How to Avoid the Flu This Season

August 30, 2019

Each year in the United States 10 to 35 million cases of the flu arise each year. The Flu is responsible for around 140,000–710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000–56,000 deaths annually. But what is the flu?

The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is caused by influenza types A and B viruses. Flu season begins in October, peaks in December, and sometimes lasts as late at May. There are certain groups of people who are at the greatest risk of experiencing complications from the flu including young children, pregnant women, adults who are over 65, and those who have chronical medical conditions.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

Recommendations on How to Avoid the Flu

  • Get the flu shot – This is the single best thing you can do to protect yourself from severe illness. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year before flu activity begins in October.
  • Take preventative actions – To stop the spread of germs try to avoid close contact with those who are sick, stay away from others if you are sick, remember to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands with soap and be sure to disinfect surfaces.
  • Try flu antiviral drugs - Flu antiviral drugs are prescription medications that reduce flu severity and complications. They may also prevent you from getting flu when taken before getting sick. They work by fighting the flu virus and preventing it from multiplying in your body. These are not available over the counter.
  • Give your immune system a boost – When your immune system is in tiptop shape it launches an attack on threats — such as the flu. Implement healthy living strategies such as consuming a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet, exercising frequently, aiming for a healthy BMI, sleeping for 7–9 hours each night and reducing stress.

Spring & Allergies

May 3, 2019

Written & Approved By Fred Lewis, M.D., Board Certified Allergist & Immunologist

Spring is here and our eyes have begun to water and our noses are stuffing up. If you think you have a cold, think again. You may be suffering from spring allergies.
How do you know if you have allergies ? Take this short quiz.
• Have you been sneezing a lot lately ?
• Are there certain times of the year when your nose is very itchy?
• Are your eyes watery and / or red ?
• Do you have a runny nose with clear drainage ?
• Are you wheezing and coughing ?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, it is likely that you are allergic to something.
If you have seasonal allergies, then you may need to take allergy medications, which can include antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, and eye allergy medications.
Watch for my daily pollen counts and avoid going outside during days when the counts are high, use nasal washes, take a decongestant, and consider allergy testing and allergy shots for persistent symptoms. Also, remember to start your allergy medications before your typical allergy season begins.
Dramatic strides in allergy medication therapy research have developed effective allergy treatment options. The three major allergy medicine categories include: antihistamines, decongestants, and anti-inflammatory medications.
In general, allergy treatment begins with avoidance of the triggers. Then medication is added, and if neither avoidance or medication are effective, then allergy shots are added, which immunize the patient to the pollen itself.
Avoidance: It is often hard to avoid pollen when it's in the air we breathe. I have given you these basic avoidance tips before, but they are worth repeating:
• Wash pets that have been outdoors.
• Wash pollen off your hair and skin
• Keep your car and house windows closed.
• Use air conditioning
Still, for most seasonal allergy sufferers, avoidance is impractical and doesn't do the trick. The good news is that there are very effective medications that address a range of symptoms and your allergist can best help relieve you decide which ones will be most effective. Remember, always check with your primary care physician or your allergist before taking any over the counter medications, particularly if you are already taking prescription medications.


Neuropathy and Your Feet

April 2, 2019

Dr. Bill Cihak, Internist, Olean Medical Group

Neuropathy is a result of damage to your peripheral nerves, often causing weakness, numbness, and pain, usually in your hands and feet. It can also affect other areas of your body.

If you are experiencing cracks, ulcers, drainage, or other signs of infection in your feet, please see your primary care provider, podiatrist, or endocrinologist as soon as possible. Neuropathy is caused by poor blood sugar control that persists over a long period of time and can indicate that you are pre-diabetic or that you already have Type 2 Diabetes.

Your chances of developing neuropathy in your feet are great if your blood sugars have remained high for a long period. The nerves that go from your spine to your feet are long and they are affected well before the nerves in your arms and hands. If your blood sugars remain high, complications will arise in both feet.

Neuropathy in your feet can cause numbness and pain and it can lead to injuries as well. Without the feeling in your feet, you can trip and fall or stub and break your toes - and because of the numbness, you may not even realize that you have sustained a cut or a break, which could lead to infection and possibly, amputation, if not properly cared for. However, most amputations are preventable when your blood sugars are managed and you take care of your feet. Just a note here, the American Diabetes Association reported that in 2010, there were about 73,000 non-traumatic lower-limb amputations, performed on adults (20 years or older) diagnosed with diabetes.

A proper diet, with a good balance of protein, vegetables, grains, and fruit, is critical for sustaining a normal blood sugar. Also, managing your weight can make a significant difference because individuals who are overweight or obese tend to develop more neuropathy and arthritic problems and pain in their feet due to the extra weight. Shedding pounds will help to normalize your blood sugars and maintaining a healthy weight will address your overall cardiovascular and cholesterol health.

Along with a healthy diet, exercise is very important. If you have been stagnant and on the sofa most of the winter, now is the time to begin an exercise regimen - but always check with your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program.

Flexibility exercises, also called stretching, help keep your joints flexible and reduce your chances of injury during other activities. Gentle stretching for 5 to 10 minutes helps your body warm up and get ready for aerobic activities such as walking or swimming, if you are able to do them. Although walking is probably the best exercise for most, with neuropathy in your feet, exercises like flexibility stretches and squats are far safer. There are other exercise for people with neuropathy but here are a few you can do right at home:

Seated Hamstring Stretch - sitting on the front half of a firm chair, place one leg out straight with the foot pointing up. Bend the opposite knee so that your foot is flat on the floor. Center your chest over the straight leg, and slowly straighten your back until you feel a muscle stretch in the back of your leg. Hold 15-20 seconds on each leg and repeat twice a day, 3 repetitions each leg.

Calf Stretch - place one leg far behind you with the toe pointed slightly inward. Take a large step forward with the opposite foot. With the front knee slightly bent lean forward keeping your back heel on the floor. You should feel a muscle stretch in the calf of your back leg. Hold it for 15-20 seconds on each leg, three times, twice a day.

Squats are also safe and good exercise. Try a chair squat, using a firm chair with armrests, position your feet in a split stance with one foot at the base of the chair and the other foot placed comfortably in front and slightly out to the side. Slowly transfer your weight forward until your legs are supporting your body weight. Slowly press up with your legs to standing. To lower yourself, slowly reach for the chair with your hips. Touch the chair with your hips and press back up for your next repetition. Repeat 2 repetitions, 10 -15 times, twice a day.

Kitchen Counter Calf Raises - while standing at the kitchen counter, place two finger tips on the counter. Stand on one foot lifting the other heel off the floor, standing on your toes (as you strengthen your muscles, try to alternate your heels as shown in the picture below). Slowly lower yourself to the floor and repeat. Once you are on your toes control yourself. Do not just drop down to the floor. Repeat 2 repetitions, 10 -15 times on each leg, twice a day.

While maintaining good blood sugar control can help prevent or delay neuropathy, there is no cure once the nerves are damaged for a long period of time; the medications that are available only treat symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. However, researchers have seen some promising results in recent studies so be sure to get regular check ups with your healthcare provider and keep exercising. With earlier diagnosis, better treatments, and patients working with their doctors to take charge of the disease, individuals with diabetes are doing much better.

If you’re concerned you may have neuropathy in your feet or if you experience any redness, cracks, drainage, ulcers, or other signs of infection in your feet, you should see your healthcare provider immediately.

Dr. Cihak is an Internist at the Olean Medical Group, with offices in Olean and Ellicottville. He has been practicing at the Group since 1999.