trip and fall, it could create joint pain or make pain that you already have even worse.
  9. Get some sleep. Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep report symptoms of pain the next day.  Unfortunately, for many people with arthritis, sleep is a challenge because joint pain wakes them up. Nonetheless, sleep is important. Talk to your doctor about arthritis pain control that can help make sleep possible.
  10. Reduce your stress. When you are stressed, muscles tense up to protect the joint, but that causes you to feel joint pain more deeply. Get a message,acupuncture, or practice meditation techniques to help with the pain.

Many of these tips above are good preventative maintenance measures before you ever experience any pain. So, take care of yourself and avoid the trip to the doctor.

Weight Gain – Underlying Causes

Are you like me and putting up the good fight to stay healthy and keep off the weight? Sometimes, it seems like a losing battle as you are eating and working out as you always have, but still seem to be gaining weight. But there are many other factors that can be at play in affecting your weight gain.

Lack of Sleep
If you are not sleeping well, the biochemical changes that occur in your body as a result from lack of sleep actually makes you hungrier and leaves you feeling less full after eating, so you tend to eat more than normal. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about safe sleep aides that can get you back to sleep.

Cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone,” increases in your body when you’re under a lot of stress and also causes your appetite to increase. So, when you reach for comfort foods at times of stress, you have the perfect opportunity for weight gain. You can help combat this by keeping comfort foods out of reach and replacing them with healthy snacks that are not full of empty calories.

Depression can cause weight gain without medication, but one side effect of  taking certain antidepressant medications is weight gain. While you should never stop taking any medications on your own, you can ask your doctor about changing your treatment plan if weight gain is a concern. You also may start gaining weight when the drug treatment is working, because you feel better and have a better appetite. This goes back to watching what you eat and working out more which can help both your physical and mental health.

Steroid medications such as prednisone are well-known causes of weight gain. They cause fluid retention and increased appetite. The amount of weight gain depends both on the dose of the drug and the length of time you take it. Steroids can also cause a temporary change in body fat and how it is distributed in your body. Most see increased fat in the face, back of the neck, or the abdomen.

Prescription Drugs
Other prescription drugs you take can also cause weight gain. Antipsychotic drugs used to treat disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, as well as drugs that are used to manage seizures, migraines, diabetes, and hypertension are among those with the greatest tendency to cause you to gain weight. You can talk with your doctor about choosing medication options that have fewer side effects.

Symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland include tiredness, feeling cold, and gaining weight. Having too low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) slows your metabolism and increases the chance you’ll gain weight. Hypothyroidism can be treated with medications. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal condition that affects women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS typically have many small cysts within the ovaries. PCOS causes hormonal imbalances that can lead to excess body hair, acne, and insulin resistance, which can cause weight gain. In PCOS, the weight gain tends to occur in the abdominal area, increasing the risk for heart disease.

Quitting Smoking
People who quit smoking may gain a small amount of weight. Most people who quit gain 10 pounds or less. Though you may feel more hungry after you quit smoking, this side effect usually goes away after a few weeks. Food will taste better which could lead to eating more, but if you’re able to breathe better, increasing your exercise routine can help balance you out.

What’s not to blame?

Birth Control 
Many women believe that taking birth control pills causes weight gain. However, there is no scientific evidence this is the case. Some women may have mild fluid retention while taking the pill, but this is usually temporary. Perhaps reduce your sodium intake and increase the amount of water your drink reduce this side-effect.

Most women gain some weight during menopause due to a number of reasons. Aging slows the metabolism, so weight gain is likely if your dietary habits remain the same. Changes in lifestyle, like exercising less, can also play a role. Menopause can also affect the location of fat deposits in the body, increasing the likelihood of accumulating fat around the waist.

As long as you are physically able, exercise remains the key ingredient in combating weight gain. Talk to your doctor about exercises that will work for you. If you have the resources, working with a personal trainer, even if for a few weeks, can help you get back on track with a personalized plan for you.

Are your teenagers getting enough sleep?

Summer is coming to an end and so are the days of letting our teenagers sleep in until noon. With school about to re-open (if it hasn’t already), it’s time to start setting alarms and getting the kids out of bed.  But according to the CDC, the earlier the start time of school, the more negative the health impact is on our teenage students.

“Getting enough sleep is important for students’ health, safety, and academic performance,” said Anne Wheaton, Ph.D., lead author and epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need.”

According to research from the CDC fewer than one in five middle and high schools in the United States begin the school day after the recommended 8:30 a.m. start time.  When schools do start later, this allows students a better opportunity to get the recommended 8.5 – 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Too little sleep is always a complaint among high school students and is associated with being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, vaping, and using illegal drugs, not to mention the negative impact it has on grades.

CDC key findings:

  • 42 states reported that 75-100% of the public schools in their respective states started before 8:30 a.m.
  • The average start time was 8:03 a.m. and this is true for North Carolina
  • The percentage of schools with start times of 8:30 a.m. or later varied greatly by state. No schools in Hawaii, Mississippi, and Wyoming started at 8:30 a.m. or later; more than 75% of schools in Alaska and North Dakota started at 8:30 a.m. or later.
  • Louisiana had the earliest average school start time (7:40 a.m.), while Alaska had the latest (8:33 a.m.).
  • In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement urging middle and high schools to modify start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to aid students in getting sufficient sleep to improve their overall health. School start time policies are not determined at the federal or state level, but at the district or individual school level. Future studies may determine whether this recommendation results in later school start times.

Parents can help their teens by encouraging a more consistent bedtime as well as rise times, including weekends. Parents can also help with bedtime routines by eating dinner a little earlier, limiting caffeine intake, having the kids do homework when they get home, and promoting physical activity.

To learn about CDC’s efforts to promote sufficient sleep, visit https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html.

Back to School – Communication is the key

Many of us will have kids who are going back to school in the next few weeks. Most of us are excited to have the kids back in school, but for others there is a certain amount of anxiety for the child and the parent, especially if your child has asthma, allergies or type 1 diabetes. What if my child has an allergic reaction to something he’s exposed to at school? What if my child as an asthma attack? Will she know what to do? Will the teacher know what to do? Does your child need a Diabetic Medical Management Plan (DMMP)?

Usually, as part of the enrollment process or at the end of every school year, the school nurse will send home a medical form. The form will ask several questions for the parent as well as the child’s physician and usually include an area for the doctor to note whether or not the child can carry his or her inhaler or other medications. All 50 states have laws that protect students’ rights to carry and use medicines for asthma and severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) at school.

“More than 10 million kids under age 18 have asthma, and one in four suffer from respiratory allergies,” ACAAI President Dr. James Sublett said in a news release from the organization. “Many kids with asthma and food allergies don’t have a plan in place at school. An allergy or asthma action plan doesn’t do any good if it’s not shared with the people who can act on it,” he noted.

For children with diabetes, a DMMP is critical. Because no two people manage their diabetes the exact same way, be sure to have a plan that details the course of care for your child. Some type 1 diabetic students get their insulin using a syringe and vial, others use insulin pens, and still others have insulin pumps.  Some students manage their diabetes independently. But younger or newly diagnosed students may need help with all aspects of their diabetes care. For this reason, doctor’s orders for school care need to be specific for student. Be sure to have a DMMP plan for your child and discuss the plan in detail with his or her teacher and school nurse.

Communication is key to ensure your child’s teacher and the school nurse know about your child’s condition and discuss the plan in case a reaction occurs. It’s important for teachers to know your child’s asthma and allergy triggers, as well as symptoms of hypoglycemia. Remember, talk to all of your child’s teachers including P.E. and art so they can understand the situation and know what to do in case of an emergency.

Most children, by the time they are in school, know what triggers a reaction and can identify symptoms to communicate to their teacher.

Children at risk for life-threatening allergic reactions from certain foods or insect stings should carry epinephrine auto-injectors and have them available for immediate use, the ACAAI said.

Many children with food allergies are able to identify what they can and can’t eat, but it’s helpful if other parents and your child’s friends know, too. Some schools have policies restricting treats for special occasions. If your child’s school does not, be sure to tell other parents and children what types of foods your child must avoid.

Communicating with all of your child’s educators is your key to an all around successful school year.