MEDICINE IS MUSIC

Physical Activity Beneficial for Cancer Patients

Dr. Eric Viegas

www.medicineismusic.ca

@medicineismusic

exercise cancer

People who are physically active before and after a cancer diagnosis are 40% more likely to survive when compared to their sedentary (little to no exercise) counterparts.

 

A recent study from April 2018 found that exercise holds benefit for all types of cancer. The researchers looked at pre- and post diagnosis physical activity in over 5000 cancer patients who received their diagnoses between 2003-2016. There were more women than men in the study, and the average age was around 60 years old.

 

According to the authors of the study, the greatest increase in survival was observed in people who exercised 3 to 4 days per week both before and after diagnosis. Interestingly, people who chose to exercise everyday did not fare much better, a boon to the weekend warriors among us!

 

Interestingly, people who were sedentary 10 years prior to their diagnosis but who decided to become more active after their diagnosis had a 25% increased chance of survival when compared to people who remained inactive after diagnosis.

 

As the authors stated, “The message is that it’s never too late to start exercising”.

 

Exercise can help people improve strength, heart and lung function, and overall quality of life.

 

So what is stopping you from exercising? It’s probably a complex answer, and that’s okay. Exercise should be fun, and something that you can fit into your schedule without adding a high burden of stress. Even something simple like daily walks and stretching can be beneficial for the most sedentary among us.

 

If injuries are preventing you from meeting your exercise goals, perhaps it’s time for a tune up with your chiropractor or osteopath. If the issue is due to your mood, perhaps it’s time to find ways to address your mental health through diet, lifestyle, and therapy.

 

Our bodies were made to move, so ensuring that you are taking care of your body’s needs will go a long way to improve your energy levels, stress resilience, and exercise capacity!

 

References:

 

Physical Activity Significantly Boosts Survival in Cancer Patients – Medscape – Apr 23, 2018.

Minimizing The Risk of Childhood Food Allergies

Dr. Eric Viegas, ND

Ottawa Holistic Wellness Centre

www.medicineismusic.ca

food allergies child peanut

Q: As a parent of a young child, what steps can I take to reduce the risk of childhood food allergies?

A:

  • Fish Oil consumption during pregnancy may cut the risk of childhood allergies by 30% (1). Researchers in London compiled data from women consuming a daily fish oil capsule from the 20th week of pregnancy until the first 3-4 months of breastfeeding. The consumption of fish oil cut the risk of childhood egg allergy by 30% (1).

 

fish oil food allergies child

 

  • Probiotics: eczema risk was cut by 22% in a group of mothers consuming a daily probiotic supplement between 36-38 weeks of pregnancy and the first 3-6 months of breastfeeding (1). However, probiotic supplementation did not appear to reduce the risk of childhood dairy allergy (1).

 

soap baby food allergies bath

 

  • Hygiene: Avoid overuse of “baby wipes” and make sure that soap is completely washed off of your baby’s skin. A recent study using mice suggests that disruption of our skin’s top lipid (fat) layer by soaps and allergens can contribute to the development of food allergies in young children with altered genetic mutations in their skin (2). Mice with genetic mutations in their skin barrier that were exposed to common food allergens (eg. peanuts) to their skin over 2 weeks were then fed these allergens by mouth. The mice developed allergic reactions in the intestines, on the exposed skin sites, and suffered anaphylaxis. More research is needed in this area to further clarify how these mechanisms affect humans. Unfortunately, skin barrier mutations are not visible in children until later in life, so minimizing your child’s exposure to harsh chemicals and allergens that may disrupt their skin barrier is a factor in reducing the risk of developing childhood food allergies.

 

 

Always consult with your doctor before beginning any new supplement or medication. For more information on the prevention and treatment of childhood allergies, consult with your local naturopathic doctor and/or functional medicine practitioner.

 

References:

 

  1. Garcia-Larsen V, Ierodiakonou D, Jarrold K, Cunha S, Chivinge J, et al. (2018) Diet during pregnancy and infancy and risk of allergic or autoimmune disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS Medicine 15(2): e1002507. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002507.
  2. Matthew T. Walker, Jeremy E. Green, Ryan P. Ferrie, Ashley M. Queener, Mark H. Kaplan, Joan M. Cook-Mills. Mechanism for initiation of food allergy: dependence on skin barrier mutations and environmental allergen costimulation. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2018, ISSN 0091-6749, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2018.02.003.

Herbal Medicine for Anxiety and Depression: New Evidence

Dr. Eric Viegas, ND

March 2018

depression anxiety herbal medicine naturopath ottawa

 

Depression is estimated to affect 5.4% of Canadians aged 15+ (1).  1 in 8 adults will meet the criteria for a mood disorder in their lifetime (1). Women have higher rates of depression than men.

 

Anxiety can also be present with a diagnosis of depression, further impacting a person’s quality of life.

 

People living with depression experience a lack of pleasure in activities that once brought them joy, sleep issues, fatigue, guilt and feelings of worthlessness, memory and concentration issues, and thoughts of suicide.

 

Depression and anxiety also contribute to a high burden of stress in people with cancer.

 

In a survey of 3370 cancer survivors, 20% identified with moderate to severe levels of depression, and 40% were living with moderate to severe anxiety lasting 6 years after diagnosis (2).

 

Due to the large number of adverse effects, and interactions with chemotherapeutics, conventional antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications are not favourable for cancer people (3). It’s no surprise then that this population seems to favour herbal remedies for anxiety and depression.

 

A recent systematic review summarized the evidence from 100 single herb clinical trials for depression and anxiety from 1996-2016 (4).

 

Here are the top herbal remedies for anxiety and depression as identified by this study:

 

Lavender

A fragrant and relaxing plant to grow in your garden, lavender is also used in perfumes and aromatherapy products. Lavender extracts, taken orally, show a stronger anti-anxiety effect than placebo and are comparable in effect to prescription drugs (eg. paroxetine, lorazepam) in human trials. Lavender also has fewer adverse effects than these drugs.

lavender anxiety depression naturopath ottawa

A tea made from lavender buds may improve the effect of citalopram; a commonly prescribed antidepressant medication.

 

Passionflower

Used by Native Americans as a remedy to improve sleep and anxiety, passionflower tea may improve sleep quality. When used with clonidine, passionflower extract was also shown to improve mental-emotional well-being for people undergoing opioid withdrawal.

passionflower depression anxiety sleep naturopath ottawa

Compared to the anti-anxiety medications oxazepam and sertraline, passionflower extract was not more effective in reducing severity of symptoms, but it had much fewer adverse effects.

 

Saffron

A commonly used spice in South Asia and the Middle East.

saffron depression anxiety premenstrual naturopath ottawa

Saffron was found to be most beneficial for people that identified with mild to moderate anxiety. Some studies also showed that saffron was superior to standard antidepressant drugs (fluoxetine and imipramine).

 

Women who have a flare-up of anxiety and/or depression premenstrually also benefited from saffron extract.

Black Cohosh

Commonly found in most herbal preparations for menopausal symptoms, black cohosh may have a positive effect on hot flashes.

black cohosh depression anxiety hormones naturopath ottawa

One study using a patented extract called Remifemin® was shown to be as effective as low dose topical estrogen in reducing hot flashes, anxiety, and depression without the adverse effects of hormone therapy.

Chamomile

Popular in sleep teas, chamomile is an effective anti-anxiety herb for people dealing with mild to moderate anxiety.

chamomile anxiety depression naturopath ottawa

Chamomile was also shown to be effective in the long-term (the study looked at 38 weeks of treatment) but had no effect on relapse rates.

 

Chaste Tree

Another herbal remedy for hormonal issues, chaste tree/vitex is often taken for premenstrual and fertility issues.

chaste tree vitex anxiety depression fertility naturopath ottawa

Chaste tree, when compared to the antidepressant fluoxetine, was shown to be more effective in reducing physical symptoms associated with depression in postmenopausal women.

 

Always check with your doctor before starting any nutritional supplement, herb, or medication.

 

Follow the links for additional information on anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue.

 

References

 

  1. Pearson, Caryn, Teresa Janz and Jennifer Ali. 2013. “Mental and substance use disorders in Canada” Health at a Glance. September. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-624-X.
  2. Inhestern, L., Beierlein, V., Bultmann, J. C., Moller, B., Romer, G., Koch, U., & Bergelt, C. (2017). Anxiety and depression in working‐age cancer survivors: A register‐based study. BMC Cancer, 17(1), 347.
  3. Fajemiroye, J. O., da Silva, D. M., de Oliveira, D. R., & Costa, E. A. (2016). Treatment of anxiety and depression: Medicinal plants in retrospect. Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology, 30(3), 198–215.
  4. Yeung, K., et al. Herbal medicine for depression and anxiety: a systematic review with assessment of potential psycho-oncologic relevance (2018). Phytotherapy Research, 1-27.

10 Common Childhood Rashes and What You Should Know About Them

Dr. Eric Viegas, ND

rash child ottawa naturopath

There are many different types of rashes that children and their parents will encounter throughout their lives.

The following is a list of common rashes, their causes and symptoms, a description of their appearance, and what you can do about them.

 

 

  • Contact Dermatitis

 

Many causes including certain foods, body products, latex, jewelry and poison ivy.

 

Most incidents of contact dermatitis are mild, start around 48 hours after skin exposure, and resolve when the specific substance is prevented from contacting the skin. A mild reaction will usually result in small red bumps, while a more serious reaction can result in swelling and blisters.

 

  • Measles

 

A red, but not itchy, viral rash that is located over most of the child’s body. Children will usually complain of common cold symptoms: fever, sneezing, irritated throat, coughing, swollen glands, red eyes, and loss of appetite. Although preventable with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, those who choose to forego immunization are at a higher risk of infection. If you believe your child has been infected with measles, please seek medical care immediately.

 

 

  • Scarlet Fever

 

Most common in children ages 2-10 (but infection can occur at any age). A scarlet fever rash is coarse to the touch, and red. It typically presents on the torso first, then spreads to other areas of the body over the course of a couple of days.

 

Children will typically present with a high fever followed by the rash 24 hours later.

Other symptoms include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and white or yellow spots at the back of the throat; all related to a strep throat infection. If you suspect that your child has scarlet fever, seek medical attention immediately.

 

 

  • Chickenpox

 

Caused by the varicella zoster virus, this is a contagious and very itchy rash that affects the whole body. It may appear as red spots and/or blisters (pox). Each chickenpox red spot has a life cycle of 1-2 days; blistering, bursting, drying out, and crusting. New spots will appear daily for up to one week. This infection will stay dormant in nerves, and may result in an outbreak of shingles later in life.

 

An easy way to combat the itchiness of chickenpox is an oatmeal bath:

  • Using a mesh bag or cheesecloth, add 1 cup of uncooked oats and tie off one end.
  • Secure the oatmeal bag under your tub’s faucet and run under warm water, periodically squeezing the bag as the tub fills.
  • Once the bath is full, you can remove the bag from the faucet, letting it float in the bathwater. Continue to periodically squeeze the bag into the water.
  • Submerge affected areas in the bath for 20 mins.
  • You can also add calendula and lavender flowers to help soothe irritated skin.

 

 

  • Roseola

 

Appears around 3 days after a high fever caused by the roseola virus. This infection is usually mild, starting with a sudden high fever for 2-3 days and developing into a pink rash appearing on the torso, neck and arms once the fever begins to drop. Some children may experience seizures due to the sudden intensity of the fever, and the rash will last 1-2 days. This rash typically affects children aged 6 months to 2 years. Seek medical care if you suspect your child has roseola.

 

 

  • Fifth Disease

 

A “slapped cheek” facial rash that also has a lacy appearance on the torso, arms, legs, and buttocks.

This rash will follow sudden flu-like symptoms (fever, fatigue, aches, etc.), and children are most contagious 7 days before the onset of the rash.

 

Once the rash has appeared, children are no longer contagious. Hot temperatures and sunlight exposure may cause the rash to wax and wane over several weeks.

 

While the infection is mild for children, developing fetuses are at an increased risk when exposed to fifth disease. If you are pregnant and develop some of the signs and symptoms of fifth disease, seek medical attention immediately.

 

 

  • Heat Rash

 

Can happen to any baby exposed to hot weather or dressed too warmly. The rash looks like red or pink dots on the child’s head, neck, and/or shoulders.

Make sure your child is dressed lightly on hot days, covering their head and limbs, and do your best to avoid prolonged sun exposure.

 

 

  • Cradle Cap

 

Oily, yellow, scaly and/or crusting rash on a baby’s scalp. This rash is common and treatable, and its presence certainly does not mean parents are not caring for their baby.

Home treatment for cradle cap:

  • An hour before shampooing, rub your baby’s scalp with baby oil, or vaseline to help lift and loosen the crusts/ scales.
  • Wet your baby’s scalp then gently scrub the scalp with a soft-bristle brush (eg. a soft toothbrush or a fine-toothed comb) for a few minutes to remove the scales.
  • Wash the scalp with baby shampoo, rinse well, and gently towel dry.

 

 

  • Lyme Disease

 

Can be caused by bacteria that are carried by ticks. A Bullseye red rash at the site of the bite will expand, followed by flu-like symptoms, joint pain, and neurological problems.

 

In the case of lyme disease, see a doctor immediately.

 

 

  • Diaper Rash

 

Can be caused by urine/stool bacteria, moisture, heat, friction, or chemicals in a baby’s diaper. The rash has a red (may also appear burned/scalded) appearance, and affects the thighs, buttocks, genitals, or abdomen.

Sometimes, a yeast infection may be responsible for the rash, so always check with your doctor before using any medicated ointments for your child.

 

As with any skin issue, it is best to see your doctor when a rash presents so that you can get an accurate diagnosis and timely treatment. Some rashes require immediate antibiotics, while others tend to resolve on their own. I hope this quick guide to rashes will help ease the stress around skin issues for you and your children.

Bolster Your Immune System for The Holiday Season

Q&A: How Will My Immune System Survive The Holidays?

 

With winter and family holidays fast approaching, I am constantly asked about what can be done to bolster the immune system and reduce stress. Here are some easy tips to get you through the rest of the year.

 

Q: I’m travelling a lot over the holidays, what can I do to boost my immune system?

 

A: A recent study used elderberry to prevent the onset of influenza during air travel. The study looked at 600-900 mg of elderberry extract containing 90-135mg of anthocyanins. Study participants took 2 capsules per day for 10 days before air travel. Two to four days before departure, the dosage was increased to 3 capsules per day, until 4 days after arrival at their destination (1).

immune system dr. eric viegas

Anthocyanins belong to the flavonoid group of phytochemicals; commonly found in teas, wine, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and cocoa. They add vibrant color to these foods, along with a potent antioxidant capacity. Recent research into the human effects of anthocyanins has revealed their ability to strengthen blood vessels, balance the immune system, and combat inflammation (2,3).

 

Of the 312 participants taking the elderberry extract, 29 developed a cold. The group taking the placebo treatment had greater symptom severity and over twice the duration of illness compared to the elderberry group.

 

For more information on how you can best avoid the cold and flu this year, click here

Q: I’ve heard sugar can compromise my immune system. What lifestyle behaviours can help me with my sweet tooth?

 

A: Sugar is a contributing factor when dealing with illness over the holidays. Try structuring your meals with a low carbohydrate content, and increase your consumption of proteins from meat and vegetable sources. Some good vegan sources of protein include pumpkin seeds, lentils, black beans, almonds, and tempeh.

healty immune system dr. eric viegas

Munching on high protein snacks will help to keep your blood sugar stable, increase feelings of fullness, and make it less likely for you to grab extra holiday treats.

 

Q:What about stress and my immune system? My family drives me crazy over the holidays, and I know I’m going to get sick because of the added stress…

 

A: Stress is an inevitable part of everyone’s lives. Unfortunately, you can’t pick your family, but you can build your resilience to the added stress that comes with holiday get togethers.

 

Daily yoga is an excellent way to tone your nervous system and help you keep a cool head when dealing with added stress.

healthy immune system dr. eric viegas

A recent systematic review of 11 studies found that yoga enhanced the production of the body’s own antioxidants vitamin C and glutathione in healthy, diabetic, prediabetic, hypertensive, and renal disease patients. As a result, there was a significant reduction of oxidative stress after a session of yoga (4).

 

The great thing about yoga is that you don’t need to go to a class to reap the health benefits. A quick search of youtube will get thousands of results for many different types of yoga; one for every person’s unique needs.

 

Have a safe and happy holiday!

 

References:

 

  1. Tiralongo E, Wee SS, Lea RA. Elderberry supplementation reduces cold duration and symptoms in air-travelers: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutrients. 2016;8(4):182.
  2. Lila, Mary Ann. “Anthocyanins and Human Health: An In Vitro Investigative Approach.” Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology 2004.5 (2004): 306–313. PMC. Web. 2 Nov. 2017.
  3. Youdim K, Martin A, Joseph J. Incorporation of the elderberry anthocyanins by endothelial cells increases protection against oxidative stress. Free Radic Biol Med. 2000;29(1):51–60.
  4. Pal, R. & Gupta, N. (2017). Yogic practices on oxidative stress and of antioxidant level: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, 0(0), pp. -. Retrieved 2 Nov. 2017, from doi:10.1515/jcim-2017-0079.

Eczema FAQs & How Naturopathic Medicine can help

eczema dr eric viegas

Dr. Eric Viegas, ND

 

Why do I have Eczema?

  • Partly due to genetics, immune dysregulation causing allergic inflammation, and environmental factors.
  • If you have a family history of eczema you are more likely to develop it. Environmental factors like bacterial (staphylococcus aureus) colonization of damaged skin, and chronic phthalate exposure (found in textiles, food products, and plastics) contribute to inflammation and immune dysregulation.
  • There is some evidence that the presence of helicobacter pylori, a bacteria commonly known for causing stomach ulcers, can also contribute to immune dysregulation and inflammation of the skin barrier.
  • Food triggers are also an important contributor to eczema. Increased intestinal permeability contributes to allergen sensitization, so chances are good that your digestive system needs some help. A naturopathic doctor can work with you to establish which foods may be contributing to your eczema.
  • If you have endocrine problems like thyroid disease it is best to take your medication and be well managed, as worsening hypothyroidism may also worsen the severity of your eczema.

 

What is the best treatment for Eczema?

  • A combination of dietary management, skin care, and stress management will help to control the chronic symptoms of eczema and address the underlying causes.

 

Can diet affect Eczema?

  • Eggs, wheat, dairy, soy, peanuts, tomatoes, and artificial colours & preservatives have been implicated as triggers in a large percentage of eczema cases. Elimination of these offending foods has been shown to restore normal intestinal function and reduce the progression of new food allergies. Avoidance of these foods may be continued for up to one year to achieve the best results.
  • There is also a growing body of evidence to support histamine intolerance in the development and severity of eczema. In histamine intolerance, ingestion of histamine-rich foods (think red wine, aged cheeses, cured meats) overwhelms your gut’s ability to breakdown this inflammatory molecule. Overtime, more systemic signs of histamine intolerance (rashes, heart palpitations, irritable bowel syndrome, and allergies) develop.
  • Eating more fatty fish (eg. salmon, herring) in pregnancy, lactation, infancy and childhood has shown protective effects against eczema in epidemiologic studies.

 

What lifestyle behaviours can help with my eczema?

  • First, stop scratching. Scratching will break the skin barrier and allow for bacterial colonization.
  • In terms of keeping clean, baths are more beneficial than showers as long as you remember to “soak and smear”; bathe, pat yourself dry, and then apply a very generous amount of moisturizer to the skin. For added benefit, soak oatmeal in a clean cloth bag in your bath to soothe your skin.
  • People suffering from the itchiness of eczema tend to have more anxiety, and feel more stressed out. Finding an outlet for your stress and keeping your anxiety at a manageable level will help to benefit your outlook and the severity of your eczema. A naturopathic doctor has many tools to address high stress and anxiety.

 

What are natural topical remedies for Eczema?

  • Seabuckthorn oil, castor oil, olive oil, coconut oil, calendula oil, chickweed cream, and moisturizers containing beeswax can all help to moisturize the skin and maintain its barrier. It is also important to use a mild pH-neutral soap free of any perfumes or fragrances to avoid any unwanted skin irritation.

 

What Supplements are good for Eczema?

  • Daily fish oil supplementation and use of the probiotic strains lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium bifidum are two supplements with good evidence for use in eczema.
  • However, you should always consult your doctor before starting any new medication or supplement. A naturopathic doctor will take a thorough health history to determine any other health concerns that should be addressed along with your skin health and come up with a comprehensive treatment plan. It is not uncommon for people with eczema to also experience digestive issues, allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies), and asthma.

 

References:

 

Kido M., Tanaka J., Aoki N., et al: Helicobacter pylori promotes the production of thymic stromal lymphopoietin by gastric epithelial cells and induces dendritic cell-mediated inflammatory Th2 responses. Infect Immun 2010 Jan; 78: pp. 108-114

 

Elias P.M., and Schmuth M.: Abnormal skin barrier in the etiopathogenesis of atopic dermatitis. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol 2009 Oct; 9: pp. 437-446

 

de Maat-Bleeker F., and Bruijnzeel-Koomen C.: Food allergy in adults with atopic dermatitis. Monogr Allergy 1996; 32: pp. 157-163

 

Agata H., Kondo N., Fukutomi O., et al: Effect of elimination on food-specific IgE antibodies and lymphocyte proliferative responses to food antigens in atopic dermatitis patients exhibiting sensitivity to food allergens. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1993; 91: pp. 668-679

 

Kremmyda L.S., Vlachava M., Noakes P.S., et al: Atopy risk in infants and children in relation to early exposure to fish, oily fish, or long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: a systematic review. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol 2011 Aug; 41: pp. 36-66

 

Barnes B.: Thyroid therapy in dermatology. Cutis 1971; 8: pp. 581-583

 

Maintz, L., et al. “Evidence for a reduced histamine degradation capacity in a subgroup of patients with atopic eczema.” The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Vol. 117, No. 5 (2006): 1106–1112.

 

Worm, M., et al. “Exogenous histamine aggravates eczema in a subgroup of patients with atopic dermatitis.” Acta Dermato-Venereologica. Vol. 89, No. 1 (2009): 52–56.

 

Beat the Colds, Flus, and Blues!

colds flus blues Dr. Eric Viegas Naturopathic Medicine Ottawa

Beat the colds, flus, and blues!

 

Dr. Eric Viegas ND

 

Feeling under the weather? Tired, congested, and not feeling like your usual self? Chances are good that your immune system is lacking its true capabilities this winter, and you might be getting a cold!

 

The Nasopharynx–the area where the nose, mouth, and throat meet–is where most colds start because common bugs can travel in through your eyes, mouth, and nose.

 

How do they do this?

 

Well, pathogens that cause the cold transmit through people’s various secretions, ending up on shared surfaces like desks, the water cooler where people congregate to catch up on each other’s lives, and eventually onto your unwashed hands. When you rub your eyes, and nose, the pathogens can travel into your body and take up residence in your nasopharynx. The most common culprits in the development of colds are rhinoviruses. As their name would suggest, rhinoviruses thrive in the conditions and temperature range of your nose. Typical symptoms of a common cold include coughing, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, fever, and a headache. Many people know that the common cold can affect your nose, but it can also lead to issues in your throat, sinuses, and even rob you of your voice.

 

Sinusitis, another common winter malady, can develop from a history of allergies, colds, anatomical malformations like a deviated nasal septum (the barrier of cartilage that sits between your nostrils), and lifestyle factors like smoking. Typically, people who suffer from sinusitis have pain and swelling over the affected sinuses which can cause a painful headache. Sinusitis is worse in the morning, since mucus in the sinuses finds its way into your throat through post-nasal drip while you sleep. Smokers have an increased risk of sinusitis because smoke can increase thick mucus production and impair your body’s ability to clear it. Even second hand smoke can cause an increased risk of upper and lower respiratory tract infections.

 

Ear infections usually affect children with a cold or flu. Symptoms include ear pain, ear discharge, and fever. Bugs can travel through the eustachian tube–a passageway that links the nasopharynx to the ear in order to equalize pressure on either side of the eardrum. Certain strains of H. influenzae, a bug that waits until the immune system cannot hold them off, can cause ear & eye infections, sinusitis, and pneumonia in children.

 

Last, but not least, influenza! The flu usually manifests with symptoms of fever, eye infection, runny nose, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, fatigue, coughing, and nausea/vomiting. H. influenzae is not the main culprit here, despite the misleading name. Influenza viruses A, B, and C all contribute what we know as ‘the flu’ in both humans and animals. Type A causes all known flu pandemics, the most well known being the Spanish Flu of 1918. Type B only affects humans, but has less potential to mutate than Type A. Type C usually affects children but is less common than Types A and B. Unfortunately for our immune systems, influenza viruses mutate at a rapid rate. What this means is it is very difficult for the Center for Disease Control to predict which strains will appear each year, rendering the vaccine from the previous year ineffective. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the flu vaccine for this year will match the strain that becomes most prevalent. To add to the problem, it’s usually very difficult to tell the difference between an influenza illness and an influenza-like illness.

 

Could it be allergies?

 

Is the mucus from your runny nose watery/clear in color? Usually colds and flus result in yellow/green coloured nasal discharge while an allergic response to airborne allergens results in clear/watery nasal discharge. People who suffer from allergies also tend to have itchy, watery eyes and an itchy skin rash that goes away when no longer exposed to the allergen.

 

What are some situations whereby I should immediately seek the emergency department?

 

If you have a sudden onset of a very painful sore throat, but strangely no or very little coughing, a fever greater than 38C, tonsillar pus, and swollen lymph nodes in your neck chances are good that you might be suffering from Strep throat. Strep throat is caused by a nasty bug called group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus (GAS). Streptococcal infections can be invasive and spread to your blood and organs if left unchecked. GAS is estimated to cause half a million deaths worldwide per year, and the most at risk for developing a GAS infection are those with compromised immune function (children, the elderly, pregnant women, etc). Currently there is no vaccine for Streptococcus, but good hand hygiene goes a long way!

 

Another emergent situation I want to discuss is called Epiglottitis. The epiglottis is like a valve that controls the passage between air into your trachea (aka your ‘windpipe’) and food or drink into your esophagus. It stays open while you breathe normally, and closes off the trachea when swallowing foods and drinks. Interestingly, your epiglottis has tastebuds! Epiglottitis, a severe swelling of the epiglottis, is commonly caused by H. influenzae in young children 2-5 years old. Typical symptoms include uncontrollable drooling, inability to swallow, inability to lie down or talk, and restlessness. Epiglottitis is life threatening, and can lead to death from an obstructed airway, so if you suspect epiglottitis in a young child take them to the emergency department immediately.

 

What can I do to cut my risk of getting a cold or flu?

 

Wash your hands with soap and water before touching your face. Hand sanitizers are okay to use if you don’t have immediate access to soap and water, but make sure the products you are using contain at least 60%-95% ethanol, since this formulation is most effective in killing those bugs! Unfortunately some commercial grade hand sanitizers, despite bold claims of killing a high percentage of germs, only contain 40%-60% ethanol. As a result, these products simply act to spread bugs around instead of killing them. As a general rule of thumb, the combination of hand sanitizers and regular handwashing is better than using hand sanitizers alone.

 

In 2011, Stebbins et al. conducted a randomized controlled trial of 3360 school children to determine if hand sanitizer use could combat transmission of influenza infections. The study used the slogan “WHACK the Flu!”:

 

  • Wash and sanitize your hands
  • Home when you are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Keep your distance from sick people

 

Researchers found a 52% reduction in influenza A virus infections in children who received this program versus those who did not, and a 26% reduction in flu related absenteeism. Using this simple acronym is a powerful tool in your fight against colds and the flus!

 

What else can I do?

 

Great question! An easy way to strengthen your defenses is to find a fun form of exercise. Exercise can improve your mood, energy, and resilience to stressors; keeping your immune function strong. Getting a good night’s rest also helps your body’s immune system to recharge.

 

Are there any supplements, herbs, or foods that can also help my body fight off a cold?

 

Always consult your doctor before beginning any new supplement or medication to find out if it is a safe option.  That being said, there are a few good remedies sitting in your pantry!

  • Peppermint
    • Peppermint contains the essential oil menthol. Menthol is an excellent anti-spasmodic–meaning it relaxes spasming tissues–and can relax the airways to relieve nasal and sinus congestion. Furthermore, peppermint can ease nausea, gas, and bloating by relaxing the digestive system. It’s important to cover your peppermint tea while it steeps since the essential oils can evaporate!
  • Ginger
    • Ginger is an excellent herb for nausea, and it can strengthen your digestion to combat a loss of appetite and vomiting. Additionally, ginger tea can be used as a gargle for sore throats.
  • Thyme
    • Yes, it’s time for some thyme! The active constituent in thyme, similar to peppermint, is an essential oil called thymol. Thymol can fight colds by relaxing a spasmodic cough and the airways to clear mucus. Thyme also contains carvacrol, an anti-microbial oil that is excellent at killing bugs. Try adding more thyme to soups and stews, as well as on meat.

 

So, you’ve come this far, and your cold or flu is on its way out but you still don’t feel like yourself. You might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD has a host of depressive symptoms that tend to occur at the same time every year, usually during the winter. People with SAD tend to have difficulty waking in the morning, overeating, oversleeping, nausea, withdrawal from friends and family, difficulty concentrating, and decreased sex drive. If you can’t afford to go on vacation and soak up some sun to combat SAD, try gratitude.

What’s so great about gratitude?

 

Gratitude towards others increases activity in the brain’s “social dopamine circuits”, making social interactions more enjoyable. Focusing on positive aspects of your life also boosts the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin. If sitting down and making a list of the things you are grateful for seems like too difficult of a task, don’t sweat it! It’s actually the activity of searching for what you’re grateful for that counts. Searching increases emotional intelligence, which in turn makes your brain more efficient at this activity. With higher emotional intelligence, gratefulness takes less and less energy over time. Still having trouble? Don’t dismay! Just label how you’re feeling: Sad? Angry? Anxious? Consciously labeling and validating how you feel reduces the impact your mood has on your daily life. Believe it or not, your brain can recognize the difference between suppressing, or labeling your emotions. To put it a different way, the only bad emotion is the one you don’t express.

 

Remember, there is a lot you can do to take control of your health and fight back against the colds, flus, and blues! Have a safe and happy winter.

 

References:

  1. Stebbins S, Cummings D, Stark J, Vukotich C, Mitruka K, Thompson W, et al. Reduction in the incidence of influenza a but not influenza b associated with use of hand sanitizer and cough hygiene in schools: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2011 Nov; 30(11): 921-926.