Consider Smart Choices rather than Smart Toys this Christmas

christmas giftsHave you finished your Christmas shopping yet or are there still some people left on your nice list?!?

With only 8 shopping days left, SRxA’s Word on Health wants to help you make smart gift choices for the little people in your life.   Bridget Boyd, MD, a pediatric safety expert at Loyola University Health System offers up the following tips to ensure you bring joy, not tragedy, on Christmas morning.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but it can quickly turn tragic if we’re not careful,” says Boyd. “Sometimes in our attempts to make Christmas extra special for our kids and grandkids, safety can get lost in the mix.”

Shopping for infants and toddlers can be difficult since many toys are labeled appropriate for ages 3 and up. Though it may limit the options, Boyd said following age-appropriate guidelines is important for keeping kids safe.

baby with toy in mouthAge labels are monitored closely and should be taken seriously. Choking and strangulation hazards can mean life or death to a child,” said Boyd. “Most people do follow the guideline to avoid small parts that might be choking hazards, but there are some safety tips that aren’t as obvious.”

She suggests when opening gifts to watch out for ribbons that could be a strangulation hazard and to try to keep older children’s gifts away from younger children so there is not accidental ingestion of a small part. Toys with strings are a choking hazard as well, especially those that are greater than 12 inches in length.

If a child is under the age of 2, they are more than likely going to put whatever they are given in their mouth, so avoid items with paint, chemicals or small parts,” Boyd said. Small magnets and button batteries are some of the most hazardous. Magnets should be kept away from small children as they cause severe damage or even death if ingested.

button batteries webButton batteries are extremely dangerous so try to avoid gifts that include them. They also can be found in musical greeting cards, hearing aids and remote controls so make sure to keep an eye on your child around those items,” Boyd said. “Go to the emergency room immediately if a child has placed a button batter into their body. This includes swallowing as well as shoving up the nose or in the ear.”

Still, gift-giving safety isn’t just about swallowing hazards, it’s also thinking about the entire well-being of a child. “When thinking about what gift to give, try to find something that encourages children to use their imagination and get up and get moving,” says Boyd.

baby with cell phoneThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children spend no more than two hours in front a screen a day. This includes video games, computers, phones and TVs. “So many young kids want cell phones, but is that really the best gift to give a child? Think about what is age-appropriate. There will be plenty of time to give phones and videos games in the future.”

And if you do give an electronic gift, supervision is key, especially if it involves the Internet.

Unfortunately, cyber predators and cyberbullying are becoming more common and pose a very real risk to children. If your child does receive a computer for Christmas, make sure you supervise their Internet use. The best place for a computer is in the family room.  There should be no screens, including computers, TVs or phones in a child or adolescent’s room. Screen time can interfere with sleep as well as distract them from participating in healthier activities for body and mind.

Whatever gifts you decide to give this holiday season, It’s also a good idea to periodically check consumer websites such as recall.gov and saferproducts.gov to ensure gifts are safe and have not been recalled.

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Avoiding Anaphylaxis this Advent

christmas-partyChristmas parties, meals out with friends and family, stockings full of candy, chestnuts roasting on the open fire…

While all this sounds like great fun, there’s a risk that more people than usual will be accidentally exposed to foods they are allergic too. Food allergies are common. An estimated 9 million, or 4%, of adults and nearly 6 million or 8% of children have food allergies with young children being those most affected.

Although childhood allergies to milk, egg, wheat and soy generally resolve in childhood, they appear to be resolving more slowly than in previous decades, with many children still allergic beyond age 5 years. And allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, or shellfish are generally lifelong.

If you’re one of those affected by food allergy, what can you do to avoid accidental exposure this holiday season?

Remind people! Sure you might once have told your hosts that you have an allergy, but a gentle reminder is always helpful, especially at Christmas when things get busy and the alcohol starts flowing!

PeanutButterAllergyJust say ‘no’ – if you don’t know what’s in it, don’t eat it. And even if you do, can you really be sure there was no cross-contamination in the kitchen.

Bring snacks, rather than rely on your hosts to have food you can eat…or

Stay home. Host the party yourself – then you know it’s safe.

Bring your epinephrine auto-injector with you –and keep it close to hand! Make sure somebody else at the party knows you have food allergies, where your auto-injector is and how to use it.

Know the Symptoms – within minutes, an allergic reaction may turn into a life-threatening severe allergic reaction. Sometimes the reaction can occur in two phases, with another reaction occurring up to 48 hours after the initial reaction.

Use epinephrine immediately after you have been exposed to your allergy trigger – it may prove to be life-saving.  If you are even thinking should I give myself epinephrine, the answer is almost certainly yes!

epipen jpegAfter giving epinephrine, seek emergency medical attention – call or have someone else call 9-1-1 or your local emergency medical services.  In most individuals, epinephrine is effective after one injection. However, symptoms may recur and further injections may be required to control the reaction. Epinephrine can be re-injected every 5 to 15 minutes until the severe allergic reaction stops completely.

Do you have your anaphylaxis Action Plan ready?  If not, make it part of your holiday preparations. It could be the best Christmas present you give yourself this year.

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Help for the Holiday Blues

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all

For many this truly is the happiest and most wonderful time of the year. But for those who have lost a loved one, the empty chair at the table or fewer presents under the tree can be a painful reminder of our loved ones who are no longer with us.

There are so many traditions associated with the holiday season that it can be an emotional roller coaster for someone who has recently lost a loved one,” says Nancy Kiel, bereavement coordinator for Loyola University Health System. “Many people wish they could just fast forward through the holidays, but getting through the season is possible if you give yourself permission to be flexible.”

So for all those who are grieving and mourning the loss of someone this Holiday season here’s some tips that might help make the holidays a little brighter.

  1. Discuss holiday plans as a family. Everyone is feeling the loss, so talk about what you are going to do and be willing to compromise. If you don’t like the change you made, next year you can always go back to the way you did it before.
  2. Skip the mall. Christmas shopping can be stressful even when not dealing with grief. Consider giving gift cards or shop online to avoid the mall madness. Remember it’s not just about the presents, but about the presence of caring and supportive people.
  3. You can say no. The party invitations and social gatherings might be more difficult this year. You can say no or give yourself some breathing room by asking to RSVP at a later date. If you do go, drive yourself. This will allow you the freedom to leave at your discretion. Also, try to avoid “should people” who say “you should do this or you should do that.”
  4. Honor your loved one. Start a new tradition to honor and remember your loved one. You could light a special candle, at dinner have everyone at the table share a favorite memory or all take part in a loved one’s favorite holiday activity. Do something that would make your loved one smile.
  5. Be gentle with yourself. Do what you need to do and pamper yourself. If you need to take a nap, take a nap. Exercise is a great stress reliever, so bundle up and take a walk.
  6. It’s OK to change traditions. Do something different this year. Take a vacation somewhere hot. Skip the cooking and go to a restaurant, volunteer with those even less fortunate.

“Grief is hard work and it can be exhausting, but it is something we must do,”  advises Kiel. “If you put it on a back burner you’ll never heal. You can’t go around, over or under grief – you have to go through it. So find someone who will listen unconditionally and tell your story.”

For more information, visit www.loyolamedicine.org or call Nancy Kiel at (708) 216-1646.

A Healthy Holiday Dinner Table?

Before you click away, this is NOT one of those stories admonishing you to eat broccoli and brussel sprouts rather than turkey and all the trimmings.  This blog could improve your health without having to forego a single calorie!

Will Grandma be coming up from Florida during Thanksgiving or will Great Uncle Tony be joining you for Christmas?  Do you need something other than the Presidential candidates, Penn State sex scandal, or football scores to talk about over dinner?

Well, according to University of Alabama genetics experts you should use this opportunity to learn more about your family health history from the very people who know.

The holidays are a great time to collect your family history,” says Lynn Holt, M.S., Director of the School of Health Professions Genetic Counseling program. “Most people don’t know much about the family history beyond their first-degree relatives, their own parents and siblings.”

She advises people to talk to their grandparents or great-grandparents about any health problems that they may have had.  Also find out about their immediate family such as  parents, siblings and children. And don’t just talk, jot down names and their year of birth and death. Ask if any siblings died during childhood and if so, why? While many people don’t like to talk about a sibling who died young, knowing if it happened – and why, can produce very valuable information.

We sometimes hear people say they’ve been told their mother’s brother dropped dead at age 20, for example,” says Holt. “Was it because of a genetic heart condition that you might have inherited, or is it simply that brother was guilty of some accident that nobody wants to talk about?

Likewise, if there is cancer in the family, ask about the kind of cancer and at the age at which family members first were diagnosed. Age of diagnosis is more medically valuable than age of death in determining inheritable conditions. Ask similar questions about heart disease, diabetes, mental health conditions and other common conditions. And don’t forget to look into any environmental exposures that may explain family health problems such as occupational exposures, smoking or pollution.

Not only will you learn a great deal, the knowledge you gain can help you protect your own health.  As an added bonus, older family members may welcome the chance to share their story and memories of loved ones who have passed away…and it’s a chance to grow closer as a family.

So rather than bickering over the green beans or sulking into the sweet potatoes, how about serving up a dose of health history these holidays?

After you’ve collect all this information, share it with your physician to help determine if there are any health conditions, based on your family history, that need further evaluation or monitoring.

Happy Holidays!