Staying Safe During Holiday Travel

holiday travel 1If you’re one of the millions of people planning to travel over the holidays, we’d like you to do it safely. Whether your plans involve car, plane or train take a minute or two to study these simple steps to stay healthy while traveling.

One health risk to consider when traveling is simply sitting for too long,” says Clayton Cowl, M.D., an expert in travel medicine at Mayo Clinic. “Concerns like blood clots in the legs from sitting too long, becoming dehydrated from lack of fluid intake or drinking too much alcohol, and not walking much when delayed in an airport or train station can be serious. Driving for hours to reach a destination after a long day at work can be as equally worrisome due to fatigue and eyestrain.”

Blood clots can be a concern when a person sits for too long because leg muscles aren’t contracting and blood can pool and stagnate in the vessels. This can lead to deep vein thrombosis and even pulmonary embolism – a potentially fatal condition, caused by clots becoming lodged in the lungs.  When travelling by car, both driver and passengers should stop every few hours to hydrate and walk. Plan ahead, and pick some good rest stops along your route. How about a park, a mall, or a place of interest?

As an added benefit, allowing children to run or play in a safe environment while traveling will often help curb their excessive energy in a confined space and may help them relax while traveling for longer periods.

full planeWhen traveling by plane, check the in-flight magazine for tips on how to exercise in your seat and on trips longer than three hours, get up at least once to take a walk to the bathroom or other end of the plane.

And regardless of how you travel, try to avoid crossing your legs while sitting for long periods, because this can inhibit adequate blood circulation.

If you’re the one doing the driving, plan to get a good night’s sleep the day before the trip, to avoid drowsiness during the journey. If possible, take turns at the wheel with other passengers. Take breaks at rest stops and chose healthy low carb meal options, to avoid crashing after a sugar high. Combining meals or rest room stops with a short walk to get fresh air and stretch can make a big difference in staying more alert and refreshed.

planesWhile we all want to just get to our destination for the holidays, budgeting a little extra time to account for unexpected weather delays and adequate driving breaks is a really smart plan.

To avoid stiffness from sitting too long, if you’re a passenger try doing some simple stretches, such as extending legs out and back several times and massaging thighs and calves.

To avoid eyestrain and its associated annoying symptoms including sore or irritated eyes, dry or watery eyes, double vision or blurriness, increased sensitivity to light or unremitting shoulder and neck fatigue never drive if you are sleep deprived.

A short nap can significantly relieve these symptoms and non-medicated eye drops can help if eye irritation persists

Whatever your travel method, avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of water and minimize or eliminate alcohol consumption as alcohol dehydrates at a cellular level.

holiday trafficAbove all, plan for the worst, and enjoy the best: When severe winter weather hits, many vehicles may become stranded and help may be hours or sometimes days away. Pack a simple emergency kit, including blankets, snacks, water, charging devices, flashlights and activities to keep kids amused.

Thank You for your attention. Now, please fasten your seat belts, place doors to manual and turn off all cellular devices. You’re ready for the holidays!

Bon Voyage.

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Drinking our way to brain fitness

alcohol related dementiaAs we reported last week, drinking the occasional glass of wine might help to stave off depression. This week we learned how to better protect ourselves from that wine we’ve been drinking!

Previous studies have shown that long-term alcohol abuse increases the risk of dementia. But according to new research from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, omega-3 fish oil might help protect against alcohol-related dementia.

The Loyola study found that in the brain cells of rats exposed to high levels of alcohol, a fish oil compound protected against inflammation and cell death.

fish oilThe study by Michael Collins, PhD, and colleagues was reported Sept. 8 at the 14th Congress of the European Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism.  An earlier analysis by Collins and Loyola colleague Edward Neafsey, PhD, which pooled the results of 143 studies, found that moderate social drinking may reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment.

It appears that small amounts of alcohol might, in effect, make brain cells more fit. Alcohol in moderate amounts stresses cells and thus toughens them up to cope with major stresses down the road that could cause dementia.

However, as always, moderation is the key! Too much alcohol overwhelms the cells, leading to inflammation and cell death. The study authors defined moderate as one drink per day for women and two for men.

mouse & fish oilIn the new study, Collins and colleagues exposed cultures of adult rat brain cells to amounts of alcohol equivalent to more than four times the legal limit for driving. These cell cultures were compared with cultures of brain cells exposed to the same high levels of alcohol, plus a compound found in fish oil called omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  Researchers found there was about 90% less neuroinflammation and neuronal death in the brain cells exposed to DHA and alcohol than in the cells exposed to alcohol alone.

Of course, being a health blog we should point out that the best way for an alcohol abuser to protect their brain is to quit drinking or to cut back to moderate amounts.  But as Collins says: “Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in abusers. At the very least, it wouldn’t hurt them.”

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In Vino Veritas?

GEICO camelHappy Hump Day!

While we may not be able to make you laugh quite as much as the GEICO camel, we do bring you news that should at least make you smile.

A new Spanish study suggests that drinking wine might help you avoid depression.

Although drinking a lot of wine or other alcohol may be a sign of depression or other mental health problems, alcohol in moderation may benefit mental health according to the study authors.

One drink a day, preferentially wine, may help prevent depression,” said lead researcher Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, chair of the department of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Navarra, in Pamplona.

red-wine_0Researchers followed more than 5,500 light-to-moderate drinkers, aged between 55 and 80 for up to seven years.  None of the individuals had suffered from depression or had alcohol-related problems at the start of the study. Over seven years, with medical exams, interviews with dietitians and questionnaires, the researchers kept tabs on participants’ mental health and lifestyle.  Wine was the most popular drink and participants who drank two to seven glasses a week were the least likely to suffer from depression, compared to nondrinkers. These findings remained significant even after the researchers took factors such as smoking, diet and marriage into account.

But before you start reaching for the corkscrew, we need to warn you that not all experts agree with the findings and even the research team, only saw benefit in moderate drinkers.

Martinez-Gonzalez thinks the apparent benefit of wine in preventing depression may work the same way that moderate drinking helps prevent heart disease.

Depression and heart disease seem to share some common mechanisms because they share many similar protective factors and risk factors,” he said. However, he added that depression prevention is not a reason to start drinking.

If you are not a drinker, please don’t start drinking,” he said. “If you drink alcohol, please keep it in the range of one or less drinks a day and consider drinking wine instead of other alcoholic beverages.”

Tony Tang, an adjunct psychology professor at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., said the new research “is consistent with other studies suggesting modest health benefits of very modest drinking.”

red wine glassesBut, Tang said other factors may be at work in the potential connection between wine and depression. He noted that compared to nondrinkers, those in the Spanish study who drank a moderate amount of wine were more likely to be married men who were also physically active.  Being single or divorced, living alone and being sedentary are well-established risk factors of depression. Thus, he suggests, the correlation between modest drinking and depression is a coincidence caused by these other known factors.

An adequate social life is the most important factor we know that protects people from depression,” Tang said. “Perhaps not drinking is a sign of serious social isolation in Spain while drinking a glass of wine a day is simply a sign of having a normal social life.”

red wine with friends 2Wine with friends anyone?

Cheers!

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Dangerous When Drunk!

While we all understand the dangers of drinking and driving, how many people realize that drinking and walking is just as dangerous?  So, if you’ve decided to leave the car at home and just celebrate locally this New Year’s Eve we’d like to bring you a cautionary tale.

According to trauma surgeon Dr. Thomas Esposito at Loyola University Health Systemalcohol impairs your physical ability, period.”

A trauma surgeon for more than 25 years, Esposito has witnessed the tragic aftermath of drunkeness many times. A quarter of all pedestrian struck cases seen in his department, were found to have blood-alcohol concentrations at or above the accepted level for intoxication.  In 2005, the journal Injury Prevention reported that New Year’s Day is more deadly for pedestrians than any other day of the year. From 1986 to 2002, 410 pedestrians were killed on New Year’s Day. 58% of those killed had high blood-alcohol concentrations.

If they had been driving and were stopped by police, they would have been arrested for driving under the influence,” Esposito said.

And it’s not just walking outside. Working, as I do, in Emergency Medicine, I often see people who have fallen down the stairs or tripped and injured themselves after drinking. Others have unwisely chosen to mix alcohol with guns, knives, bottles and fists, invariably with tragic consequences.

To avoid becoming a 2011 statistic, SRXA’s Word in Health brings you the following tips:

  • Don’t wear dark clothing that can make it difficult for drivers to see you
  • Stay out of the road. Use sidewalks and cross at designated crosswalks
  • Walk in a group, preferably with a designated chaperone or escort

Stay safe & have a Happy New Year. We look forward to welcoming you back in 2012.

Staying Safe During the Holidays

For most of us, the holiday season is usually a time of glad tidings and great joy but alas it also brings the potential for poisonings. No, we’re not talking about offing your annoying aunt, we’re referring to the accidental kind!

To help keep our Word on Health readers safe during the festivities we’ve teamed up with our friends from the Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, to bring you the following tips:

  • While the odd eggnog or glass or two of champagne may be good, providing you’re not driving, too much, or the wrong sort of alcohol may be toxic. And remember, alcohol is found not only in adult beverages but in gifts such as cologne and perfumes. We recommend you remove all alcoholic drinks and gifts that contain alcohol out of reach of children.
  • Poinsettias may be pretty but they can cause irritation. Children who play with the Poinsettia plant leaves and then rub their eyes can experience redness and irritation.
  • Though berries may add a festive touch to your table centerpiece, a few, of the 400+ varieties of holly are said to be poisonous. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a slowing down of breathing and heart rate can occur after ingestion of holly berries.
  • Toys can contain button or disc batteries. These small, shiny coin-shaped objects are often found in handheld games, watches and other portable devices. If swallowed they can become lodged in the esophagus and cause serious injury and death.
  • Jerusalem Cherries allegedly contain solanine, the same poison found in deadly nightshade. Reported signs and symptoms of solanine poisoning include dilated pupils, salivation, nausea, vomiting, headache, bloating, diarrhea, respiratory depression, central nervous system depression, confusion, irregular heartbeat, coma and death. Not nice!  Probably better to keep these out of your house this yuletide.
  • Essential oils can be used with great effect to scent the house over the holidays. However ingredients in some essential oils such as salicylates in oil of wintergreen, menthol, camphor, eucalyptol, can be extremely toxic if ingested.
  • Similarly, although you can create all sorts of cool effects with dry ice, whether you cook or decorate with it, be careful to avoid skin contact. Dry ice is composed of carbon dioxide which can cause tissue damage to the skin, and burns to the mouth if ingested.

And while you’re thinking about safety don’t forget to protect your pets during the holidays. Our four-legged friends can get into every bit as much mischief as their owners.

So here’s to a safe and happy holiday….but if it does all go horribly wrong, remember you can call the National Poison Center any time of day or night.