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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Summer Fun at UPMC’s Heart Camp for Kids
June 9, 2016 12:47 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

The Dr. Bill Neches Heart Camp for Kids, sponsored by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, offers children and adolescents with heart disease a summer camp experience. The camp gives children and adolescents with heart disease the chance to enjoy summer camp and a variety of activities during the week.

 

Back for its 26th year, more than 120 children 8 to 15 years old will travel to western Pennsylvania to enjoy camp activities such as swimming and hiking while sharing with each other the challenges of living with heart conditions. The camp was held June 14–18 at Camp Kon-O-Kwee in Fombell, Pennsylvania.

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The camp, established in 1991 by Children’s Hospital, is the first in the nation dedicated solely to children with heart disease. It’s named in honor of its founder and cardiologist William Neches, MD, who retired in 2005 after 33 years at Children’s Hospital.

 

“There is a special feeling among all of us who have participated in Heart Camp — campers, staff and caregivers alike,” said Neches. “Heart Camp has changed all of our lives for the better, and we look forward to many more years of these experiences.”

 

Heart disease affects approximately 1% of all children born in the United States, yet very few who have heart disease ever get to know others with the same problems. Each year, young people with heart conditions attend Heart Camp, make new friends and share their experiences.

 

Alissa Carter, a patient with the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital who has attended as a camper and is now a senior counselor, said Heart Camp is a place of belonging.

 

“Heart Camp has always been about finding a place you belong, where you can be 100% yourself,” said Carter, 24. “I learned that I didn’t need be ashamed of my scars. I come back every year in the hope that I can change a camper’s life in the way my counselors and the staff here have changed mine over the years.”

 

Heart Camp provides an opportunity for children to spend time with their doctors and nurses in a non-medical setting. In this environment, campers learn to view the medical staff as friends, and the medical staff learns more about each child’s personality and limitations.

 

Heart Camp serves as a support system for Kelsey Hallinen, a senior counselor this summer.

 

“Without Heart Camp, I never would have met my best friends,” said Hallinen, 24. “Camp has provided a rock-solid support system that I know will help with whatever comes my way. As a counselor, I am continually inspired by my campers’ accomplishments and positivity. I can't wait to see what this year will bring and know, no matter what, it will be great.”

 

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Favorite activities include the Ask the Doctor/Nurse and Ask the Counselor sessions, which give campers the opportunity to find out more about the people caring for them and typical outdoor fun such as fishing and crafts.

 

In addition to many generous donors, Heart Camp receives support from organizations including the American Heart Association. The camp is a program of the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital, which cares for infants, children and young adults with all types of heart disease and for adults with congenital heart disease, including many who have undergone heart transplants.

 

For more information on Heart Camp, visit chp.edu/heartcamp.

 

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Putting Peanut Allergies Back in Their Shell
May 27, 2016 8:23 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

These days, it seems pretty common to have a friend or relative who unfortunately suffers from a peanut allergy, lactose intolerance or Celiac Disease. Off the top of my head, I can think of two cousins and several close friends who fit into some or all three of those classifications, seemingly resigned to live their entire lives without ever being able to enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of cold milk.

 

For my part, I have an allergy to shellfish, so I’ll never know what it’s like to crack open a crab or gobble up shrimp like chicken wings. And while it’s a misnomer to believe these allergies are a new phenomenon — we just happen to be more conscious of them and more equipped to detect them now — they’re nonetheless an unpleasant fact of life for many, oftentimes beginning in childhood.

SEE ALSO: Spring 2016 Allergy Report

There is some emerging research, however, which suggests that allergies may be something we could eventually treat or cutoff altogether — provided they’re spotted and addressed early enough in life, before they have the chance to fully develop.

 

According to a press release from National Jewish Health, “Simultaneous pre-treatment with antihistamines that block both the H1 and H4 antihistamine receptors suppressed the gastrointestinal symptoms of food allergy in mice. The findings, published online in the journal Allergy, provide new insight into the development of food allergy and suggest potential therapies for prevention and treatment of food allergy.”

 

The release continued, saying, “Although recent findings have suggested that early exposure to peanuts can help prevent peanut allergy, the only effective therapy currently available for existing cases remains avoidance. Meiquin Wang, MD, PhD, Erwin Gelfand, MD, and their colleagues at National Jewish Health pretreated mice sensitized to peanut with the H1 receptor antagonist loratadine (Claritin), and the experimental H4 receptor antagonist JNJ7777120, separately and in combination.”

 

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As far as the results, they were promising.

 

“Separately, the two antihistamines had some effect on the intestinal response of the sensitized mice to peanut,” the report stated. “When mice were pre-treated with both antihistamines together, diarrhea, intestinal inflammation and other symptoms were almost completely blocked. In vitro experiments indicated that the antihistamines work by suppressing the accumulation and function of dendritic cells, which take up peanut protein and present it to T cells of the immune system.”

 

So perhaps there’s no hope for those aforementioned friends and family members who have never partaken of that classic American lunch. For their children, however, who might otherwise inherit their allergic reactions, this research may provide some hope.

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Color Running into Respiratory Problems?
May 19, 2016 12:20 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

With spring here and summer just around the corner, opportunities to have fun outdoor exercise are aplenty. And for those looking to shed a few pounds or just improve their general health, events that make exercise more social and group-oriented are also available in spades. One of the most popular of these is the near-ubiquitous Color Run.

 

You probably have seen pictures on your social media feed of a friend who’s participated in one, but per The Color Run’s own official site, “The Color Run, the world’s first COLOR 5k™ event, was founded in March 2011 as an event to promote healthiness and happiness by bringing the community together to participate in the ‘Happiest 5k on the Planet.’” And in case you were not aware, the “color” involved is the powder-based paint that all participants in any of the run’s numerous worldwide iterations are doused with.

 

But that powdery paint, made from a combination of cornstarch, baking soda, and FD&C dyes, has been reportedly linked to some respiratory issues as recently as this week, when a California school canceled its Color Run event over health concerns.

 

According to Sacramento’s local ABC10 affiliate, the school — Cowan Fundamental Elementary School of San Juan Unified School District — put out a statement informing parents and children that the run would be canceled. “On Tuesday, a small number of parents came forward to express their concerns about safety risks associated with a ‘color run’ planned for Friday afternoon at Cowan Fundamental Elementary School. We always seek to be responsive to parent concerns, and district and site leadership sought more information to determine the best course of action,” the school’s email read.

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San Juan Unified School District elaborated on the decision in a statement provided to ABC10 News: “Our Health Services Department recommended cancelation based on documented research about the dangers of inhaling particulate matter, and, out of an abundance of caution, our site and district leadership agreed.”

 

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While the overwhelming number of people who attempt these runs and successfully complete them — in many cases repeatedly — lends credence to the The Color Run’s own claims of safety, allergist Sunil Perera, MD, said people with corn allergies, or those with respiratory illnesses, should not run these races.

 

“They should check with their doctors. If they’re not allergic to corn and if they don’t have respiratory issues, and their lungs are not compromised illnesses, they [can] participate,” Perera said.

 

So, if you’re planning on participating in a color run this summer, be careful and perhaps double check with a quick phone call to your doctor if you normally have issues with things such as corn or cornstarch. Otherwise, happy running!

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Didgeridoo Your Sleep a Favor
May 12, 2016 2:17 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

There are few feelings as helpless as overwhelming as daytime fatigue and drowsiness. Speaking as someone who’s experienced a heaviness in my eyes sometime shortly after lunch since at least middle school, I can honestly say it’s a virtual no-win situation. Even a quick caffeine solution only forestalls the inevitable. Your eyes — and the rest of your body — want a little rest, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it.

 

All sorts of resources exist for those of us who struggle with getting an adequate amount of sleep that will help us make it through a grueling, long day, but whether you have a diagnosed, underlying issue such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) or just (like me) have a little trouble falling asleep when you first lie down at night, the answers — beyond prescriptions of actual sleep medicine or products such as a CPAP mask — oftentimes seem a lot like guesswork. Is warm milk still a recommendation?

 

Still, out of all the unique methods and suggestions for improving your sleep, I’d have to concede that the latest one, currently running in a Men’s Journal article, may be the most novel I’ve ever heard of: better sleep through daily didgeridoo playing and practice.

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Your first question is probably, “What’s a didgeridoo?” It’s a large woodwind instrument —  “a five-foot termite-hollowed tree trunk used for over a thousand years by Australian Aboriginal cultures to play droning notes for long durations using circular breathing,” as Men’s Journal’s Mark Hay puts it.

 

It’s that circular breathing, according to Milo Puhan, a researcher at the University of Zurich, which may serve as a miracle cure for the sleeping woes of many. Puhan and his team of researchers, “ … took 25 patients with mild OSA and had half of them randomly learn to play the didgeridoo from scratch, practicing five days a week, over the course of four months, while the other half kept living their life as usual,” according to Hay. “In the end they found that those who took up the didge made a dent in their sleep problems, while the control group did not, leading Puhan and company to speculate that the breathing practice involved may have strengthened their airways, easing nighttime respiratory obstructions.”

 

As for going out and procuring a relatively obscure instrument? Apparently, the respiratory workout and inherent benefits of circular breathing aren’t exclusive to the Aboriginal woodwind section.

 

“Last year, Michael G. Stewart, MD, MPH, FACS, and a few collaborators published a follow-up study to see how circular breathing works — and whether it functions consistently across people and instruments,” Hay said. “They wound up proving that the skills and muscular control Kenny G once used to play a 45-minute-and-47-second note on a saxophone are the same as those used to play a didge.”

 

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According to Stewart, professor and chairman of the department of otolaryngology — head and neck surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, this relatively new theory shouldn’t be considered ironclad or some kind of magical bullet just yet. “Many people with sleep breathing problems have excessive, redundant tissue,” he said, so “muscle tone is only a small part of the issue” for a large number of people with sleep issues.

 

Still, in terms of the risk versus reward aspect of circular breathing as a treatment modality, Stewart contends that you really have nothing to lose — and potentially lots to gain — by giving it a try.

 

“This might help a few patients a large amount, or help a lot of patients just a little,” says Stewart. “And [it] certainly should not harm.” 

 

If this does catch on, I want to be the first to introduce a nickname for this method: the long-term lullaby.

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Not Just Blowing Smoke
May 6, 2016 1:57 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

One of the great fallacies we sometimes entertain is the idea that smoking as a tempting boogeyman — particularly for curious adolescents — is largely a thing of the past, thanks to effective PSAs.

 

The unfortunate truth of the matter, as we’ve covered in this blog recently, is that all smoking (including e-cigarettes) has remained relatively stable over the past five years among adolescents, and the new trend of “safe” smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes and vaporizers threaten to drive that in an even worse direction.

 

While the healthcare system is still dealing with the deluge of patients presenting symptoms of lung cancer and COPD as a result of lifelong smoking habits — and hoping to avoid a similar circumstance with current and future generations of Americans — the FDA this week rolled out a rule extending its authority to all tobacco products, which include e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco, as well as others.

 

"We have more to do to help protect Americans from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine, especially our youth. As cigarette smoking among those under 18 has fallen, the use of other nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, has taken a drastic leap. All of this is creating a new generation of Americans who are at risk of addiction," said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell. "Today's announcement is an important step in the fight for a tobacco-free generation — it will help us catch up with changes in the marketplace, put into place rules that protect our kids and give adults information they need to make informed decisions."

 

According to an FDA press release, “Tobacco use is a significant public health threat. In fact, smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States and responsible for 480,000 deaths per year. While there has been a significant decline in the use of traditional cigarettes among youth over the past decade, their use of other tobacco products continues to climb.”

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Along with ADVANCE’s coverage of the stall in smoking cessation among adolescents since 2011, the FDA also reported that alternative forms of smoking — including e-cigarettes and hookah — have spiked.

 

“A recent survey supported by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows current e-cigarette use among high school students has skyrocketed from 1.5% in 2011 to 16% in 2015 (an over 900% increase) and hookah use has risen significantly. In 2015, 3 million middle and high school students were current e-cigarette users and data showed high school boys smoked cigars at about the same rate as cigarettes. Additionally, a joint study by the FDA and the National Institutes of Health shows that in 2013-2014, nearly 80% of current youth tobacco users reported using a flavored tobacco product in the past 30 days — with the availability of appealing flavors consistently cited as a reason for use.”

 

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"This final rule is a foundational step that enables the FDA to regulate products young people were using at alarming rates, like e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah tobacco, that had gone largely unregulated," said Mitch Zeller, JD, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products. "The agency considered a number of factors in developing the rule and believes our approach is reasonable and balanced. Ultimately our job is to assess what's happening at the population level before figuring out how to use all of the regulatory tools Congress gave the FDA."

 

The full text of the ruling can be found here.

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LUNGevity Launches #ThisIsHope Campaign
April 29, 2016 9:07 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

Cancer occupies a singular, ugly space in the hearts and minds of many. Those few unaffected — at least tangentially — by the disease dread the mere mention of it ever coming to their door. Those who have been affected, either personally or through the battle of a loved one, know all too well the grim prospects and unimaginably difficult challenges that come with a diagnosis.

In spite of this doom and gloom, however, many organizations — both public and private — have worked tirelessly to research potential cures and treatments for cancer in virtually all of its forms.

And in recent years, many have made significant strides.

With the month of May right around the corner, LUNGevity, the nation's leading lung cancer-focused nonprofit, is celebrating the month it deemed Lung Cancer Hope Month four years ago with a brand
new campaign: #ThisIsHope. The social media campaign is aimed at creating a variety of opportunities for advocate, participate in events, mentor one-on-one and share hope.

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According to a press release from LUNGevity, #ThisIsHope “ … will spotlight the many faces of hope — survivors living longer, better lives; doctors making strides in research; family and friends enjoying more time with loved ones with lung cancer; and social media users who want to join the celebration of hope. Participants are encouraged to share photos of themselves and their loved ones on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the social media handle #ThisIsHope.”

For those interested in spreading awareness about lung cancer, LUNGevity has on its website (LUNGevity.org) a downloadable advocacy toolkit, a list of volunteer events taking place across the country that all are welcome to participate in and even the option to create an event of your own to help raise funds for continued research.

Another neat aspect of this month is the ability of lung cancer survivors and caregivers to sign up to mentor those who could benefit from hearing about their past experiences. According to the press release, in LUNGevity's LifeLine program “ … mentors are matched with newer patients and caregivers, and through the Clinical Trial Ambassador program, clinical trial veterans are paired with first-time lung cancer clinical trial participants to help guide them through the process.”

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The LUNGevity Foundation also provided these helpful statistics — and sobering reminders — of how far there is still to go in the fight against lung cancer:
  • 1 in 15 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime
  • More than 221,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year
  • About 60%-65% of all new lung cancer diagnoses are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers
  • Lung cancer takes more lives than the next three leading cancers (colorectal, breast and prostate) combined
  • Only 17% of all people diagnosed with lung cancer will survive 5 years or more, but if it's caught before it spreads, the chance for 5-year survival improves dramatically

Lung cancer doesn’t need to be a death sentence. There’s research to be done, tests to be conducted and funds to be raised, but there are many, many people working cooperatively in the effort to bring it to an end once and for all. And there is hope, because of initiatives like #ThisIsHope.

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The Kids Are Not Alright
April 15, 2016 1:49 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s when I was growing up, the anti-smoking campaigns were at their apex. Beyond merely demonizing (deservedly) the harmful habit of smoking, legislation was being passed at the state and federal levels to effectively put out cigarettes at indoor locations all across the United States.

 

And for us kids, if the proliferation of anti-smoking advertisements weren’t enough, the D.A.R.E. program we all went through in elementary and/or middle school certainly did its part to appreciably discourage our generation from engaging in the practice.

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These days, smoking has declined and quitting seems to have become a rite of passage for adults once they reach middle age — if not sooner. Nonetheless, whether it’s through chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping or hookahs, it seems as though a particular subset of the population — especially teens and college students — continue to at least try out tobacco products at some point or another. And according to new data from the CDC, the campaign against smoking may have stalled out over the past five years, at least with regard to this demographic.

 

Per the CDC’s press release, data from the 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey released this week revealed that, “Overall tobacco use by middle and high school students has not changed since 2011.”

 

The data continued, showing that, “ … 4.7 million middle and high school students were current users (at least once in the past 30 days) of a tobacco product in 2015 and more than 2.3 million of those students were current users of two or more tobacco products. 3 million middle and high school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2015, up from 2.46 million in 2014. 16% of high school and 5.3% of middle school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2015, making e-cigarettes the most commonly used tobacco product among youth for the second consecutive year. During 2011 through 2015, e-cigarette use rose from 1.5% to 16% among high school students and from 0.6% to 5.3% among middle school students.”

 

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CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH attributed much of the lack of progress to the rise of e-cigarettes, before reasserting that all nicotine is harmful, regardless of how it’s contained. “E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, and use continues to climb,” he said. “No form of youth tobacco use is safe. Nicotine is an addictive drug and use during adolescence may cause lasting harm to brain development.”

 

While the FDA continues to push for “proper regulation and responsible marketing” of tobacco products, it seems as though the abdication of the anti-smoking PSA campaigns could be a partially contributing factor. Whatever it takes to ultimately make this habit irrelevant, one thing appears to be clear: the kids are not alright.

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Medicated Millennials
April 6, 2016 1:13 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

In spite of the fact that professional writing has increasingly moved to a digital medium, there is nonetheless an almost endless amount of ink (figuratively speaking) spent describing the “millennial” generation.

 

Whether it’s their effect on the workforce, the burden of student debt that they carry or dismissive (and wrong) characterizations of the whole lot of them as lazy, overgrown children, it’s currently quite a hot topic to discuss millennials and their generational attributes — especially among people who are not millennials themselves.

 

One potentially under discussed aspect of millennial life is the casting of it as a kind of “medicated generation,” who came of age in the 1990s and early 2000s, when pharmaceuticals took hold like never before with the answers to many of our most common ailments. Intervention, in general, was exceedingly common, to the point that a typical elementary school rite of passage seemed to be being diagnosed with asthma, some form of attention deficit disorder and requiring braces.

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Having personally been through two of those three processes, I can’t tell you if I was made worse or better as a result — straight teeth notwithstanding — but  I do know I have been virtually asymptomatic with regard to asthma for about a decade, leading me to wonder if I’d ever had the condition at all. And while I am only an editor with no particular medical expertise, I can take some solace in the notion that my skepticism might have been well-founded, now that it’s been shared by some leading respiratory doctors.

 

In Archives of Disease in Childhood, Professor Andrew Bush and Dr. Louise Fleming of Imperial College and Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust argue that asthma overdiagnosis has led to an environment where inhalers have “almost become a fashion accessory."

 

"Inhaled corticosteroids, when properly used, dramatically improve quality of life and reduce the risk of asthma attacks and mortality," they wrote. "There is also evidence that systemic absorption of (inhaled corticosteroids) depends not just on the prescribed dose, but is greater if the dose is inappropriately high for the degree of airway inflammation. … Is there any other chronic disease in the world in which children are committed to potentially hazardous, long-term therapy without every effort being made objectively to document the diagnosis?"

 

Highlighting the fact that many children may simply outgrow their asthma symptoms, the experts argued that more substantive testing and accurate diagnosis would likely lead to better health outcomes for the children who may or may not have had asthma to begin with.

 

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The bottom line is that, for as quick as millennials may seem to reach for a magic bullet sort of solution to some of their woes, the over prescription of inhalers and asthma medication is a perfect example of why.

 

Many of us grew up being told that there were answers in pill form capable of solving all of our medical problems. Years later, it turns out that those answers may have been limited to the number of questions our doctors chose to ask.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
March 24, 2016 11:46 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

There are few dynamics in life as frustrating as moving one step forward, but falling two steps back. I can distinctly remember a year and a half period where — without any dramatic change to my usual workout routines — I steadily gained what ended up being about a pound every month.

 

It was maddening. I’d go ride a bike for an hour, then come home, rehydrate and would repeat this process day after day, only to find that at the week’s end the scale hadn’t budged. Or worse — it had lurched upward.

 

The problem — which I had long stubbornly denied — was sugar and snacks between meals. They’d become more commonplace for me, as had sugary sports drinks and extra cups of coffee and it eventually became undeniable: I was actively working against my efforts to be healthy.

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While I’m sure many can relate to a fairly common issue like that, have you ever considered the unintentional role you might be playing in some other health issues you’ve been dealing with? Especially with regard to things such as allergies that we often tend to write off as immutable forces of nature, studies continue to reveal that our capacity to control how much they affect us is much greater than first thought.

 

According to a new press release from American Family Care, there are as many as five regular habits we may be engaging in that are exacerbating those allergy symptoms. Here they are listed, in order, complete with explanations:

 

1: Eating certain fruits and vegetables: “We are raised to think eating our veggies is good for us. Researchers with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America found proteins in certain foods can cause ragweed sufferers to end up with an itchy mouth. The experts say bananas, melons as well as tomatoes can cause a cross-reaction.”

 

2: Making your bed: “Dust mites love to put down roots in bedding and mattresses.  AFC physicians say at night, while you sleep, moisture from body sweat helps keep the little critters alive. When you make your bed in the morning, you are tucking in those pesky bugs, so they cannot escape. Airing out your sheets can make it harder for allergens and bedbugs to stay alive.”

 

3: Wearing contact lenses: “In some cases, AFC doctors say lenses can trap pollen against the surface of the eye. This can be an even bigger issue for anyone who is already suffering from red, itchy eyes triggered by seasonal allergies.”

 

4: Drinking Alcohol: “An extra glass of wine at dinner could irritate existing allergies. A Danish study found every additional alcoholic drink in a week increased the risk of seasonal allergies by 3%. The researchers suspect the bacteria and yeast in the alcohol produce histamines and cause a stuffy nose or itchy eyes.”

 

5: Using the dishwasher: “A Swedish study published in the journal Pediatrics found children do not develop as many allergies if they eat off of hand washed dishes rather than plates or bowls cleaned in a dishwasher.  Researchers found automated dishwashers kill so much bacteria, children cannot build up an immunity.”

 

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Certain fruits and vegetables and alcohol notwithstanding, some of these feel unreasonable or perhaps even ridiculous. You’ll need to wash dishes and make your bed, and it’s a bit of a double whammy to be hit with a need for glasses and/or contacts and then find out your allergies are limiting your options. On the other hand, inasmuch as you can stay away from the booze and resist the urge to eat bananas, melons and whichever veggies make your mouth itchy, you may be able to make a real dent in your allergy issues.

 

Whether or not these practical problem solving methods will be the magic bullet cure for your maladies, the most important thing is not to be stuck in neutral, because there’s almost nothing more irritating than that.

 

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Don’t Sleep On It
March 18, 2016 9:45 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

With the rise of social media has come increased attention to — or the invention of — many minor holidays. There’s a National Donut Day (and a separate Doughnut Day), a National Best Friend Day, a National Pizza Day and an International Coffee Day — and that’s just naming a few.

 

The point is, there are lots of things worth celebrating and for almost all of them, there’s a designated day to do so. And that’s fantastic (even if a day off from school or work isn’t included in the festivities). While many of these holidays are admittedly light-hearted and fun in nature, there are several others which have at their core a desire to raise or spread awareness about a given topic and oftentimes, encourage some sort of participation or engagement.

 

Today, for instance, is World Sleep Day, an annual event which draws attention to key issues regarding sleep. PR Newswire has a neat press release rundown from World Sleep Day that details exactly how certain countries and business organizations are contributing to this year’s iteration, as well as its overall theme, “Good Sleep is a Reachable Dream.”

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 “This year's theme, ‘Good Sleep is a Reachable Dream,’ is purposefully broad in meaning surrounding the message that sleep maladies can be ameliorated, but recognition has to come first, emphasizing the importance of overall health and wellbeing. Most sleep disorders are preventable or treatable, yet less than one-third of sufferers seek professional help. This year's slogan encompasses both adult and pediatric themes, as well as topics of insomnia and hypersomnia, parasomnias and circadian dysrhythmias.”

 

While the countries of El Salvador and Portugal will feature their own presentations as a means of raising awareness, including Portugal’s fourth annual sleep day symposium, Westin Hotels and Resorts might be doing more than any single country overall.

 

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“Westin Hotels and Resorts have become a supporter of WSD because ensuring a good night's sleep for their guests around the world is their #1 priority. In collaboration with World Sleep Day, Westin properties throughout Asia Pacific have lined up activities to reinforce the importance of sleep to guests and consumers. Westin has committed to partner in guests' well-being before, during, and after each stay. Sleeping well is a key pillar to health. To ensure their guests leave feeling better than when they first arrived, Westin states, ‘nothing restores mind and body like restful sleep.’”

 

Other activities taking place around the world can be submitted and viewed online.

 

Finally, the press release informs everyone that, “World Sleep Society has developed ten specific recommendations on how to obtain a healthy restorative sleep. Simple recommendations include watching what you eat and drink, exercising, and limiting activities before bedtime. These recommendations for children and adults can be viewed online worldsleepday.org/resources.”

 

So whether you are faithfully getting the hours you need or you could stand to turn in earlier, don’t sleep on this opportunity to learn about the many benefits of getting your body the rest that it requires.

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Salting Away Sickness
March 10, 2016 12:55 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

There are few parts of the United States that haven’t been blanketed with their first touch of springtime weather this week. Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported recently that this winter was the warmest one ever recorded for the lower 48 states, there nonetheless seemed to be a strong, sunny shift this past week.

 

Here in the east, temperatures made a strong leap from the 30s all the way to the low 80s in the span of a week. And while those highs are probably not going to last for more than the moment — at least for another month or two — the official beginning of spring is now less than two weeks away, so it seems that winter’s chill is all but behind us for another year.

 

With that being said and with all it connotes from a health perspective — namely, more time outside and a seeming reduction in respiratory infections and general illnesses — there’s still reason to be wary of any mild symptoms like a stuffy nose, scratchy throat or an achy ear. Seasonal allergies really ramp up when those flowers begin to bloom. Much as we’d prefer not to think of it this way, we’re mostly exchanging one potential sick environment for another when we transition from a winter spent indoors to spring and summer outside.

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Nonetheless, there are various methods and medications which can help to ward off respiratory infections, allergies and anything else that would threaten to spoil your fun. And some are quite a bit older than others.

 

One such treatment is halotherapy, or dry salt therapy, which has been used in Europe for centuries, is helpful for respiratory and skin conditions and is gaining traction in the United States — especially for the patients of Jessica Bertorello, BSN.

 

The owner of City Salt Spa Family Wellness Center in Plain City, Ohio, Bertorello’s own initial exposure to halotherapy was a personal one, when her son had an ear infection.

 

“I lived in the Lebanon area and when my son was 7 months old he had an ear infection," Bertorello said. After learning of Ohio’s first halotherapy in Centerville, Bertorello said, "I made an appointment right away. He never had another ear infection."

 

The article on Bertorello in ThisWeek Community News goes on to detail how halotherapy can address a variety of respiratory concerns — and how many who are bringing theirs to her spa are seeing great results.

 

“Pharmaceutical-grade sodium chloride is put into a machine that grinds the salt and puts it in the air in the halotherapy rooms. The machine, a halogenerator, mimics the environment of a salt mine, where the therapy was born, Bertorello said.”

 

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Bertorello added, "Like snow, the salt liquifies mucus,” adding that salt also naturally opens airways for people with bronchitis, COPD and asthma. "People come back and say 'I haven't felt this great in a long time,' " she said

 

Calling halotherapy like a “detox for your respiratory system,” Bertorello’s own positive experience with the method seems to be one that many of her patients have shared. "Parents have told me it's the first time they haven't heard their kids cough all night," she said, of a parent of a child with asthma.

 

For about the next six months, the weather outside is going to be largely heavenly, so it only makes sense to feel as close to angelic as you possibly can — and if you’ve never tried it, perhaps halotherapy is the secret to doing just that?

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What’s in a Sneeze?
March 3, 2016 1:48 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

Remember the hubbub about 3D printed firearms a few years ago? The concept of 3D printing in and of itself — certainly one of the more futuristic ideas we’ve brought to life in recent times — is a little bit confounding until you’ve seen it with your own eyes, and so the idea of anything that’s been printed using one of these devices seems all the more mindboggling.

 

Yet we’ve not only traversed past the point at which these devices are considered to be threatening or subversive and they’re now being integrated into how we solve problems and make life better for a whole lot of people. They’re even going so far as to dissect and figure out what’s wrong with us when we do something as common (and as annoying) as sneezing.

 

We say “God bless you” when someone sneezes because it was once believed that, for a brief moment, your heart stopped (it doesn’t). That being said, it’s also a measure of the minimal amount of time that transpires during a sneeze. It’s no longer than the blink of an eye and oftentimes, it’s not particularly telling. You could sneeze because of some dust, because of allergies or as a symptom of a greater sickness or infection. Nailing down exactly which one, however, likely requires a doctor’s attention.

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Enter the “sneezeometer.” Per ADVANCE’s own reporting, “Research from the University of Surrey has led to the development of the world's first 'sneezometer,' an airflow sensor or spirometer that is sensitive enough to measure the speed of a sneeze.”

 

David Birch, PhD, of the University of Surrey's Aerodynamics and Environmental Flow research Group explained, "Breathing disorders are highly prevalent in the developed and developing world, with one in twelve people in the UK currently receiving treatment for asthma. The diagnosis and monitoring of respiratory diseases is key to proper treatment and we have now developed a simple, low-cost and non-intrusive diagnostic solution that will make doctors lives easier across the world."

 

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So, imagine you find yourself sitting at home and all of the sudden, you have a fit of sneezing. This goes hand-in-hand with some general fatigue and congestion you’ve been dealing with all day. Thanks to this handy little device — which could surface by 2018 — the specific answer as to what it is you’re encountering exactly could be readily available for you and your doctor.

 

Provided you’ve got one more “ah-choo” in you, that is.

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Greater Than the Sum
February 25, 2016 10:46 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

There’s a saying that gets thrown around, often in the context of sports, that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Seemingly oxymoronic, the point is typically made when trying to explain how a team of unextraordinary players somehow topples a juggernaut. And far from being a rare occurrence, it’s actually more uncommon — in any major sport — to make it through an entire season without one of these scenarios taking place.

 

As believable as the trope can become when watching it unfold on a television screen in the NBA Playoffs or something, the fact of the matter is that the frequency of its happening in professional sports does not usually enhance our own ability to believe in these sort of miraculous, collective efforts in other areas of our lives.

 

Just look at any marketing campaign. When was the last time one was able to successfully sell you on the concept of methodical, incremental progress? There’s a reason why it’s difficult to save money, but so easy to essentially toss away $20 hoping to win the Powerball. And as far as broad movements are concerned, it’s tricky even in the age of social media to convince millions of people that their all contributing a small amount to a cause will lead to massive, tangible results — a whole greater than the sum of its parts, in other words.  

 

Which is why, taking a look at certain news releases that project out into the future, you need to take their lofty expectations with a grain of salt. That being said, the report from Duke University and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies that reductions in carbon emissions on the part of the United States could save 295,000 lives by 2030 is encouraging and eyebrow raising.

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"Many people view climate change as a future problem, but our analysis shows that reducing emissions that cause warming — many of which also contribute to air pollution — could benefit public health here and now," said Drew T. Shindell, from Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

 

The researchers were quick to add, however, that achieving any benefits in terms of lives and dollars saved “ … would require both larger and broader emissions reductions than those in current legislation or regulations.”

 

 

By 2030, according to Tech Insider’s reporting, “ … an estimated 175,000 premature deaths could be prevented while clean transportation can also prevent about 120,000 premature deaths, annually thereafter.

 

The article went on to discuss what respiratory therapists have long known: carbon and fuel emissions are as much an issue for the climate as they are for the health of our population. Air pollution in particular has been conclusively linked to asthma and COPD, among other respiratory diseases. So while it may not seem like much, all of the work we can do to personally reduce our individual carbon footprints really can have a huge impact on the lives of those around us, as well as the planet itself.

 

Or, to put it simpler, the whole of our efforts can be quite a bit greater than the sum of their parts.

 

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Winter Weakens Lungs
February 18, 2016 1:36 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

While people have differences of opinion about their favorite seasons, it’s safe to say that those of us that like winter most are in the minority. Gallup has periodically polled this question and repeated come back with the answer that — all things being equal — most of us prefer all of the three warmer seasons to the current one.

 

The reasons why are many but not limited to the severe cold, the constant specter of snowfall making our roads unfit for driving, freezing conditions that can affect our household water, the confinement that comes with having to spend the vast majority of our time indoors and so on.

 

In short, winter is a total drag. And that’s before we address the other elephant in the room: sickness. Few (if any) of us manage to pass through one winter, let alone multiple years of them, without coming down with at least one bout of the flu or a related upper respiratory infection. What’s more, even allergies can pose a threat during the coldest months and for most, it’s an unpleasant but unavoidable given that November through March will probably be the time of year that most sick time is used up.

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Unfortunately, if new research published in the journal PLOS One is any indication, an individual’s susceptibility to these nagging conditions may be directly tied to the time of year in which they were born.

 

Professor Cecillie Svanes, one of the study's authors, explained.

 

“Having a mother who smoked when she was pregnant with you will affect your lungs in a negative way. The same is the case if you were born during the winter months, or if you experienced a severe respiratory infection at a very young age."

 

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In The Independent’s coverage of the study, it was noted that, “Studying over 12,800 people aged between 28-73 years over a period of 9-11 years, those exposed to early life risk factors were found to have a faster decline in lung function — practically meaning their lungs age more quickly.”

 

One of those said “risk factors” happens to be having been born during winter months — presumably for the risk of respiratory infections at the earliest stages of life, which could no doubt be added the list of reasons why winter doesn’t rate particularly highly on the list of most.

 

While it’s unclear as to how much more at risk those born in winter really are when it comes to earlier mortality or vulnerability to respiratory infection, here’s something that is clear and undebatable: spring is coming in 29 days.

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Lung Cancer Screen Time
February 8, 2016 10:11 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

 

With the 2016 Iowa Caucuses now behind us, the election year officially feels as though it’s in full swing. While it’s anyone’s guess as to who might emerge from the crowded Republican field and surprisingly competitive Democratic battle, another campaigning season brings with it a number of bipartisan promises that may or may not be deliverable.

 

To hear candidates on either side of the aisle tell it, the United States — under their leadership and no one else’s — will be safe, strong and secure. Taxes will be lowered, the deficit will disappear and more government programs will magically spring up. Everyone will have a job, a college education and free healthcare — and somehow none of it will cost a thing and all of our problems will be solved.

 

Although these claims are almost self-aware enough on their own to be considered facetious, they’re nonetheless the exact kinds of pitches Americans continually fall for every cycle — and will again this this year. Here’s one more that both sides will trot out: eliminating red tape.

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A convenient trope is that Americans are impatient — we’re all in a hurry and want everything instantly. Whether or not that’s empirical, it’s an anecdotal truism that we all seem to spot inefficiencies that eat into our precious time. And it’s low-hanging fruit — no one really disagrees with the notion that in many areas of our lives, there’s unnecessary red tape.

 

Take healthcare and this recent article from the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, which says that, “Many patients at high risk for lung cancer would not meet the current US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) screening criteria.”

 

An article published in Oncology Nurse Advisor shed further light on this report.

 

“The researchers suggest including people who are younger than 81 years, have a smoking history of 30 or more pack-years, and have quit for 15 to 30 years could increase the number of cases without increasing overdiagnosis or the number of false-positives, thereby save more lives. … Results showed the largest subgroup excluded by the criteria are former smokers with a smoking history of 30 or more pack-years, 15 to 30 quit-years, and were 55 to 80 years old. This group constituted the 12% of the hospital cohort and 17% of the community cohort.”

 

This comes on the heels of a recent Mayo Clinic study urging more aggressive screenings — especially for former smokers (even if they have long since quit).

 

According to the study’s lead author Ping Yang, “A decline in smoking rates has been, and continues to be, a critical step to reduce lung cancer risk and deaths. But, it also means that fewer people have benefited from early detection of lung cancer, because more patients don’t qualify for low-dose CT scans. … We were surprised to find that the incidence of lung cancer was proportionally higher in this subgroup, compared to other subgroups of former cigarette smokers,” Yang said. “The common assumption is that after a person has quit for so many years, the lung cancer rate would be so low that it wouldn’t be noticeable. We found that assumption to be wrong.”

 

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And as Brian Lawenda, board certified radiation oncologist and clinical director of 21st Century Oncology, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last month, “Lung cancers, like many other cancers, take many years if not decades to develop and so you could have a small nodule that could be sitting in the lungs for many years without any symptoms going on until at some point when the tumor gets large enough to finally cause symptoms. That’s not uncommon.”

 

So as the campaigns ramp up into high gear and candidates begin promising the moon in order to gain the Oval Office, here’s a simple healthcare plea that can affect real change in the lives of millions of Americans moving forward: make screenings much more accessible — for all, if need be.

 

The impassioned plea of Americans calling out for this cut in red tape would be closely followed by a welcome, healthy sound — one huge, collective sigh of relief.

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